ACTIVISTS TAKE part in a demonstration in Jerusalem in July against legislation that would have strengthened the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly over conversion in Israel.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The head of the conversion authority, Rabbi Yitzhak Peretz, resigned on Wednesday in protest over the continued failure of the Prime Minister’s Office in dealing with conversion activity being suspended in the government body.
Peretz said that conversion cases were piling up, since simple bureaucratic issues cannot be dealt with and that he could not tolerate the situation any longer in which conversion applicants are being mistreated by the state.
At the end of July, the two chief rabbis switched positions: Chief Rabbi David Lau
took over as president of the Supreme Rabbinical Court from Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, who assumed Lau’s position as head of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate. The president of the Supreme Rabbinical Court also has authority over this body, and his approval is required for various functions and procedures.
Peretz told The Jerusalem Post
that the functioning of the conversion body was becoming impossible because of the failure to transfer the authority from Yosef to Lau. He noted a case in which a conversion candidate moved to a different part of the country, but could not continue his conversion studies because transferring his file from the southern to the northern district requires the signature of the authorized chief rabbi.
Peretz also noted that there are currently 14 empty seats on the benches of the rabbinical courts for conversion. The rabbinical judges’ appointments committee for conversion cannot convene since the authorized chief rabbi is the chairman of the committee. “There are cases piling up, and I don’t want people to suffer. We are certainly violating the Torah prohibition of doing no wrong to a convert,” the rabbi told the Post
There is currently an ongoing dispute between Lau and Yosef, with the former having strongly objected to the appointment of a new director of the Rabbinical Courts Administration by Yosef without being consulted, shortly before Lau was scheduled to leave his role as president of the Supreme Rabbinical Court. A source in the chief rabbinate said that the failure to transfer the authority to Lau could be due to pressure by “a particular politician,” but said that Lau has not been pressing for the matter to be resolved.
Peretz submitted his letter of resignation earlier this week. He told the Post
that the officials in the Prime Minister’s Office responsible for drafting the government resolution required to transfer the authority from Yosef to Lau had approached them on Wednesday.
Rabbi Seth Farber, head of the ITIM religious services organization, said that he was saddened by Peretz’s resignation but “more saddened by the ineffectiveness of the conversion authority” and its inability to increase the number of conversions amongst the population of 400,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union who are not halachically Jewish.
“Rabbi Peretz’s resignation is a further indication that the State of Israel has failed in its historic role to welcome back hundreds of thousands of those with Jewish grandparents fully into the Jewish people,” said Farber. He added that ITIM has helped establish the non-state conversion court Giyur K’Halacha to tackle this problem.
MK Elazar Stern of Yesh Atid described Peretz as “a ray of light” in the state’s attitude towards converts, and said that his resignation underlined the failures of the state in dealing with the conversion crisis.
“I call on all those interested to turn to Giyur K’Halacha where they will be warmly welcomed and with a much more friendly attitude than that which they encounter when they apply through the various representatives of the Chief Rabbinate,” said Stern.
The Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.
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