Convention of Rabbis: How to Make Conversion More Convenient

Joining Jewish nation has never been easy. Now with High Court of Justice’s recognition of ‘fly-by-night conversions,’ rabbis from all streams of orthodoxy have convened in bid to find way to make conversion process more convenient. Some decisions already made, but still no big news

Anyone who knows someone who has gone through the conversion process in Israel has heard about the hardships and bureaucratic complication he encountered on the way to joining the Jewish nation. As if the process weren’t convoluted enough, the different streams of orthodoxy have been fighting for years with one another on the issue of conversion, piling additional difficulties on the converts.

Now it seems as though a solution may be on the horizon. This week, the conference of rabbis for correcting conversion, preventing mixed marriages and preventing assimilation opened with the participation of rabbis and rabbinical judges from all streams of Orthodoxy: Hassidic, Lithuanian, national religious, and members of the Chief Rabbinate. The hope is that the conclusions of the conference will lead to a simplification of conversion arrangements, with cooperation between all the relevant bodies.

For time immemorial, joining the Jewish nation hasn’t been easy. According to orthodox law, only someone who is committed to keeping the commandments and following the Torah, and who can prove his sincerity to do so, is eligible to convert.

The conference that opened this week is attempting to withstand the challenges of our era, which have become increasingly difficult since start of immigration from the former Soviet Union in the 1990’s and the High Court’s approval of “fly-by-night” conversions of other denominations of Judaism.

At the end of three days of discussion, it was decided to improve the system of conversion in Israel with a goal of making it “serious, but convenient.” One of the organizers said, “There is no doubt that the conversion system needs improvement, especially from a bureaucratic perspective. Often, it is made difficult for people who are asking to convert and they are treated with excessive suspicion. Therefore, they turn to other non-Orthodox denominations of Judaism to do their conversion.”

It has been agreed upon that all factors dealing with conversion, be they the Chief Rabbinate, private courts, or courts specializing in conversion, should cooperate with one another. This should be through, among other things, establishing a special learning track for rabbis and yeshiva students that will include lessons and exams in conversion law.

Despite the unity demonstrated at the conference, disagreements came up during the discussions. Some of the participants claimed that, in many instances, rabbinical judges specializing in conversion, convert gentiles without wondering about their intentions. Despite this, the spiritual leader of Shas, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, called on the participants not to create excessive difficulties that would heighten assimilation.

One of the great Lithuanian rabbis, Rabbi Yosef Elyashiv, objected saying that one must protest the existing conversion system. “There are few people in today’s world who can be called righteous gentiles. There is an obligation to create awareness about this and to do all in our capacity to limit the threatening loopholes surrounding this issue,” quoted Rabbi Leib Troufer at the conference.

Rabbi Yona Metzger suggested a few central points for accepting a conversion candidate: prior acquaintance with the candidate, no opening a file for a candidate already being dealt with by a different religious court, adoption of the conversion candidate into a Torah observant family for at least a year, and a full-panel interview of the candidate by the religious court.


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