Olmert: Conversion is a national priority

"The prime minister's comments are an important first step in restoring confidence in the Conversion Authority, but words are not sufficient."

July 21, 2008 21:00
1 minute read.
Olmert: Conversion is a national priority

olmert thumbs-up 224.88. (photo credit: AP)

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declared the country's conversion crisis "a national priority" in a letter to the United Jewish Communities on Monday, but failed to make an impression of upcoming change. UJC chairman Joseph Kanfer and president and chief executive officer Howard Reiger wrote Olmert in early July, calling on him to take a stand on the issue and become "personally involved." In his Monday response, Olmert wrote: "Conversion in Israel is a national priority. I am determined to resolve the current conversion crisis and improve the process of conversion in Israel." However, Rabbi Seth Farber, director of ITIM, a group that helps Jews navigate the marriage process in Israel, called for more action. "The prime minister's comments are an important first step in restoring confidence in the Conversion Authority, but words are not sufficient," he said. ITIM has received hundreds of phone calls in the past two months, Farber said, both from those concerned about their conversion status and from individuals hesitant to convert. In the next few weeks, Olmert wrote, the Conversion Authority would "begin to tackle the complexities of this issue," and hoped to see "concrete results" by the time of the UJC General Assembly in November. The Conversion Authority is currently without a director and the committee established to appoint a new director has not yet met, according to Farber. "My hope is that this letter will be followed by concrete steps to rebuild the Conversion Authority and give it the power to move this issue forward in Israel," he said. Olmert on Monday gave the government four months to address a recent decision by the Rabbinical High Court to fire Rabbi Haim Druckman as head of the state-sponsored Conversion Committee. In dismissing Druckman, who was considered relatively lenient by the standards of Orthodox conversion, the court said it would annul thousands of conversions of immigrants from the former Soviet Union that he had approved. Israel Radio quoted Olmert as saying in a statement that such immigrants "include the best of our soldiers, the cream of our academia, and so the issue of conversion in Israel tops the national agenda." JTA contributed to this report.

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