Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

8 Adar II 5763 - March 12, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Jewish Agency Plans to Launch Accelerated Conversion Program in Eastern Europe
by Betzalel Kahn

The Jewish Agency has made preparations to launch an accelerated conversion program for non-Jews from the former Soviet Union in Eastern Europe, according to an announcement in Ha'aretz last week.

The report of these bolstered efforts to bring thousands of goyim into Kerem Yisroel in the face of warnings issued by maranan verabonon for years appears to herald the type of destruction the new government intends to wreak by attacking the Jewish character of the country.

A camp called Har Sinai is slated to open in an Eastern European country to absorb immigrants on their way to Israel and prepare them for conversion at Rabbinate botei din to be set up onsite.

According to the report, "The conversion, which will be Orthodox in every respect, will be performed by special panels of rabbis that will be flown there from Israel. The entire procedure is planned to last only four weeks. Currently the shortest conversion program in Israel is six months . . . Several rabbis of repute in the Orthodox establishment in Israel agreed in principle to take part in the campaign. At this stage the program is only planned to accommodate 150-200 immigrants, but if successful it will allow thousands of immigrants to convert."

Continues Ha'aretz, "The opening of the accelerated conversion program is a far-reaching move by the Jewish Agency that is intended to allow immigrants to sidestep the bottleneck of the Rabbinate courts in Israel. Despite increasing public pressure, Rabbinate courts have refused to change their policy, and convert only a few hundred immigrants from the former Soviet Union annually."

As proof that government heads in Israel intend to alter the conversion procedure "to ease" the acclimatization of non- Jewish immigrants, notes the newspaper, three central figures have been working intensively to find a "solution" to the problem: Jewish Agency Chairwoman Solly Meridor, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Attorney Yaakov Ne'eman. According to Ha'aretz, "Definitely the setup of the new government and the appointment of MK Avraham Poraz of Shinui as Interior Minister could greatly facilitate the implementation of the program. The Jewish Agency estimates that conversions can begin within a few months."

A top Jewish Agency official said, "The prediction that the number of Arab citizens of Israel will double within 20 years has been keeping me awake at night. We must realize if we take into account that in addition to the Arabs there will be several hundred thousand non-Jews here, within a few years the Jews will turn into a small minority of the country."

The newspaper added, "The idea of conversion abroad under Israeli sanction was already tried during the massive first wave of immigration from the Soviet Union in the 1970s. Orthodox rabbis were sent to Vienna to perform conversions, but this effort was only partially successful because some of the rabbis were not considered qualified by the Orthodox establishment and the conversions they performed were not recognized. Therefore this time the Jewish Agency has decided to work "in cooperation with rabbis whose authority is not questioned," notes Ha'aretz, adding that "at this stage the identity of the rabbis has been kept secret due to concerns the Chief Rabbinate might apply pressure on them."

However, according to statements by Chief Rabbinate and Jewish Agency figures last week, those selected are from the special conversion beis din in Or Etzion headed by former Mafdal MK Rabbi Chaim Druckman and former Ramat Gan Chief Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, who is associated with the Mafdal; the latter recently announced his intention to vie for the post of Chief Rabbi of Israel in elections scheduled to be held in another few weeks. In a radio interview on March 10 Rabbi Druckman denied having been approached by the Jewish Agency on any such plan.

In an interview he granted to Ma'ariv a few weeks ago Rabbi Ariel said, "More specialized conversion botei din should be set up. More work should be done among the [new] immigrants to persuade them to convert." Yet last week he stated, "I did not get involved and I cannot get involved because I am not engaged in this matter."

Rabbi Druckman has been involved in fraudulent conversions abroad for years. The acting head of Druckman's beis din, Rabbi Yosef Avior, has traveled to numerous countries over the last five years to perform "conversions" despite opposition by local rabbonim. The Israel Chief Rabbinate has taken no steps to halt his activities.

The Jewish Agency's new move--backed by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his associate Yaakov Ne'eman--has stirred widespread anger. A top-ranking Chief Rabbinate source told Yated Ne'eman last week that the program poses a major threat since it is designed to circumvent the Chief Rabbinate, which has the exclusive legal sanction to perform and approve conversions in Israel. Essentially the government intends to strip the Rabbinate of its authority and to bring hundreds of thousands of goyim into the Jewish people, he said.

The Vaad HaRabbonim Haolami LeInyonei Giyur, founded by the late Rav Chaim Kreiswirth, says that two months ago negotiations took place with officials in the former Soviet Union in order to "export" rabbis to perform conversions. "These rabbis are associated with the specialized conversion botei din, which are known for not adhering to halocho, instead employing a conveyor-belt system based on knowledge alone without inquiring into whether the candidate genuinely intends to keep Torah and mitzvos," said the Vaad.

As early as one year ago the Jewish Agency, in conjunction with the Special Conversion Courts, sent a delegation of rabbonim involved in large-scale conversions to South America and now a similar delegation is slated to travel to India.

The Vaad spokesman added that the Rabbinate's conversion system is controlled by members of NRP and that established botei din have almost entirely ceased handling conversions. A candidate who contacts the secretariat at established local botei din to open a conversion file is typically refused and referred to the specialized conversion botei din.

"According to the law the person in charge of the specialized conversion botei din is supposed to be the Community Head, which in this case is the Chief Rabbi. Two years ago he transferred authority for the conversion system to Rabbinical Courts Director-General Eli Ben-Dahan, who acts on his own accord, while the Chief Rabbi absolves himself of responsibility for whatever takes place in the conversion system . . . [Ben-Dahan] openly collaborates with the [Reform] Joint Conversion Program, which was set up following a recommendation by the Ne'eman Committee, despite the fact that maranan verabonon gedolei Yisroel, and the Chief Rabbinate Council as well, prohibited all cooperation with them.

"The Vaad HaRabbonim calls on the chief rabbis to stand firm and ensure that at the least the Chief Rabbinate conversion system converts only candidates who were thoroughly reviewed to determine whether they indeed want to keep Torah and mitzvos . . . Orthodox Jews everywhere will not recognize the conversions under the Jewish Agency's new program, although an outwardly Orthodox rabbinical certificate will be issued. The time has come for only rabbonim with yiras Shomayim to get involved in matters of conversion, and for Yaakov Ne'eman and his cohorts to stop dealing with halachic issues while showing derision for halocho, disregarding the rabbonim and collaborating with [Reform] heretics."


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