"All of the moves related to the conversion system are totally coordinated with Chief Rabbi Shlomo Moshe Amar," Minister Ruhama Avraham (Balila) (Kadima) told the Knesset plenum this week, while responding to a no-confidence motion filed by UTJ and HaIchud HaLeumi-NRP on "the Prime Minister's intervention in halachic issues and distortion of conversion procedures."
The no-confidence motion, which was taken off the agenda by a majority of coalition votes, was presented by MK Rabbi Meir Porush who decried the Prime Minister's plan to drastically increase the conversion system and to carry out changes in order to perform hundreds of thousands of wholesale conversions in violation of halacha. The Minister admitted plans to substantially increase conversion among immigrants.
The Israeli Chief Rabbinate has not issued any official statement about whether the plan is actually being coordinated with them and if they indeed lend their approval to the plan. The Vaad Horabbonim Haolami Leinyonei Giyur founded by HaRav Chaim Kreiswirth zt"l has a letter from Chief Rabbi Amar written about half a year ago in which he says that he will not agree to modify any of the halachic requirements of conversion. However, as mentioned, there is no current official statement from the Rabbinate in response to these recent claims.
Mrs. Balila provided details of the recommendations drawn up on the matter and claimed that all aspects are related only to administrative procedures and not the conversion itself, which will continue to be done in accordance with halachic guidelines.
"An independent authority with a new organizational structure will be set up to handle all conversion matters," she related. "The head of the conversion system will operate and guide all of the mechanisms that process the conversion candidate, from the contents of studies at the various institutes to the policy at special conversion courts under the direction of Chief Rabbi Amar. The director-general, who will be subordinate to the head of the conversion system, will manage all regular activities of the conversion system and oversee their execution, from informational activities to recruiting students, preventing them from dropping out, accompanying the conversion candidate, handling the conversion candidate at the batei din and issuing the conversion certificate. All of the workers involved in the conversion system will be required to implement the halachic policy of conversion in Israel as determined by Chief Rabbi Amar and the head of the conversion system.
"The staff at the batei din will be increased and the means of publicity and information will be expanded among immigrants and Israelis, both in Hebrew and in the languages of the respective countries they come from, as part of efforts to boost awareness on the issue of conversion, changing the image and increasing motivation among conversion candidates and within their Israeli surroundings."
At the end of her remarks the Minister said that she hopes all of these changes and others would lead to "attaining the goal of substantial conversion rate among the immigrants." However, she repeated her claim that this "in no way alters the status quo" and "in no way distorts the conversion proceedings practiced in accordance with halacha."
UTJ Knesset members demanded that all conversion matters be left in the hands of the rabbinical establishment, stressing that nobody should interfere in an issue that should be guided solely by halachic considerations.