311_state conversion panel.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
While the number of conversions in Israel rose slightly in 2010, there was a
significant drop in the number of soldiers who signed up for the military’s
Nativ conversion courses, according to data presented at the Knesset’s Aliya,
Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee on Tuesday.
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According to Col.
Orna Asoulin, who is in charge of manpower in the IDF Manpower Directorate, the
reason there were 82 fewer soldiers in the Nativ course in 2010 than in 2009
(when some 800 took part), was the public uproar over the
According to Muli Jesselsohn, director of the State
Conversion Authority, 4,645 people converted in 2010. Of these, just over 1,800
The rest represented a 17 percent rise among non-Ethiopian converts compared to the previous year. The number of Ethiopian
converts dropped by 50%, but that was due to the decrease in the numbers of new
immigrants from Ethiopia.
Rabbi Seth Farber, who heads ITIM – the Jewish
Life Information Center, which advises approximately a thousand people a year on
conversions – said there was a drop in governmental funding of NGOs dealing with
What the committee didn’t discuss, however, was the ongoing
problem of the Interior Ministry in not recognizing Orthodox conversions from
North America for Israeli citizenship, in line with the Chief Rabbinate’s policy
of only accepting conversions conducted by some 10 regional courts of the
Rabbinical Council of America.
As Farber noted, this creates a situation
in which it is easier for a convert making aliya to receive Israeli citizenship
if his or her conversion was in a recognized non-Orthodox
Nearly two months ago, the same committee convened at the
Chief Rabbinate to discuss the problem, where Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar
announced that the rabbinate, along with the Interior Ministry, would within 40
days form clear guidelines to address the problem facing 20 such Orthodox
converts who are currently not able to make aliya.
A few weeks ago ITIM
filed a High Court of Justice petition against the Interior Ministry on the
MK Danny Danon (Likud), chairman of the Aliya, Absorption and
Diaspora Affairs Committee, addressed the topic by merely saying that Amar was
out of the country and would be providing answers to the problem within two
This came as a surprise to representatives of the Jewish Agency as
well as ITIM, who were led to understand prior to the meeting that the issue
would be raised.
Farber, however, did briefly address the issue and said
that of the 20 open cases of olim who underwent Orthodox conversions, only two
had been resolved in the past few months.
Ethiopian-born MK Shlomo Molla
(Kadima) took the opportunity to slam the state’s exceptions’ committee, which
deals primarily with people who are not Israeli citizens but wish to convert –
usually spouses of Israelis.
“I know of cases in which a person’s skin
color – because they were black – kept them from going to the
committee. It’s a bad committee, they don’t see a person as a person, and
won’t examine their case,” he said.
Molla added that if he didn’t receive
clear answers on the committee’s function, he’d turn to the Knesset’s State
Speaking after the committee, Farber rejected the
military’s explanation for the drop in soldier- conversion applicants and said
the IDF should take more efforts to explain the reality of the situation to the
“If anything, what we saw in the past six months is that the
government is totally behind the Nativ conversions,” he said.
Farber’s petition on a related issue over a year ago that opened the Pandora’s
box of the haredi rabbinic attitude to the State Conversion Authority – and
specifically to IDF conversions, which were heavily questioned by some Ashkenazi
Amar, with the backing of senior Sephardi adjudicator Rabbi
Ovadia Yosef, eventually ruled that the conversions were acceptable.