Try to imagine non-Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union as close kin,
who should be helped to return to the Jewish people, said head of the State
Conversion Authority Rabbi Haim Druckman on Tuesday at a conference honoring
converts on the day of the Mimunah celebrations that took place in Ashkelon,
organized by the World Federation of Moroccan Jewry.
“If I had a cousin
who came from there,” Druckman said, “who needed to convert – wouldn’t I do
anything in my power to help her? They are all our cousins,” he said of the FSU
Druckman’s statements came on the same day that Rabbi Abraham
Sherman of the High Rabbinic Court was quoted on the Walla website as standing
behind his ruling from 2008, when he said that Druckman’s conversions are not
“Those who undergo conversions at the special rabbinic courts are
Jews,” Druckman said. “Nobody can take that from them, regardless of who is
trying to, and in whose name he is doing so,” he continued, referring to the
fact the Sherman said he was acting in the name of senior Ashkenazi haredi
halachic authority Rabbi Shalom Elyashiv.
“Conversion is a one-way road,”
he added, noting that the IDF conversions were also according to Halacha and
Druckman noted three kinds of converts. The first type of
convert is a person who grew up as a gentile, felt dissatisfied with their religion,
and found answers in Judaism. A second type began two hundred years ago, when
the gates of the ghettos in Europe opened and Jews gained
That’s when assimilation and intermarriage began, and as a
result non-Jews took to converting.
“The third type of convert is a
phenomenon the Jewish people had never encountered previously. I am referring to
conversions of FSU immigrants, who came from a place where their religion was
brutally repressed, where great efforts were taken to remove any Judaism from
their life. As a result, there was intermarriage – not out of a desire for
assimilation, but because that was what reality dictated.
And now, their
offspring are coming home. We must help all of them, and continue with what we
consider one of the most important commandments of our generation, and God will
help us,” he said.
The event’s organizers, led by head of the World
Federation of Moroccan Jewry Sam Ben-Chitrit, declared this year’s theme “loving
the convert” in support of those joining the Jewish people but also in protest
against elements in the world of “extreme Orthodoxy” who do not accept all of
the conversions conducted by Israel’s official rabbinic bodies.
panel moderator, Rabbi Yisrael Rozen, who founded the State Conversion Authority
in its current form 15 years ago, took a less militaristic approach and stressed
the importance of encouraging converts and their adoptive families. “We can
leave the arguments for different times which aren’t holidays,” he
It is most likely Ben- Chitrit’s attitude, which he expounded upon
in an interview in Haaretz on Tuesday, that caused the last minute cancellation
of honorary guest Rabbi Meir Israel Lau, chief rabbi of Tel-Aviv and former
chief rabbi of Israel. In the interview Ben- Chitrit slammed the Shas party,
which in his opinion was not active enough in promoting converts’ welfare, and
also severely criticized the Ashkenazi-Haredi establishment for its attitude
toward converts in Israel.
What stood out in both Rozen and Druckman’s
addresses was their desire to spread the good word of conversions among Israelis
who are not Jewish according to Halacha, one of the challenges facing those
Families “adopting” converts through their
process were honored by the federation, and three converts told their personal
stories to a small and receptive audience.
“The motivation to convert was
never high,” Rozen said after the panel. “It’s not that they are afraid of
converting – they simply do not need it,” he said of the FSU immigrants.
“Israeli society has received them either way.” Asked whether the aspersions the
Lithuanian haredi rabbinic leadership cast on the conversion processes in the
State Conversion Authority and IDF could be a cause for a diminishment in the
motivation to undergo the process, Rozen – an engineer by training – said that
there were no data to confirm such a theory. He did point out, however, that the
intermarriage rate in Israel was currently seven percent, and called the
presence of non- Jews in Israeli society “a social land-mine, that needs to be
removed. The haredi establishment should be grateful to us, conducting
conversions, for clearing away these mines. An Israeli man can’t always know if
his girlfriend is Jewish, and not even she is always sure,” he
While Rozen believes that there is much more potential to convert
in Israel, Halacha forbids rabbis from conducting propaganda to the end of
“Social elements in Israel should market conversions,” he