Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Charedi World

1 Kislev 5760 - November 10, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Big Bucks in European "Conversions"

by B. Rabinowitz and Yated Staff

Shocking testimony of the corrupt activity of Rabbi Yosef Avior, one of the heads of the special conversion court in Or Etzion in the south of Israel, has been presented to the beis din of the gaavad of Antwerp, HaRav Chaim Kreiswirth. The testimony states that Rabbi Avior conducted a series of "conversions" for Belgian nationals for financial gain.

Rabbi Avior has long been active throughout Europe, operating a "conversion" industry there similar to the one he heads in Or Etzion. Recently, a delegation of European rabbonim and dayanim met with Chief Rabbi of Israel Yisroel Meir Lau and sharply decried the serious problems Rabbi Avior is causing throughout Europe through his "conversions." The rabbonim claimed that Rabbi Avior's activities stand in direct contradiction and contrast to the position of Europe's rabbonim and that he is not authorized by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate to perform such conversions. Despite these harsh realities, no initiative to halt the extensive conversion industry has been taken.

Last week, appalling evidence of the activity was presented to the beis din in Antwerp. Witnesses relate that Rabbi Avior received the equivalent of 8000 dollars for a conversion ceremony he conducted for a resident of Brussels.

The battle within Israel against the activities of Or Etzion's Rabbis Druckman and Avior has gained impetus due to the publicity surrounding the approval granted by director of the rabbinical courts, Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, to 38 "conversions." The "conversions" were of adopted children and the majority were performed in total defiance of official Chief Rabbinate procedure. The behavior of the Rabbinate officials and Rabbi Druckman is especially astonishing in light of the fact that after the Rabbinate had previously held up 100 adult conversion files, Rabbi Druckman explicitly promised to abide by Chief Rabbinate directives.

An extensive article in Ha'aretz under the heading, "Coffee Break Beis Din" makes it absolutely clear that the dominant figure in the special court in Or Etzion is Rabbi Yosef Avior. It states: "In recent years, he has become the official and only address for conversion candidates who have been rejected by other frameworks. This court has been the prime address for parents who adopt minors abroad. Even the minors who at first turned to the Conservative movement court at Kibbutz Hanaton [and who were the subjects of the appeal to the High Court to recognize Conservative conversions] were in the end converted in Druckman's court."

Rabbi Avior is quoted in the article as saying: "Our basic hypothesis is that we have not come to convert the parents. They are bona fide Jews, and it is not our job to make them more Jewish or to influence them to do teshuva. We only have to guarantee that the adopted child we have converted lives in an environment where a basic Jewish lifestyle is maintained. As far as we are concerned, even a Tali school [secular schools with enrichment programs in Judaism] is sufficient."

Prominent rabbonim and dayanim told our reporter that there is no doubt that if Chief Rabbinate procedures were truly followed, the phenomenon of spurious, quick conversions would significantly decrease. However, Rabbi Avior's own admission indicates that, at least as far as he is concerned, guidelines are one thing and deeds another. Rabbis Druckman and Avior are continuing to do as they please in the special beis din in Or Etzion, despite their repeated commitments to follow the guidelines of the Chief Rabbinate.

Rabbonim sharply decried the inefficacy of the Chief Rabbinate against Rabbi Avior's court and similar courts, which are directly responsible for the penetration of massive numbers of non-Jews into the Jewish Nation. "We find it difficult to even conceive of the continuation of a situation in which courts function in defiance of the directives of the Chief Rabbinate, while at the same time, Rabbinate officials approve these conversions. It is time to stop fooling the public and to call an immediate halt to the activity of the special court in Or Etzion."

Yated Ne'eman asked Rabbi Avior for his reaction, but he did not reply to our questions. He also spoke sharply against Yated Ne'eman, saying: "Do you expect me to react to you after all that Yated writes about me?"

Based on the testimony given in the Antwerp beis din last week and also on information from the files of the Vaad HaRabbonim Haolami LeInyonei Giyur headed by HaRav Chaim Kreiswirth the following picture of the European operation can be put together:

Rabbis Druckman and Avior started their conversion activities in Europe about five years ago. In the beginning, Rabbi Druckman travel to Europe several times using his credentials as an av beis din and a senior member of the NRP political party to make connections and contacts to put together a conversion operation in Europe.

In a later stage, Rabbi Druckman stopped traveling to Europe and the major part of the operation was transferred to Rabbi Avior, a colleague of his on the Or Etzion conversion court, to administer.

In the beginning the conversions were conducted in Europe. However, when the Vaad discovered that Rabbi Avior was conducting conversions in Zurich, the Vaad -- in cooperation with leading European rabbis and especially the chairman of the Conference of European Rabbis the Lord Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits who passed away last week -- was able to stop the actual conversions from taking place in Europe, even though here and there Rabbi Avior still conducted some ceremonies in Europe.

Because of these ongoing efforts of the Vaad in cooperation with leading European rabbis, Rabbi Avior had to reorganize his activities which became more discreet. After the initial interview of the conversion candidates in Europe, they are brought to Israel where the actual "conversion" ceremony takes place.

These conversions are not registered with the Israeli Chief Rabbinate or with the Israeli Department of Religions and are even conducted in complete defiance of written instructions of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate which do not allow any conversions of foreign residents in Israel.

Rabbi Avior's European conversion industry is completely private and it collects handsome fees.

It should also be mentioned that these conversions are not recognized by any prominent beis din in Europe. They are usually done only to kasher an intermarriage but in reality the innocent Jewish family members are only fooled into thinking that the marriage will be acceptable with this type of "conversion."

With the new disclosure that Rabbi Avior takes a large fee for his "services" it is hoped that the Israeli Chief Rabbinate will finally put an end to this private business.

The Antwerp Beis Din is continuing its investigation of the situation.

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