Some 4,000 people are currently undergoing conversion
proceedings, including Reform and Conservative "conversions"
and the Falashmura, said Interior Minister Ophir Pines during
a meeting of the Knesset Immigration and Absorption Committee
on Monday to discuss the Interior Ministry's preparations to
implement the High Court's recent decision.
Chareidi representatives lodged harsh criticism against the
ruling to recognize "jaunt conversions" performed outside of
Israel by Reform and Conservative rabbis, saying it would do
great harm to the Jewish people and it threatened to bring
non-Jews into Kerem Beis Yisroel in the guise of Jews.
At Monday's committee meeting MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni again
denounced the ruling, calling it a political move lacking any
legal content or value. He said not just anyone who wants to
convert can convert, and certainly not just anyone who wants
to perform conversions is authorized to do so. Only
individuals who genuinely want to join the Jewish people and
accept the yoke of Torah and mitzvos can convert and only an
authorized beis din can perform conversions.
Minister Pines said that his ministry's arrangements would
prevent opportunists from taking advantage of the High Court
decision, but announcing that the requirement to spend at
least one year abroad as a member of a kehilloh during
the conversion process would be dropped. "An individual who
wants to tie his fate with the State of Israel and has
earnest intentions should be welcome and this serves the
collective interest of all of us," said Pines. "The amount
[i.e. number] of converts today is small and we must
encourage the converts." He also said his ministry would
begin to formulate a plan for an orderly immigration
In response Rabbi Gafni dismissed the need to encourage
converts, saying those who are genuine in their desire to
become Jews would not be dissuaded by bureaucratic obstacles
and arguing that not everyone who wants Israeli citizenship
for some reason should be allowed to take advantage of the
laughable Reform and Conservative conversion practices. "Even
the smallest clubs have more stringent entry requirements
than what the Reform and Conservative [rabbis] require for
entry into the Jewish people, and in every Western nation it
is now harder to obtain citizenship than in Israel."
MK Nisan Dahan (Shas) demanded an amendment to the Law of
Return. "A distinction must be made between who is a Jew and
who is an Israeli," said Dahan. A similar demand was voiced
by Deputy Education Minister MK Michael Melchior (Labor).
Attorney Kobi Shapira of the Justice Ministry said that in
conjunction with the Interior Ministry the Justice Ministry
has begun formulating criteria regarding conversion outside
of Israel. MK Dahan asked to receive a copy of the
Moshe Klein, head of the conversion apparatus at the Prime
Minister's office, noted that 919 conversions took place in
2003 and 1,730 in 2004.