Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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23 Tammuz 5760 - July 26, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Education Ministry Closes Conversion Network

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

Citing a budget shortfall, the Education Ministry has decided to close down the network of Orthodox-sponsored conversion schools it has been funding, telling teachers they are being dismissed at the end of this month, according to a recent article in the Jerusalem Post. In practice, this means that the only courses for conversion to Judaism will be those run jointly with the heretical Reform and Conservative movements within the framework of the recommendations made by a commission headed by former Finance Minister Yaakov Ne'eman.

The Education Ministry and the Finance Ministry exchanged accusations over who is to blame for the closure of the conversion schools. The director of the rabbinical courts, Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan, said that in 1999 about 4,000 conversions to Judaism were performed in Israel, of whom 90 percent studied in the Education Ministry's network. About 45 percent of the conversions were new immigrants from Ethiopia. According to Ben Dahan, the number of annual conversions has increased fourfold since the beginning of the 1990s.

Until now the conversion candidates studied in about 90 courses that were given by the religious kibbutz movement, the Or Etzion institutions headed by National Religious Party MK Rabbi Chaim Druckman and others. The salaries of the teachers, totaling some NIS 6 million a year, were paid by the Education Ministry out of its budget for Hebrew ulpanim as part of the adult education department. The ministry announced this year that it would not allow new conversion classes to be opened because immigration was larger than anticipated. As a result, the budget for Hebrew classes was increased and no money remained for the conversion classes.

Those most acutely affected by the ministry's decision will be the Ethiopian immigrants, who have nowhere else to turn for conversion. The Education Ministry is now trying to find a way to reopen at least the 25 courses that were attended by Ethiopians. In addition, if the closure decision is not revoked, new immigrants from the former Soviet Union and elsewhere will have no option but to attend the joint conversion institute which is funded by the Religious Affairs Ministry. This year the institute had about 20 graduates. Next year it plans to open about 100 classes for some 2,000 new immigrants.

The Vaad HaRabbonim Haolami LeInyonei Giyur headed by HaRav Chaim Kreiswirth has basically confirmed the substance of this report, adding that it has received in its offices copies of the dismissal notices to some of the Orthodox teachers. The joint conversion institutes continue to function and several candidates have already completed the conversion process. This is in direct breach of a Kol Korei that was issued two years ago, signed by all leading Orthodox rabbonim including both of Israel's Chief Rabbis, prohibiting any recognition or cooperation with those joint conversion institutes.

The Vaad spokesman said that the decision of the Education Ministry was ideologically motivated so that the joint institutes will have full control of the conversion study process. Furthermore the Vaad has learned that the funding by the Ministry of Religions to the joint conversion institutes is transferred by a clerk who is a direct subordinate of the Chief Rabbis, even though they signed on the Kol Korei.

Even more serious is the fact that the Chief Rabbinate Office has already approved several conversions of graduates of a joint conversion institutes performed by Rabbi Chaim Druckman's beis din in Or Etzion, even though that is also in total violation of the Kol Korei.

The Vaad is in contact with the gedolei haposkim to take steps to deal with this deteriorating situation. In light of the fact that a broad range of Orthodox rabbonim signed against the joint conversion institutes, it is expected that every effort will be made to ensure that the Kol Korei will be properly implemented.

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