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27 Elul 5759 - September 8, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Conversion Industry in Or Etzion Defies the Guidelines of Chief Rabbi Yisroel Meir Lau

by B. Rabinowitz

The wholesale conversion industry in the special conversion court in Or Etzion functions in total defiance of the guidelines issued by the Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi Yisroel Meir Lau who is currently responsible for the Chief Rabbinate's Rabbinical Courts. Despite this fact, senior officials in the Chief Rabbinate have instructed the chairman of the Conversion Administration, Rabbi Yisrael Rosen, to approve all of the "conversions" conducted in that special conversion court. This information arises from an extensive investigation made by Yated Ne'eman's reporter. Last week Yated Ne'eman exposed for the first time, the serious affair in which the Chief Rabbinate approved the files of 100 "conversions" conducted in the special conversion court in Or Etzion headed by Rabbi Druckman, after the cases were delayed for a number of months, due to the fact that the minimum conditions required by the Chief Rabbinate were not met.

A year ago, Chief Rabbi Yisroel Meir Lau issued guidelines and procedures to the special conversion courts. In his letter he wrote: "Upon my assuming the position of the President of the Greater Rabbinical Court, I have seen it necessary to examine the activities of the conversion courts. These courts were established in order to find solutions to the many who seek to join our Nation, and whose aim is to accept the yoke of the mitzvos. The purpose of these courts is to strengthen the conversion procedures in line with the halocho."

Later on, the Chief Rabbi delineates his manner of relating to conversions. "Insofar as conversion certificates from abroad are concerned, we do not relate directly to the conversion candidates, but to the certificates issued and the issuers. On the other hand, the certificates we issue over here constitute approvals of the rabbinical courts. In my opinion we should follow the same procedure here in Israel, and the certificates which will be given by the Chief Rabbinate should be certificates testifying to the qualifications of the conversion court, without relating to the conversion candidate. As a result, the formations of the conversion courts will have to receive the approval of the President of the Greater Rabbinical Court."

The Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi determines in his letter that "care must be taken that every one of the sitting courts be comprised of at least one certified dayan, authorized by the Council of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. The remaining members of the court will be rabbonim recognized by the Council of the Chief Rabbinate, authorized by it serve as rabbonim. . . . Residents from abroad and tourists will not be able to appear before those courts [for a conversion], unless they have received the special approval of the President of the Supreme Rabbinical Court. Such a certificate may conceivably be granted only after the applicant has received a suitable recommendation from the Rabbinate or from a rabbinical figure known in the applicant's area of residence."

Despite these clear directives, which made a significant contribution in this area, the special conversion courts in Or Etzion continued to convert non-Jews in total defiance of the guidelines and the procedures. They continued to maintain their previous composition, which included no member who authorized as a dayan to handle the conversion application, and some of which were also performed on foreign residents and tourists, against the guidelines. The conversion cases seen by the staff of Yated Ne'eman point to a very severe situation, in which fictitious conversions are conducted in wholesale amounts. The the Vaad Horabbonim Haolami Leinyonei Giyur headed by HaRav Chaim Kreiswirth has learned that Rabbi Yosef Avior, who administers the conversion court in Or Etzion, was arranging for conversions in Europe this week against the decision of the established local Orthodox rabbinate.

Despite these details, and the many activities of the beis din carried out in defiance of the guidelines and procedures of the Rabbinate, senior officials in the Chief Rabbinate instructed the head of the Conversion Administration, Rabbi Yisrael Rosen, to approve 100 such files. Our reporter has learned that approvals of these applications took place as a result of heavy pressure exerted by the heads of the special conversion court, Rabbi Chaim Druckman and Rabbi Yosef Avior, who promised that from now on they would conduct the court in accordance with the guidelines. However, in reality, the two continue to operate their "conversion industry," in total defiance of the instructions of the Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi.

Our reporter has also learned that Rabbi Yosef Avior continues to operate a totally independent beis din for converting minors which functions in defiance of the guidelines of the Chief Rabbinate, which state that every adopting family must be obligate itself to educate their the adopted children to Torah and mitzvos. Prominent askonim involved in the issue have told our reporter tat the granting of approvals to 100 conversion cases, as well as backing the conversion system for minors, has destroyed the arduous efforts made over the past year to base the special conversion courts on clear-cut instructions and mandatory guidelines and procedures.

Reports in the media indicate that the graduates of the conversion institutes, which operate jointly with Reform and Conservatives and which were strictly forbidden by all maranan verabonon and all of the great rabbonim and poskim of our times, are negotiating with the conversion court in Or Etzion to accept their graduates, and reportedly the heads of this court, Rabbi Druckman and Rabbi Avior, plan to cooperate with these institutes. It should be noted that the only joint conversion institute was started in Carmiel, and it has since dispersed due to lack of interest. An alternative program which is currently operationg in Beer Sheva is about to close as well.

An investigation conducted by our reporter indicates that all 100 of the "conversion" certificate were signed by Rabbi Yisrael Rosen, who is the head of the Conversion Administration in the Chief Rabbinate, in addition to his other activities as head of the Tsomet Institute for Halacha that recently developed a "Shabbos cart" that was advertised, but widely criticized by halachic authorities. However, from a discussion we held with Rabbi Rosen, we learned that the procedures regarding the composition of the special conversion courts are dependent on the approval of another senior official in the Chief Rabbinate and, after he approved these conversions, bedi'eved, Rabbi Rosen also signed them. "It's not up to me," Rabbi Rosen stressed.

Rabbi Rosen also sharply attacked the rabbi of a special conversion court in the south, who defies the guidelines and procedures of the Chief Rabbinate. He also noted that the special conversion court in Or Etzion functions in defiance of the instructions of the Interior Ministry, which opposes conducting conversions for tourists and foreign citizens, in order to prevent the naturalization of foreign workers, criminals and the like. He said that even though the Conversion Administration wrote the courts not to convert those people, Rabbi Druckman and Rabbi Avior ignored their directives and did as they pleased.

Rabbi Rosen related that in his possession are a number of conversion records of people whom he warned Rabbis Druckman and Avior not to covert, but nonetheless, "conversions" were performed. "I warn about this, even though I am referring to a Knesset member from my own party, who is behaving in defiance of the regulations and procedures. They do what they please, because they say that they are following in the footsteps of former Chief Rabbi Goren. There are files which are missing and if it is necessary to examine the issue, we may have to search for them in Rabbi Druckman's basement. The situation is intolerable. This is a public sandal," Rabbi Rosen said.

Prominent rabbonim and dayanim expressed sharp protest over the backing and legitimization accorded these courts by various officials in the Chief Rabbinate, and said that these people are directly responsible for the vast penetration of non-Jews into the Jewish Nation. "We find it difficult to imagine the continuation of this disgraceful situation, especially in light of th fact that these courts function in defiance of the guidelines and instructions issued by the Chief Rabbi himself. The time has come to stop throwing sand in the face of the public, and to eliminate the special conversion court in Or Etzion, and to examine, in a very thorough manner what is taking place in the other special conversion courts. It should also be noted that the requirements of the Chief Rabbinate with regard to the operation of the special conversion courts only refer to administrative matters. Even if those directives are fully followed, serious doubts could still exist as to the sincerity of the candidates to fully and properly accept Torah and mitzvos.

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