The joint conversion institutes proposed by the Neeman
Commission as a solution to the issue of registering non-
Orthodox converts as Jews, appear to be under attack on two
fronts: from the religious parties, which would prefer to see
them disappear, and from the Finance Ministry, which would
cause them to disappear by withholding the budget needed for
Professor Binyamin Ish-Shalom, the chairman of the
institutes' board which also has Conservative and Reform
representatives, found himself facing the first challenge at
the meeting of the Knesset Immigration, Absorption, and
Diaspora Committee, when he warned that withholding the
budget could have disastrous repercussions for the Jewish
people. Ish-Shalom said that he is still hoping that the
Treasury will approve the proposed budget of some NIS 37.5
million (over $9 million).
The attack from the religious parties came during a meeting
of the Ministerial Committee on Conversion chaired by
Minister Michael Melchior, when Religious Affairs Minister
Yitzhak Cohen threatened to break up the coalition over the
issue of removing the responsibility for conversion from his
ministry. Cohen apparently told those present that Shas did
not want the institutes and that if the Treasury wanted to
give out money, it should give it to the Religious Affairs
The NRP's leader, Construction and Housing Minister Yitzhak
Levy, also said the institutes must be overseen by the
Religious Affairs Ministry.
Although the Conservative and Reform movements have sent
representatives to the institutes' board, the movements have
rejected the institutes as solutions to the problem of
registering their "converts" as Jews because the chief rabbis
have not said that they would convert all graduates.
At the moment there are fewer than 200 students -- all of
them Russian-speaking -- in the institutes, which have
classes in Haifa, Beersheva, and Upper Nazareth.
Although the first class, which started with 35 students, was
to have ended in March, it is now expected that they will
complete their studies only in May or June.
The office of Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau has officially
announced its opposition to inclusion of the Reform and
Conservative movements in conversion procedures in Israel as
proposed by the Ne'eman Committee.
"In contradiction to reports which alleged that the Chief
Rabbis support conversion ulpans that include the Reform and
Conservative movements, we hereby state that the Chief
Rabbinate Council issued a statement after the release of the
Ne'eman Committee report, saying that `the Rabbinate is
required to deal only with the issue of conversion itself.
Even though its unequivocal opinion is that one may not
collaborate with those who deny Torah min haShomayim,
the Council only discusses the issue of conversion.'"
The Office of the Chief Rabbi cited remarks made by Rabbi Lau
last week at the meeting of the Ministerial Committee for
Conversion. He totally negated conversion institutes that
include Reform or Conservative movement representatives "when
some of these movements even purport that one whose father is
Jewish but not the mother doesn't have to undergo conversion,
and is a bona fide Jew. Since this is obviously
against halacha, how is it possible to collaborate
Chief Rabbi Lau said at the meeting that conversion is a
personal act which can be performed only in a rabbincal court
authorized by the Chief Rabbinate. In a reference to the
conversion institutes he explained, "We won't check out the
names of the ulpans in which conversion candidates studied.
But we won't conduct an automatic laundromat, in which a non-
Jew enters, and leaves the front door with a tag on his
forehead saying that he's a Jew."
He added that for humanitarian reasons, we want people to
know that there are intermarried couples and personal
tragedies. "We will extend our help to whoever needs it."
The Rabbinate statement came in light of persistent media
reports, that said the Chief Rabbis approved the "mass
conversion" plans proposed by Minister Michael Melchior
including a system of over 100 ulpans, all run in
collaboration with the Conservative and Reform movements.
These reports are traceable to Minister Melchior who
purported to express the opinion of the Chief Rabbinate that
it supports his plans.
The Vaad Harabbonim Haolami leInyonei Giyur headed by Harav
Chaim Kreiswirth of Antwerp, demanded that the Chief
Rabbinate issue a clear statement on this matter. The Vaad
accused the Chief Rabbinate of acting like politicians,
issuing vague statements which left room for
misinterpretation by the interested parties.
Subsequently, at the request of Yated Ne'eman, the
Chief Rabbinate indeed issued a clarification stating
unequivocally that it rejects the Ne'eman solution.
The Vaad expressed the hope that that the position of the
Chief Rabbinate regarding conversion itself will also be made
clear, that it is impossible to convert a candidate who does
not seriously intend to observe Torah and mitzvos and
therefore a mass conversion plan is not feasible.
A beis din may convert a candidate only after it is
thoroughly convinced of the sincerity of his intention, and
certainly a condition that his intention is sincere is that
he lives in conditions which make it possible to observe the
mitzvos. In the past, candidates have claimed to want to
observe mitzvos even though it was quite evident that they
never had any sincere intention of keeping their promises.
The Vaad has letters from both of the Chief Rabbis, in which
they state that a prospective convert may only be converted
if his intentions to accept the yoke of the mitzvos are
sincere and feasible, and that massive conversions can in no
way be authentic.
In the wake of various administrative changes, the Conversion
Administration is currently being transferred to the
Rabbinical Court Adminstration. In the meantime, all activity
in special conversions courts is at a standstill. It is hoped
that with the renewal of the conversion court system under
the Rabbinical Court Administration a drastic change will
take place and that the courts will use a test of the
sincerity of the candidates in keeping Torah and mitzvos, and
not just the knowledge-based system that was used in the
Last week, Minister Melchior met with a delegation of
rabbonim from the Vaad who told him, in the most unequivocal
manner, of maranan verabonon's opposition to his plans
to conduct massive conversions.
On the other hand, though, the members of the Vaad supported
the plan to delete the nationality clause from identity cards
and to limit -- or even cancel -- the Law of Return. Chief
Rabbi Bakshi Doron also supports Melchior's proposal to
change the Law of Return. He says that new immigrants come to
Israel for "non-Jewish considerations," such as receiving an
The rabbonim of the Vaad told Melchior that conversion is not
a solution for the problem of the massive immigration of non-
Jews from the CIS, and that other solutions should be