Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

13 Adar II 5768 - March 20, 2008 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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MK Rabbi Gafni: "Conversion Must Only be Done According to Halochoh."

By Eliezer Rauchberger and Yechiel Sever

"Conversion must only be done according to halacha," MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni declared during a Knesset Interior Committee meeting on conversion in Israel.

Held earlier this week at the office of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, the meeting was attended by Rabbinate conversion officials and Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who heads the Rabbinate's conversion system.

Secular committee members lodged criticism against the bureaucracy in the system, claiming there is a deliberate set of obstacles and demanding the system become "friendlier" to conversion candidates.

Rabbi Gafni noted that every government ministry has bureaucracy regardless of chareidi involvement. He condemned the ease with which non-Jews can enter Klal Yisroel, calling it "easier than joining a beer-drinking club." He noted that other religions are much harder to enter, citing the Druse who make no provision for anybody not born a Druse to become one.

He said the committee ought to ask forgiveness from HaRav Yitzchok Peretz, who warned some twenty years ago against a massive influx of non-Jews into the country and all the problems that would result, including conversion issues. "Instead of confronting the problem back then, he was attacked for no good reason. He was right."

Rabbi Amar told the committee members about the setup of an internal committee of inquiry to evaluate the Chief Rabbinate's conversion system. "If I'm not mistaken converts are taught the same way they were taught 50 years ago, and if a way to teach during the conversion process is found to be friendlier, we'll adopt new teaching methods," he said.

He said the new committee to be set up will look into the procedures candidates must go through and "anything that is difficult and burdensome in the conversion process will be assessed."

At the same time he noted, "Criminals and frauds also pass through the conversion pipes and we've used espionage and crime ID labs to cope with the problem."

Committee Chairman Ophir Pines (Labor) hailed Rabbi Amar's announcement, saying he hopes "the change would ease the suffering today's converts have to undergo."

MK Yossi Beilin (Meretz) demanded taking the decision of who is Jewish out of the Chief Rabbinate's hands, instead transferring this authority to the Interior Minister.

Rabbi Gafni reacted by saying, "This stance would mean dismantling the state."

MK David Azoulai (Shas) also responded harshly to Beilin's remarks. "The moment politicians determine conversion it will be a disaster for Israel. The rabbonim and dayanim must be allowed to do their job."

A spokesman for Vaad HaRabbonim Haolami LeInyonei Giyur founded by HaRav Chaim Kreiswirth zt"l said there can be no leniencies in the area of conversion or the setup of a "friendly" conversion system, saying the intention of the Chief Rabbi remains unclear. "Of course there can be no compromise in requiring the conversion candidate to make an earnest commitment to all of the mitzvas, without which the conversion is invalid — even bedi'eved. Therefore along with all of these efforts to streamline the conversion system, the Chief Rabbinate must once and for all clearly tell the Interior Ministry and all other government officials involved that there is no way to use conversion as a solution to the problem of the hundreds of thousands of non- Jews who came to Eretz Yisroel in recent years, and the number of genuine conversions performed over the course of a year can reasonably be expected to be to no more than a few hundred."

On another issue, the Chief Rabbi had observed, "All of Am Yisroel was negligent in not working to bring Ethiopian Jewry into Am Yisroel." Therefore he recommended that the Interior Committee amend the law in a way that would allow rabbonim to convert the 8,000 Falashmura who remain in Ethiopia before they come to Israel and only then bring them to Israel.

The Vaad spokesman said that the Vaad HaRabbonim "has no objection to converting Ethiopians, who all require a giyur lechumro, but to do so they would have to keep mitzvas in their entirety. They cannot be converted en masse, but each conversion candidate must be checked on an individual basis to ascertain whether he or she is genuinely prepared to accept mitzvah observance properly."

The spokesman said that the Vaad is disappointed that the Chief Rabbinate does not come out with a clear statement that mass conversion is not possible, and it continues to issue misleading and confusing messages.


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