National-religious figures associated with the special
conversion botei din have begun a public relations
campaign to justify their practices, claiming "the existing
framework is Orthodox and its converts are accepted among all
streams [of Judaism], including the chareidim." The Vaad
HaRabbonim LeInyonei Giyur, founded by the late HaRav Chaim
Kreiswirth, has denied these claims.
The settlement-movement newspaper BeSheva of last
month published a long interview with Rabbi Yisrael Rosen,
who set up special conversion botei din under the
auspices of the Tzomet Institute several years ago and today
serves as a dayan in a special conversion court.
In the interview, Rabbi Rosen revealed worrisome details
about the inner workings of the conversion botei din,
such as the fact that they convert 18 people per day. "We try
to utilize all possibilities to be lenient from a halachic
standpoint," said Rabbi Rosen.
Later in the interview Rabbi Rosen said, "The existing
framework is Orthodox and its results are accepted among all
streams [of Judaism], including the chareidim. Even if they
are not partners in this framework or its activity, they
accept the conversions bedi'eved. In hilchos
geirim, like many things in life, there is a difference
between lechatchila and bedi'eved. This
distinction is understood in halacha, particularly in
Rabbi Yisrael Rosen said he favors large-scale conversion due
to the large number of goyim living in Israel, which
could eventually affect "the image of the Jewish State," and
because the non-Jewish immigrant population helped bring the
Right to power. On the other hand, Rosen notes that
encouraging conversion is not part of the Minister of
Absorption's duties. "It is forbidden to encourage
conversion. Proselytizing is unacceptable," says Rosen.
"Today approximately 4,000 people convert annually, half of
whom are Ethiopian immigrants, which from a practical
standpoint and a motivational standpoint is another story
entirely. The main public interest is not in them but in the
immigrants from the former Soviet Union, and today even in
Argentinean immigrants and immigrants from other
"Regarding the immigrants from the former Soviet Union there
is a serious problem in terms of awareness. Today there are
2,000 converts among them annually and there could be many
more, even five times as many. But at present there is no
government body in Israel that promotes or even makes [these
potential converts] aware that such options are available.
Those graced by fate, the Marina or Griesha who came to
convert, could have brought along another three or four
people like them."
In truth, since the special conversion botei din were
initially set up maranan verabonon have opposed them
for bringing goyim into Kerem Yisroel. Without genuine
acceptance of all of the mitzvos, a giyur is not valid
even bedi'eved, yet these assembly-line botei
din fail to investigate whether potential converts have
any real intention of keeping mitzvos.
According to the Vaad, following enrollment at the beginning
of the school year dozens of major schools-- particularly
schools that specialize in providing children of immigrants
an education in Torah and mitzvos and that operate in
accordance with maranan verabonon--inquired into the
official status of new students. Based on inquiries conducted
this year, of the approximately fifty families that underwent
"conversion" at the specialized conversion botei din
not a single family managed to bring a letter of
recommendation from a rov or a religious family attesting
that they keep Torah and mitzvos.
The Vaad is currently checking documents that point to full
cooperation between the Chief Rabbinate and dayanim at
the conversion botei din, and the Joint Conversion
Institutes, a Reform/Conservative institute banned by all
leading rabbonim and by the Chief Rabbinate itself. The Chief
Rabbinate claims these organizations make unauthorized use of
its name in order to promote various conversion programs.
As the chief rabbis near the end of their terms in office,
individuals associated with the Rabbinate expressed hopes
last week that the new chief rabbis to be selected would
ensure all authority over conversions is handed over to
established, reputable botei din exclusively.
When the current chief rabbis assumed their posts ten years
ago Rav Kreiswirth met with the Rishon Letzion, who
explicitly promised to close all of the specialized
conversion botei din. The Vaad says not only did the
chief rabbis fail to keep their promise, but they even
expanded the activities of these botei din.
Rabbinate Conversion Courts Director Rabbi Eli Ben- Dahan
effectively confirmed these claims by Vaad HaRabbonim Haolami
LeInyonei Giyur that the special conversion courts are
extremely lax in their adherence to halochoh.
During a conference held last month at religious kibbutz
Be'erot Yitzchak to discuss how the national- religious
sector can help promote the conversion of new immigrants, in
response to claims by the Director of the Joint Conversion
Institutes that the special conversion courts are overly
stringent, Rabbi Ben-Dahan said, "The dayanim at
conversion courts seek every possible loophole to accept a
[candidate for conversion], and there is no resistance on the
part of the conversion courts, but on the part of the
immigrants who have no desire to convert." Rabbi Ben- Dahan
said the number of conversions performed by these rabbinical
courts has increased ten-fold over the last decade.
However, during the course of the conference Rabbi Ben- Dahan
denied Rabbi Rosen's assertions that the chareidi public
accepts conversions performed by the special conversion
courts. Rabbi Ben-Dahan also said the beis din system
is capable of processing 10,000 conversions annually, but
only 3,400 conversions were performed last year, blaming what
he perceived as low numbers on chareidi opposition and a lack
of interest among immigrants.
The Vaad spokesman said that despite the increase in the
number of so-called converts over the last decade, without
the Vaad's constant opposition in principle the figures could
have been several times higher. He accused Rabbi Ben-Dahan
for the lack of seriousness prevailing in the conversion
system and its failure to maintain minimal halachic
"While the Chief Rabbinate forbids any use of its name in
association with the Joint Institutes," added the Vaad
spokesman, "the administration of the rabbinate conversion
courts openly and officially cooperates with them. The fact
that Rabbi Ben-Dahan participated in a conference with the
Joint Institutes administration is additional proof of the
cooperation with them."
The spokesman also noted an article by Rabbi Ben-Dahan
published in Hatsofe several months ago in which he
wrote, "The budget allocations for the Joint Institutes,
which include Reform and Conservative board members, are
routed through the Chief Rabbinate's rabbinical courts
administration and they work in cooperation with the special
conversion courts on a number of matters." According to the
Vaad spokesman it remains unclear how this accords with the
Chief Rabbinical Council's decision of 13 Shevat 5758 that
"gedolei Yisroel forbid any cooperation with them or
their mode of approach."