Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

13 Shevat 5767 - February 1, 2007 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Rift Between Joint Conversion Institute and Conversion Courts Might Curtail Phony Conversions

By Betzalel Kahn

After years of meaningless conversions by the special conversion courts, there could be a significant slowdown in the number of so-called conversions overseen by these botei din following claims by the administration of the Joint Conversion Institute that they are overly strict in handling conversion candidates.

For years the chareidi community has been battling fictitious conversions — bearing the official stamp of the conversion botei din — of candidates from the Joint Conversion Institutes. But recently a rift formed between the conversion courts and the Joint Conversion Institutes, whose leaders are decrying policies that cause half of the Institute's graduates to be rejected during their first beis din appearance.

In 5758 (1998) the Joint Conversion Institute was banned by gedolei Yisroel zt"l vylct"a as well as by the Chief Rabbinate, for its association with the Reform and Conservative movements. Gedolei Yisroel said that candidates who prepared for conversion in such an atmosphere could not be expected to accept Torah and mitzvas earnestly.

Following the claims regarding the strictures at the conversion courts, the management of the Joint Conversion Institute has decided to stop referring candidates to the conversion courts "until a reform is brought in to ease the way for the converts," says a recent report in Ha'aretz. According to the report, the Conversion Institute "is demanding the conversion courts adopt an approach that is both halachic and Zionist, and exempt the prospective converts from demands like placing their children in religious schools."

A report in Yated Ne'eman on 7 Shvat detailed the activities of Vaad Haolami Lebirur Yahadus, which says that 550,000 of the one million immigrants from the former Soviet Union are non-Jews. Half of them are registered with the Israeli government as non-Jews in every respect while the other half are listed in official government records as Jews. However various checks and assessments show that many of these are halachically non-Jews as well.

In recent years the Joint Conversion Institute heads, backed by the Conversion Administration operating under the Prime Minister's Office, have been speaking of "a national need" to convert 350,000 immigrants from Russian-speaking countries. "The demands of the conversion courts deter many potential converts, and the conversion courts are failing to take into consideration the national need to convert 350,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union living in Israel who are not recognized as Jews," says Prof. Benny Ish-Shalom, chairman of the Joint Conversion Institute. "If there is no change in the conversion policy," he adds, "there will be several Jewish nations here that won't recognize each other."

Even the Conversion Administration's deputy director, Rabbi Moshe Klein, acknowledges that its primary goal is to "increase conversions." During a meeting with the Conversion Administration, Joint Conversion Institute heads requested easy treatment for graduates of their conversion study program, asking that it be considered sufficient "that the convert demonstrate genuine intention of living as a Jew without being required to adopt a religious lifestyle," although this approach contradicts well-known rulings by all of the leading halachic authorities zt"l vylct"a. Such conversions are invalid even bedi'eved.

The Vaad HaRabbonim Haolami LeInyonei Giyur, founded by the late Antwerp Av Beis Din HaRav Chaim Kreiswirth, was very pleased with the Joint Conversion Institute's decision to stop sending its graduates to the conversion courts. According to a Vaad statement, the decision "will stop the flow of non-Jews into Kerem Beis Yisroel by certain botei din run by the Conversion Administration."

Vaad HaRabbonim again stresses that conversion should not be seen as a solution for the hundreds of thousands of non-Jews who immigrated from the former Soviet Union in recent years. "People who were severed from every tie to religion for 80 years cannot be expected to take on all of the mitzvas. Therefore the Vaad objects to the Conversion Administration's stated desire to increase conversions. The number of real conversions in Eretz Yisroel cannot come to more than a few dozen per year. The Vaad supports the Chief Rabbinate's numerous efforts to restore the conversion system to its proper role."


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