Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

22 Teves 5761 - January 17, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Drop in Conversions Due to Lack of Funds
by Betzalel Kahn

At a press conference which he convened on Wednesday (15 Teves), director general of the rabbinical courts Rabbi Eli Ben Dehan stated that in the year 2000 the number of converts in Israel dropped by a few percent, due to a lack of funds. The Vaad HaRabbonim Haolami LeInyonei Giyur headed by HaRav Chaim Kreiswirth countered that an increased budget can't transform non-Jews into Jews.

Rabbi Ben-Dehan presented a number of statistics. He said that during this past year 9153 couples divorced, a rise of 4.5% as opposed to the previous year. He also said that 28% of the married couples in Israel divorce. The highest divorce rate was in Tel Aviv, where there were 733 divorces, while in Jerusalem there were 622, and there were also sizable amounts in Ashdod and Netanya.

Ben Dehan also related that in the year 2000, 36 agunos were freed from their shackles. In a number of the cases, the husbands were located by the special unit for handing the problems of agunos in Israel and abroad. Twenty five husbands were located in Israel, 10 in the United States, one in Africa, and one in Brazil. Today there are still 14 recalcitrant husbands in Israel who refuse to give their wives divorces. Six of these are in prison and two were even placed in solitary confinement for five days. A number of doctors and lawyers who refuse to divorce their wives are unemployed after their licenses were revoked.

In the year 2000, efforts to upgrade the efficiency of the rabbinical courts continued. At the end of the year, 77,719 files were open, as opposed to 90,758 which were handled and closed. The number of waiting days between the first hearing in a case and the time of the opening of the file was 77 days on average. 44% of the cases are adjudicated one month after their opening, and 70% are closed within three months.

Ben Dehan relates that the rabbinical courts opened a number of branches in the countries of the C.I.S. in order to make it easier for immigrants and to arrange their conversions and personal status. Concurrently, Ben Dehan said that the number of converts during the past year was lower than that of the previous year, due to a lack of funds. All in all, last year 2906 people were converted in the special conversion courts, and 175 in the rabbinical courts. "Last year, a drop of 800 converts was recorded. This occurred mainly due to the temporary halting of the activity of the conversion ulpans under the aegis of the Education Ministry," Ben Dehan said.

When asked about the relatively small number of conversions in relation to the large number of immigrants who are not Jewish, Ben-Dehan noted that not all of these immigrants are interested in conversion. Many, he said, are elderly, while others, who were already married, see no reason to become Jewish.

The spokesman of the Vaad said that the problems of the non Jews who immigrate to Israel can't be solved by enlarged stipends for the establishing of conversion factories.

"The number of serious conversion candidates among the immigrants from the C.I.S. is very meager, since one cannot expect that people who have been detached from any form of religion whatsoever, should want to take on a religious way of life and the total observance of Torah and mitzvos, the sine qua non of conversion, even bedi'eved."

The spokesman of the Vaad also said that increased subsidies can't change non-Jews to Jews. The Vaad once more called to the Chief Rabbinate to place only yirei Shomayim in charge of the conversion systems, from the beginning of the study program until the end of the conversion. Today, many conversion courts are directed by a joint committee of Conservatives and Reform, and the graduates of these ulpans are treated warmly in the rabbinical court of Rabbi Chaim Druckman in Or Etzion, who has already converted many of the graduates of the joint ulpans.

The spokesman for the Vaad also mentioned that the branch offices of the beis din in the former Soviet bloc are not qualified to deal with conversion matters. A recent official release from the Jewish Agency confirmed that the purpose of these conversion efforts in the C.I.S. is in order to expedite the conversion process by reducing the hours of study required in Israel for the conversion process.


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