One of the unreliable conversion certificates - expensive but worthless
The exposure of a wholesale conversion scandal of gentiles, primarily in Marseilles, which has been taking place of late, has shocked the whole world of dayanim and the rabbinate of Europe and Eretz Yisroel. Facts which were brought to the attention of Yated Ne'eman point to three groups of candidates who first sought conversion in Marseilles, and but then went to seek other places as easier paths, even though Marseilles does have a permanent and prominent beis din served by distinguished rabbonim: HaRav Reuven Ohanna; Dayan HaRav Shmuel Malul; HaRav Moshe Schwab; HaRav Saadya Benyoun and Dayan Harav Avraham Der'i, who deal with the full gamut of Jewish court issues including commercial matters, divorce and conversion. This is the kind of beis din that should be dealing with matters of conversion, according to the guidelines laid down by HaRav Eliashiv zt"l.
The scandal begins with a local initiative of one resident of Marseilles who decided to establish an "Institute for Conversion Training" which gathered groups of families interested in receiving a fully recognized certificate of conversion.
According to the testimony of members of groups enrolled therein but who chose in the end to be converted officially and halachically, with the purpose of accepting the yoke of Torah and mitzvos, they transferred to Barcelona which promised a process whereby they were assured that their conversion would by fully recognized by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate.
Tens of `conversions' were duly provided in three sessions of a provisional beis din, in each of which some fifteen to 35 conversions were approved in one shot. Each candidate was required to pay a fee of thousands of Euro in order to be "processed."
The conversion procedure which was taking place in Barcelona up till then, encountered difficulties which were dealt with fully through bypass means. When the Barcelona kehilla shut down the local mikveh, the candidates who successfully completed their preparatory qualifications, were immersed in Marseilles itself, in the Beit Simha la Roz kehilla.
A meeting of the Beis Din in Barcelona took place in Kislev, 5779 (18/11/2018), while the immersions were made in Marseilles on the 12th of Kislev. Afterwards, a beis din comprised of a local rabbi and itinerant dayanim who came from Israel especially for the purpose of converting the candidates (in violation of the guidelines of HaRav Eliashiv and adopted by the Rabbanut), began immersing them in Nice, the regional capital of Grad in southern France. After Harav Ohanna, chief rabbi of Marseilles, raised a protest, the conversion faction was closed down, as well as the mikveh in Nice, and the third round of conversion candidates were immersed with the meeting of the beis din on 11/3/2018, and the immersions taking place on the following day in Malaga, Spain.
This episode involves conversion candidates almost all of whom were from Marseilles, and the majority of which were not previously known to the local beis din members of their city. Rather, they were plucked by two Marseilles residents, one of whom is a teacher of Jewish subjects in the Jewish school and the other, a self-styled rabbi who is not recognized by the local rabbinate — and all of which is staged in order to reap the steep procedural fee for the conversion which was scheduled to take place in a different location.
The consolidation of the groups and the gathering of the conversion candidates was additionally made possible by other Jews who cooperated with them out of 'love for the convert', as it were, with the purpose of facilitating the conversion process, and to save them the need of appealing to the Marseilles Beis Din which is known to make it difficult for potential converts for very legitimate halachic reasons. It should be noted that most of the cases which were examined were for the sake of matrimony without any real prospect of the candidates assuming the yoke of Torah and mitzvos. Similarly, many cases were based on legitimizing a Jewish status of children born to a gentile mother so that they could integrate into the Jewish community.
Part of the documentation received by Yated. The scene at one of the unreliable courts
Testimonies reaching Yated Ne'eman are based on video clips, photos and documents which raised a storm in the world of dayonus and rabbonus throughout Europe and Israel. Several months ago, with the blessing and guidance of our Torah leadership, the Chief Rabbi; the Committee of European Rabbonim and the European Beis Din, headed by HaRav Chanoch Ehrentreu, arrived at an agreement which received public expression, whereby the rabbonim of Europe and the Chief Rabbinate would jointly refuse to recognize any conversion not approved by a recognized, authoritative and important standing beis din, according to the halachic guidelines which HaRav Eliashiv established. Rabbonim who would not abide by these, it was determined, would be ousted from the list of rabbis recognized by the "Council of European Rabbis" (CER). The purpose thereof was to stop the progress of the phenomenon of itinerant rabbis who made conversions for a fee.
Chief Rabbi Lau, one of the leaders of the effort to halt this dangerous trend, tells Yated Ne'eman: "Ever since I was appointed to serve as the president of the Beis Din Hagodol, the issue of conversions taking place in various botei din throughout the world was brought to my attention. At that time, the first rule I established was that conversions outside of Eretz Yisroel must take place only in permanent and esteemed botei din. Botei din were advised to only recognize such permanently established courts resided by local recognized dayonim."