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20 Teves 5760 - December 29, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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The Vaad LeInyonei Giyur Demands That Melchior's Membership in the Conference of European Rabbis be Revoked

by Betzalel Kahn and Yated Ne'eman Staff

Last week, in a very controversial step, the Israel Government's Minister for Diaspora Affairs, Michael Melchior, said that even though the Orthodox establishment speaks only about conversions conducted for those who declare that they will observe the mitzvos, "hardly any of those who were converted actually observe the mitzvos but no one will say that is the policy." Minister Melchior said this at a meeting with the editorial board of the Jerusalem Post.

Minister Melchior proposed a plan to Prime Minister Barak for the mass conversion of 20,000 non-Jews a year that would include: extensive conversion of minors, the establishing of 100 joint conversion ulpans with the Conservatives and the Reform, and massive conversions in the army.

The Vaad HaRabbonim Haolami LeInyonei Giyur headed by HaRav Chaim Kreiswirth of Antwerp, reacted sharply to Minister Melchior's remarks. It especially noted Melchior's hypocritical proposal to found a system for massive conversions, even though he knows that such conversions are spurious. Proof that the plan is a farce is the fact that Uri Regev, the representative of the Reform in Israel, and Ehud Bendel of the Conservative movement, praised Melchior's plan.

The Jerusalem Post quoted the chairman of the Vaad, HaRav Nochum Eisenstein, who said that Melchior's proposal totally violates the directives of the Chief Rabbinate, which mandate that minors who seek to convert be guaranteed a religious education so that when they reach maturity they will continue to observe Torah and mitzvos.

Melchior, who was Norway's Chief Rabbi before making aliyah, was accepted years ago into the Conference of European Rabbis with limiting conditions and with the understanding that he would not conduct conversions, because the rabbonim were even then wary of his true beliefs.

At the meeting with the editorial board of the Jerusalem Post, Melchior said further: "If the members of my community (abroad) would hear my current position on the issue of conversion, they would be shocked." He admitted that when he was involved in conversions abroad, he was stringent (according to his approach). He also said that his plans for mass conversion have national importance. He added that even though, according to the Orthodox, genuine mitzvah observance is the sine qua non of conversion, most of the current "converts" do not observe the mitzvos.

The chairman of the Vaad HaRabbonim LeInyonei Giyur said that Minister Melchior, who is mainly a politician, is not authorized to deal with conversions, and thus it is inappropriate for him to present a plan for mass conversions to the Prime Minster without receiving the approval of the Chief Rabbinate. The spokesman added that under Melchior's plans, the "converts" will remain non-Jews. "If he has a national problem with the masses of non-Jews who have arrived in Israel, he should search for other solutions, aside from that of spurious conversion."

The chairman of the Vaad also complained that Melchior's plans to "prepare masses of non-Jews" obligates prospective "conversion" candidates to undergo circumcision even though they have absolutely no intention of keeping the mitzvos. This, the spokesman said, is inhumane, since circumcision in such cases merely wounds the conversion candidate without making him Jewish, since any conversion that does not include keeping mitzvos is null and void even bedi'eved.

The chairman of the Vaad HaRabbonim expressed his hope that Melchior will stop interfering in issues in which he is not qualified to decide. The spokesman also hoped that the Chief Rabbis will remain on the alert and will reject all of the plans of Minister Melchior.

Surprisingly, to date no official statement has been issued by the Chief Rabbinate on this matter. Furthermore, in a related matter, the Chief Rabbinate has not taken any action against Rabbis Druckman and Avior who announced that the conversion court in Or Etzion would cooperate with the joint conversion institutes even though they have been prohibited by the Chief Rabbinate.

The Vaad chairman concluded: "Massive conversions cannot be seen as a solution for the problem which was created by the massive immigration of non-Jews to Israel, because it is impossible to expect that people who were detached from any affinity to religion for scores of years will agree to observe mitzvos seriously. And as is known, the failure to agree to observe the mitzvos invalidates a conversion even bedi'eved.

"Melchior is a prominent member of the Meimad Party, which broke away from the National Religious Party. It should be noted that the NRP officially supported the conclusions of the Ne'eman Committee that called for these joint conversion institutes even though the NRP's own rabbis and the Chief Rabbinate both prohibited them."

The rabbonim of the Vaad have asked the secretariat of the Conference of European Rabbis to cancel Melchior's membership in their federation, since his positions, in respect to conversion, contradict the halacha.

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