"Conversion must only be done according to halacha," MK Rabbi
Moshe Gafni declared during a Knesset Interior Committee
meeting on conversion in Israel.
Held earlier this week at the office of the Chief Rabbinate
of Israel, the meeting was attended by Rabbinate conversion
officials and Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who heads the
Rabbinate's conversion system.
Secular committee members lodged criticism against the
bureaucracy in the system, claiming there is a deliberate set
of obstacles and demanding the system become "friendlier" to
Rabbi Gafni noted that every government ministry has
bureaucracy regardless of chareidi involvement. He condemned
the ease with which non-Jews can enter Klal Yisroel, calling
it "easier than joining a beer-drinking club." He noted that
other religions are much harder to enter, citing the Druse
who make no provision for anybody not born a Druse to become
He said the committee ought to ask forgiveness from HaRav
Yitzchok Peretz, who warned some twenty years ago against a
massive influx of non-Jews into the country and all the
problems that would result, including conversion issues.
"Instead of confronting the problem back then, he was
attacked for no good reason. He was right."
Rabbi Amar told the committee members about the setup of an
internal committee of inquiry to evaluate the Chief
Rabbinate's conversion system. "If I'm not mistaken converts
are taught the same way they were taught 50 years ago, and if
a way to teach during the conversion process is found to be
friendlier, we'll adopt new teaching methods," he said.
He said the new committee to be set up will look into the
procedures candidates must go through and "anything that is
difficult and burdensome in the conversion process will be
At the same time he noted, "Criminals and frauds also pass
through the conversion pipes and we've used espionage and
crime ID labs to cope with the problem."
Committee Chairman Ophir Pines (Labor) hailed Rabbi Amar's
announcement, saying he hopes "the change would ease the
suffering today's converts have to undergo."
MK Yossi Beilin (Meretz) demanded taking the decision of who
is Jewish out of the Chief Rabbinate's hands, instead
transferring this authority to the Interior Minister.
Rabbi Gafni reacted by saying, "This stance would mean
dismantling the state."
MK David Azoulai (Shas) also responded harshly to Beilin's
remarks. "The moment politicians determine conversion it will
be a disaster for Israel. The rabbonim and dayanim must be
allowed to do their job."
A spokesman for Vaad HaRabbonim Haolami LeInyonei Giyur
founded by HaRav Chaim Kreiswirth zt"l said there can
be no leniencies in the area of conversion or the setup of a
"friendly" conversion system, saying the intention of the
Chief Rabbi remains unclear. "Of course there can be no
compromise in requiring the conversion candidate to make an
earnest commitment to all of the mitzvas, without which the
conversion is invalid — even bedi'eved.
Therefore along with all of these efforts to streamline the
conversion system, the Chief Rabbinate must once and for all
clearly tell the Interior Ministry and all other government
officials involved that there is no way to use conversion as
a solution to the problem of the hundreds of thousands of non-
Jews who came to Eretz Yisroel in recent years, and the
number of genuine conversions performed over the course of a
year can reasonably be expected to be to no more than a few
On another issue, the Chief Rabbi had observed, "All of Am
Yisroel was negligent in not working to bring Ethiopian Jewry
into Am Yisroel." Therefore he recommended that the Interior
Committee amend the law in a way that would allow rabbonim to
convert the 8,000 Falashmura who remain in Ethiopia before
they come to Israel and only then bring them to Israel.
The Vaad spokesman said that the Vaad HaRabbonim "has no
objection to converting Ethiopians, who all require a
giyur lechumro, but to do so they would have to keep
mitzvas in their entirety. They cannot be converted en
masse, but each conversion candidate must be checked on
an individual basis to ascertain whether he or she is
genuinely prepared to accept mitzvah observance properly."
The spokesman said that the Vaad is disappointed that the
Chief Rabbinate does not come out with a clear statement that
mass conversion is not possible, and it continues to issue
misleading and confusing messages.