Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Charedi World

6 Teves 5760 - December 15, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Prohibited Joint Conversion Seminaries to Expand

by Eliezer Rauchberger

The Ministerial Committee for Conversions headed by Minister Michael Melchior and the Knesset Committee for Aliya and Absorption both met last week (separately) to discuss plans for conversions in the upcoming year.

Benny Ish Shalom, who heads the institutes for Judaic studies which were established as a result of the Ne'eman recommendations on conversion and Minister Melchior independently announced the establishment of 100 joint conversion ulpanim in the coming year.

These institutes operate in conjunction with the Reform and the Conservative movements, and the gedolei Yisroel of all circles and sects adamantly oppose them, as they do the conclusions of the Ne'eman Committee.

The Vaad HaRabbonim Haolami LeInyonei Giyur headed by HaRav Chaim Kreiswirth of Antwerp, strongly criticized Minister Melchior for meddling in conversion matters and encouraging joint conversion ulpanim which were prohibited by all Orthodox rabbonim. When Minister Melchior was a rabbi in Norway, he was not authorized by the Conference of European Rabbis to do conversions, and he acted accordingly. He should continue as began when he was a practicing rabbi, leave conversion matters to be decided by Orthodox rabbonim and stop pretending to be the spokesman for Klal Yisroel.

At the meeting, Ish Shalom also said that over the next few years he plans to expand the institutions to accommodate up to 20,000 students a year. He stressed that plans are being formulated to establish a corresponding system in Russia and in the Ukraine.

Professor Yaakov Ne'eman, former Finance Minister, also made very disconcerting remarks which included subtle allusions to gedolei Yisroel. "I am concerned about the force of the verbal violence in Israeli society," he said. "To my dismay, elected officials as well as spiritual mentors do not serve as good examples for negotiation and appeasement."

Rabbi Shmuel Halpert, a member of the committee, took offense at Ne'eman's remarks and shouted at him: "Don't dare preach to gedolei Yisroel who think differently than you. You reached agreements at the committee, even though you know that the chareidi sector will not collaborate with the Reform and the Conservatives who are the responsible for the assimilation and the spiritual cataclysm which has wrecked the Jewish Nation."

MK Yuli Edelstein (Yisrael B'Aliya) also said that the rabbonim must be respected, and that it is forbidden to undermine them. He added that there is no link between the issue of respect for rabbonim and the conversion issue.

Rabbi Avrohom Ravitz stressed that there must be a consensus on the point that only Orthodox conversions, recognized by the Rabbinate, will be accepted in Israel, and that every attempt to include the Reform and Conservatives in the picture is a serious offense which should not be supported.

The chairman of the Knesset Aliya Committee Naomi Blumenthal (Likud) related to the issue of the Law of Return, and said that there is no choice but to restrict the Law of Return in order to limit the number of non-Jewish immigrants from the C.I.S.

Rabbi Yosef Avior, director of the special conversion court in Or Etzion headed by Rabbi Chaim Druckman, took an active part in the meeting of the Ministerial Committee for Conversion, and publicly announced the decision to adopt these ulpans. He also said that he intends to visit them, to interview the students and then to invite them to "convert" in Or Etzion.. The committee was very pleased with this decision because it will enable it to solve the problem of the "conversions" of the these students of the Reform and the Conservative.

Despite Avior's announcement, the Conservative representative at the meeting, Mr. Bendel said: "Even though Avior has approved the curriculum in the joint ulpans, I don't approve the fact that the conversions will be conducted in the Orthodox courts, since the students can be converted in Conservative courts too."

The Conversion Committee meeting was also attended by a high- ranking official from the Chief Rabbinate who is very active in the deliberations of the Ministerial Committee for Conversion set up on the basis of the findings of the Ne'eman Committee and headed by Minster Melchior. This is quite disconcerting, in light of the fact that all of the Orthodox bodies in Israel -- including the Chief Rabbinate -- rejected the decisions of the Ne'eman Committee, and that representatives of the Reform and Conservative movements actively participate in the Melchior Committee, which is actually a direct continuation of the Ne'eman Committee.

The Vaad HaRabbonim Haolami LeInyonei Giyur expressed shocked over the participation of people who call themselves religious -- especially the official representatives of the Chief Rabbinate -- at this meeting. The representatives of the Vaad boycotted the meeting of the Absorption Committee which met Monday 20 Kislev to discuss the developments concerning the implementation of the Ne'eman Report on the conversion issue.

Even though the Vaad HaRabbonim received an official invitation to attend this meeting, its representatives boycotted it -- as they boycotted the meeting of the committee held three weeks ago -- at the guidelines of the maranan verabonon. Although the representatives of the Vaad have quite a lot to contribute on this issue due to their vast experience in the area of conversion, they are staunch in their loyalty to the guidelines of all gedolei Yisroel. Recently, intensive, behind-the-scenes contacts are being made regrading the conversion system in Israel, and it seems as if new officials will be appointed to direct the system. Already, people are beginning to offer their services, along with proposals to conduct 20,000 wholesale conversions a year, when it is clear to all that these version are not valid even bedi'eved.

Despite the fact that rabbis Avior and Druckman in Or Etzion function in total defiance of the guidelines and directives of the Chief Rabbinate, and even intends to convert graduates of the joint ulpans, no order to totally stop the court's activity has yet been given. As a result, it is seriously feared that just as a hundred conversion files were approved in defiance of the Chief Rabbinate's directives, so will these of the graduates of the Ne'eman Committee ulpanim be approved.

In light of the deteriorating situation whereby tens of thousands of non-Jews may penetrate into Klal Yisroel through bogus converions that may even have the approval of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, and the fact that it is accepted now that hundreds of thousands of non-Jews have arrived in Israel, gedolei Yisroel have reinstated the necessity to continue with efforts to prepare the sefer yichus that was started by the Vaad several years ago.

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