Funding freed for courses for 2,800 would-be converts

Six million shekels ($ 1.3 million) allocated for government-backed conversion classes in 2002 has finally been freed up, after a bid by ultra-Orthodox legislators to stymie the allocation.

The 10-month conversion courses, jointly run by Orthodox, Conservative and Reform rabbis, have produced about 1,000 graduates, since the first pilot project in 1999.
Of those, 120 have subsequently converted to Judaism after satisfying a special conversion court of the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate; the others are still completing the conversion procedures. The new funding will cover 140 conversion classes, serving 2,800 candidates, most of them immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

The ultra-Orthodox effort against the tripartite conversion classes, was spearheaded by Knesset Finance Committee head Ya’akov Litzman (United Torah Judaism). Litzman, with the backing of other ultra-Orthodox committee members, refused to release some six million shekels in funding budgeted for the project – because of objections to the non-Orthodox rabbis’ role in the courses.

An official working with Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Melchior, the government official in charge of the conversion classes, told The Report that in November, Litzman “simply prevented the money from going through because the ultra-Orthodox have never accepted these conversion classes. They believe it’s the first step toward recognizing Conservative and Reform Judaism. We applied political pressure and finally they agreed.”

According to the Melchior aide, the funding was But, the official says, the deal had two stipulations; that the allocation to be “buried” in another budgetary request, so as not to offend Litzman and other ultra-Orthodox committee members, and the committee gave its approval on a day “when Litzman was absent.”

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