Concerns have been voiced that criteria established for the appointment of a new
head of the State Conversion Authority have been too narrowly defined, and that
any candidate seeking serious reforms will be turned away.
The time frame
for applications to the post, seen by many as being relatively short, has also
been questioned, especially given the attorney-general’s directive that
appointment committees for senior government positions not operate during the
ITIM, a religious rights advocacy group, says it is
concerned that senior haredi figures in the religious establishment are pushing
through the appointment process because of uncertainties about the outcome of
the elections and the possibility that key roles in overseeing state religious
institutions could be lost to nonharedi figures.
Rabbi Haim Druckman,
former head of the State Conversion Authority, left the post last February, but
the government issued a tender for his replacement only on December 7. The
deadline for applications is December 30.
Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, a former
director of the Rabbinical Courts system currently in the fourth slot of Bayit
Yehudi’s electoral list, told The Jerusalem Post that the activity of the
appointments committee and the timing of the publication of the tender “seems
strange” given the 10 months that had passed since the last authority head
“It’s nearly a year since Rabbi Druckman left. No one
wanted to deal with it, but now they’re going full steam ahead. It’s strange,” Dahan said.
the criteria for the position have been questioned for being exceedingly
stringent despite the largely managerial role of the head of the conversion
Among the tender’s demands is that the candidate be qualified
to serve either as a rabbinical judge or city rabbi.
Rabbi Yitzhak Levy,
a former MK and government minister, is considered a serious contender for the
position although the current criteria would rule him out.
Levy told the
Post he did not intend to apply for the position but would be responsive if
He said the criteria established in the tender were
“unnecessary and needlessly stringent” since the task of the head of the
authority was more managerial than rabbinic, and not involved in the actual
process of conversions. He also pointed out that these had not been criteria
when the position was last open.
There have also been questions as to the
legality of the appointments committee operating at this time. Attorney- General
Yehuda Weinstein said in a directive in November that appointments committees
should be barred from making decisions during the election season because of the
politically sensitive nature of their work.
“Since an appointment process
done through an appointments committee requires the involvement of the minister
(and usually the government as well)... staffing senior positions with
appointments committees should be avoided,” Weinstein said.
also stated that this principle should apply to all appointments committees,
including those set up prior to the election period whose appointments process
has not yet been completed.
In response to an inquiry by the Post as to
whether the attorney-general’s directive was not being violated by the activity
of the appointments committee, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), which oversees
the conversion authority, said the committee was not currently operating and
would not do so until after the elections.
Regarding the delay in
establishing the committee, the PMO stated that the appointment of members was
being conducted “in accordance with the guidelines of the Civil Service,” and
that while it is normally a lengthy process, there have been delays due to the
announcement of early elections. It added that the time frame given for applying
for the post of the State Conversion Authority head had been set “in accordance
with Civil Service guidelines.”
The head of the authority is seen as a
crucial position that can influence the state’s policy toward
Less conservative-minded Orthodox groups have been lobbying
in recent years to liberalize the reform process because of the large and
growing number of Israelis who are of Jewish descent, but not Jewish according
to Halacha, or Jewish law.
There are approximately 330,000 such people in
Israel, the overwhelming majority of whom are from the former Soviet Union
The concern for groups such as ITIM is that intermarriage and
assimilation will grow rapidly if greater efforts are not made to attract
Israelis of Jewish descent to convert.
advocates also wish to embark on an intensive campaign to inform people of
Jewish descent about the possibilities of conversion and make them aware that
the process is not as complicated and rigid as they might have been led to
“The window for converting these people is closing,” said ITIM
director Rabbi Seth Farber.
“We don’t have four years to waste with
someone who is not a visionary [as head of the authority],” Farber told the
Post. “We have to fundamentally address the needs of the Jewish people in Israel
and the demographic time bomb that exists here.”
The State Conversion
Authority oversees the only form of conversion recognized by the State of
In 2011, 4,293 people converted through the authority, 1,936 of
whom were from the FSU. The remainder were immigrants from Ethiopia, as well as
“This is an incredibly important position and the
appointment should not be rushed,” said Bayit Yehudi’s Ben-Dahan, adding that
the goal of converting Israelis of Jewish descent should be put at the top of
the government’s agenda.
“There are many people [of Jewish descent] in
the country who are unaware of the possibilities for conversion, or who think it
is a very complicated and impossibly tough process.
“We need to
proactively reach out to them, adopt a campaign to inform them about conversion
and put them in touch with people who have converted and so on. But none of this
is being done,” he said.
According to Farber, upwards of 10 percent of
the Jewish population in Israel could soon not be Jewish according to
ITIM says that if the incoming leadership of the State
Conversion Authority “does not put forward a bold enough vision for converting
tens of thousands of Israelis of Jewish descent,” the religious rights advocacy
group will embark on a national campaign to decentralize conversion in Israel
via the legal system and the High Court of Justice.
“These people were
brought here as Jews, and they deserve to be accepted as full members of the
Jewish community,” Farber said.
“The aliya of those of Jewish descent is
not a thorn in our side, as haredim would have it, but rather an opportunity,”
he added. “We are not missionaries, but at this moment in Jewish history there
is a halachic imperative, particularly for those of Jewish descent who are
living in Israel, to enable as many people as want to convert to have that