The ITIM religious rights advocacy group has accused the state’s Conversion
Authority of adopting a “closed door policy” toward non-Israeli citizens
interested in conversion, and claimed the authority has created a “negative
image” that has led to an overall decrease in conversions.
unconscionable that the Conversion Authority is discouraging spouses of Israelis
to convert within the national system,” ITIM director Rabbi Shaul Farber said of
current conversion policy. “Having just marked the Shavuot festival when
we celebrate Ruth’s entry into the Jewish people, it is unfathomable that in
modern Israel, she wouldn’t have been accepted – even if she was married to an
ITIM, an Orthodox advocacy organization, argues that the
approximately 330,000 Israelis living in the country who are of Jewish ancestry
– but not Jewish according to Jewish law – are marrying Israelis, and thus
increasing intermarriage numbers in Israel. The organization argues that one of
the best ways to lower intermarriage levels is to make it easier for those who
want to convert to do so.
ITIM’s report cited Conversion Authority
statistics demonstrating a 7.5 percent decline in the number of conversions
performed in 2011 over 2010, from 4,625 to 4,293. There was also a decreasing
number of immigrants from the former Soviet Union who converted, down from 2,159
in 2010 to 1,936 in 2011, a decline of over 10%.
At the same time, the
number of people classified as being “without religion,” mostly immigrants from
the former Soviet Union or their descendants who are not considered Jewish
according to Jewish law, is growing. In 2009, the number stood at 313,000, which
by 2011 had climbed to 327,000, an increase of 4.5%.
The Prime Minister’s
Office, under whose auspices the Conversion Authority operates, responded that
the falling rate of conversion was due to the decreasing numbers of immigrants
from Ethiopia, who generally undergo conversion on arrival. The office also
argued that the number of converts from the former Soviet Union was also
“The Conversion Authority has in recent years carried out an
extensive optimization process, has substantially upgraded the level of service
and support that is provided to converts, and has also worked to ease
bureaucratic barriers, all while acting in strict accordance with the
requirements of Jewish law for converts,” the Prime Minister’s Office stated in
response to inquiries made by The Jerusalem Post.
According to ITIM, more
than 400 people turned to private, Orthodox rabbinical courts to convert in 2011
because of the difficulties they encountered with the Conversion Authority. This
number represents 10% of total conversions conducted in Israel last
ITIM’s report states that even officials, in certain circumstances,
have recommended that converts go to these private courts to convert and marry,
instead of to the state authority.
Addressing the issue in this manner is
extremely problematic, however, since the state does not recognize the validity
of conversions or marriages conducted in these courts.
In its annual
report released last week ahead of Shavuot, ITIM pointed to three areas of
concern where potential converts are being hindered by the state from enrolling
in and completing the official Orthodox conversion course.
drew attention to the refusal of some rabbis in localities throughout the
country to recognize conversions that were done through the state’s own
In response to this claim, the Prime Minister’s Office said the
Conversion Authority reports all cases in which a registrar hinders the marriage
registration of someone who converted under its auspices – to the Religious
Services Ministry, which is in charge of marriage registration.
conversion certificates issued by the conversion system are admissible for all
purposes and are authorized by [Sephardi] Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar,” the Prime
Minister’s Office said.
In its report, ITIM also described the decision
in December 2011 of the Conversion Authority to prevent the non-Jewish spouse of
an Israeli from applying to a conversion course for 18 months as “draconian;”
and claimed that the Interior Ministry continues to employ “illegal policies”
when evaluating whether someone who converted abroad should be allowed to
immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return.
According to the study,
these are people who “wish to convert in an Orthodox framework, build a Jewish
family and live a Jewish life.”
The organization says that a lot more
could be done to enable those seeking conversion to achieve this goal, but “too
much emphasis is being placed on technicalities and not enough consideration is
being given to the needs of the Jewish people at large.”
The report also
directed particularly heavy criticism toward the Exceptions Committee of the
Conversion Authority, which deals with non-Jewish spouses of Jewish Israelis as
well as all other foreign nationals who want to convert in Israel. ITIM accused
this committee of displaying a lack of transparency toward conversion
candidates; making unreasonable demands from them; and rejecting requests to
start conversion without providing any reason, and without recourse to an
authentic appeals process.
In 2011, 343 foreign nationals who applied to
convert were rejected by regional representatives of the Exceptions Committee
without even being interviewed, or 59% of applicants that year. The committee
did deliberate on another 243 applications, but final figures for how many were
accepted have not yet been made available.
According to ITIM, many of
these applicants are spouses of Israeli Jews who want to delay having children
until the non-Jewish partner has converted. The actions of the Exceptions
Committee, ITIM says, prevent women from having children at a critical juncture
in their lives, when they would like to establish a Jewish family.
report claims that the imposition of an 18- month waiting period before a
foreign national may even apply for conversion means that the absolute earliest
time frame for completion of the process is three and a half years, given the
requirements of the year-long conversion course and the inefficient bureaucracy
of the authority.
A couple who only wishes to marry after the non-Jewish,
non-Israeli partner has converted face an even longer wait for conversion.
People in this category have to wait four years before they are allowed to begin
a conversion course, despite the fact that they are stringent in only wanting to
marry in a Jewish ceremony as a Jewish couple.
The Conversion Authority
and the Interior Ministry are anxious to prevent conversion from being exploited
as a means to gain Israeli residency, but ITIM’s report argues that the
Exceptions Committee should, at the very least, interview a candidate before
ruling on their application.
“This policy prevents the candidate from
even reaching a rabbinical court, whose role it is to determine the sincerity of
a possible candidate – not [the role] of the Exceptions Committee,” the report