Rabbi blames inaccessible system for fall in conversions

Though statistics for former Soviet Union conversions are up, soldiers and Ethiopians are a different matter, says Seth Farber.

February 11, 2010 21:47
1 minute read.
Rabbi Seth Farber.

seth farber 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Though recent conversion statistics show a rise in former Soviet Union conversions, army and Ethiopian conversion rates are down, resulting in an overall drop in national conversions, according to Rabbi Seth Farber, director of nonprofit organization ITIM.

Farber, whose organization aims to aid individuals interested in converting, said Thursday that the state was not doing enough to make conversion accessible. He cited delays in issuing official conversion documents to those who have already undergone conversion; failure of rabbinic marriage courts to recognize conversions performed in other cities; and the recent phenomenon of conversion annulment by the Chief Rabbinate.

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“Many potential converts don’t even consider the process, just because of its bureaucratic challenges and potential to be annulled or not recognized at some later date,” he explained.

Farber also blamed an overall lackluster approach on the part of politicians, including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, whose public support of the effort to ease conversion has not matched that of his predecessors Ehud Olmert and Ariel Sharon.

“At present, more than 88,000 students under the age of 18 are studying in Jewish public schools around the county, even though they are not halachically Jewish,” says Farber.

Most of them, he says, would like to convert, “if the system were accessible.”

Currently the conversion process requires one to register in a conversion court, undergo an interview, study 400 hours at a conversion ulpan and spend time with a family who is willing to “adopt” the applicant.

While Farber, an Orthodox rabbi, does not promote conversion without demanding serious religious and halachic undertakings from applicants, he does say flexibility must be exercised in deciding what constitutes halachic observance.

“These people go to school with our children, serve in the army and share the same religious holidays [with] us,” he says. “They must not be scrutinized under a microscope, and choices they make after conversion should have no bearing on the conversion itself.”

According to Farber, alongside the nonprofit organizations, there needs to be public and political pressure to support making conversion more accessible.

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