Last week, in a very controversial step, the Israel
Government's Minister for Diaspora Affairs, Michael Melchior,
said that even though the Orthodox establishment speaks only
about conversions conducted for those who declare that they
will observe the mitzvos, "hardly any of those who were
converted actually observe the mitzvos but no one will say
that is the policy." Minister Melchior said this at a meeting
with the editorial board of the Jerusalem Post.
Minister Melchior proposed a plan to Prime Minister Barak for
the mass conversion of 20,000 non-Jews a year that would
include: extensive conversion of minors, the establishing of
100 joint conversion ulpans with the Conservatives and the
Reform, and massive conversions in the army.
The Vaad HaRabbonim Haolami LeInyonei Giyur headed by HaRav
Chaim Kreiswirth of Antwerp, reacted sharply to Minister
Melchior's remarks. It especially noted Melchior's
hypocritical proposal to found a system for massive
conversions, even though he knows that such conversions are
spurious. Proof that the plan is a farce is the fact that Uri
Regev, the representative of the Reform in Israel, and Ehud
Bendel of the Conservative movement, praised Melchior's
The Jerusalem Post quoted the chairman of the Vaad,
HaRav Nochum Eisenstein, who said that Melchior's proposal
totally violates the directives of the Chief Rabbinate, which
mandate that minors who seek to convert be guaranteed a
religious education so that when they reach maturity they
will continue to observe Torah and mitzvos.
Melchior, who was Norway's Chief Rabbi before making aliyah,
was accepted years ago into the Conference of European Rabbis
with limiting conditions and with the understanding that he
would not conduct conversions, because the rabbonim were even
then wary of his true beliefs.
At the meeting with the editorial board of the Jerusalem
Post, Melchior said further: "If the members of my
community (abroad) would hear my current position on the
issue of conversion, they would be shocked." He admitted that
when he was involved in conversions abroad, he was stringent
(according to his approach). He also said that his plans for
mass conversion have national importance. He added that even
though, according to the Orthodox, genuine mitzvah observance
is the sine qua non of conversion, most of the current
"converts" do not observe the mitzvos.
The chairman of the Vaad HaRabbonim LeInyonei Giyur said that
Minister Melchior, who is mainly a politician, is not
authorized to deal with conversions, and thus it is
inappropriate for him to present a plan for mass conversions
to the Prime Minster without receiving the approval of the
Chief Rabbinate. The spokesman added that under Melchior's
plans, the "converts" will remain non-Jews. "If he has a
national problem with the masses of non-Jews who have arrived
in Israel, he should search for other solutions, aside from
that of spurious conversion."
The chairman of the Vaad also complained that Melchior's
plans to "prepare masses of non-Jews" obligates prospective
"conversion" candidates to undergo circumcision even though
they have absolutely no intention of keeping the mitzvos.
This, the spokesman said, is inhumane, since circumcision in
such cases merely wounds the conversion candidate without
making him Jewish, since any conversion that does not include
keeping mitzvos is null and void even bedi'eved.
The chairman of the Vaad HaRabbonim expressed his hope that
Melchior will stop interfering in issues in which he is not
qualified to decide. The spokesman also hoped that the Chief
Rabbis will remain on the alert and will reject all of the
plans of Minister Melchior.
Surprisingly, to date no official statement has been issued
by the Chief Rabbinate on this matter. Furthermore, in a
related matter, the Chief Rabbinate has not taken any action
against Rabbis Druckman and Avior who announced that the
conversion court in Or Etzion would cooperate with the joint
conversion institutes even though they have been prohibited
by the Chief Rabbinate.
The Vaad chairman concluded: "Massive conversions cannot be
seen as a solution for the problem which was created by the
massive immigration of non-Jews to Israel, because it is
impossible to expect that people who were detached from any
affinity to religion for scores of years will agree to
observe mitzvos seriously. And as is known, the failure to
agree to observe the mitzvos invalidates a conversion even
"Melchior is a prominent member of the Meimad Party, which
broke away from the National Religious Party. It should be
noted that the NRP officially supported the conclusions of
the Ne'eman Committee that called for these joint conversion
institutes even though the NRP's own rabbis and the Chief
Rabbinate both prohibited them."
The rabbonim of the Vaad have asked the secretariat of the
Conference of European Rabbis to cancel Melchior's membership
in their federation, since his positions, in respect to
conversion, contradict the halacha.