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
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