Druckman’s legacy

One can only hope that Rabbi Druckman’s successor will be able to revitalize conversion in Israel, and address meaningfully and responsibly the demographic time bomb that is facing the Jewish state.

February 15, 2012 22:14
3 minute read.
Rabbi Haim Druckman

Rabbi Haim Druckman 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Rabbi Haim Druckman resigned last week from his post as the director of Israel’s Conversion Authority in the Prime Minister’s Office, almost four years after he was unceremoniously dismissed following the annulment of conversions performed under his auspices.

Though the official reason for his dismissal in 2008 was his age (public officials are meant to retire at age 75), the inability of the government to find a consensus figure to direct the authority enabled him to stay on for four more years.

Since his official dismissal (only in Israel do you leave your job four years after you were fired), the rabbinical court decision that annulled his conversions has been retracted, all conversions have been reinstated and conversions performed in the IDF have been certified.

Unfortunately, these seemingly positive developments didn’t happen because of a strong conversion authority. They happened because individuals and non-profits sued the rabbinate in the Supreme Court. In the annulment case, the Supreme Court asked that the rabbinical courts arbitrate the matter, and ultimately, the Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court reinstated the conversions.

In the IDF case, the rabbinate reached an agreement with ITIM: The Jewish Life Information Center, which guaranteed the rights of all converts to be married in their place of residence.

In case it isn’t clear, Rabbi Druckman’s tenure wasn’t a resounding success, despite his best intentions.

During his tenure, there were absurd levels of infighting, ridiculous allocations of money – first to all conversion courses, then to only one conversion group and finally to a set of groups – tens of initiatives that never got off the ground, and multiple authorities that sought to take responsibility when things looked good, but subsequently absolved themselves of responsibility when things fell apart.

I remember meeting Kadima leader Tzipi Livni at the Begin Center in 2006 (and she seemed sincere to me) when she, promised that within two years more than 10,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union would convert each year. Since then, only about 10,000 have converted – cumulative.

And though I lobbied both prime ministers Olmert and Netanyahu to get more personally involved in the conversion of immigrants from the FSU, this issue was central to neither of their agendas. Only after ITIM went to the Supreme Court on behalf of IDF converts did Prime Minister Netanyahu invite soldiers studying for conversion to his office.

At present, there is a lot of ego, politics and jockeying to see who will fill Rabbi Druckman’s shoes.

And all this doesn’t address the real issue: that there are more than 330,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union who aren’t considered Jewish by the rabbinate and cannot be married or buried in Israel as Jews. Though there are no statistics that accurately characterize how many of the immigrants “want” to convert, the argument is somewhat moot, since for the past three years, only about 1,800 a year have been converting.

It will probably take months or years to find someone to replace Rabbi Druckman. The fact that Israel’s Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar is on the search committee may hinder things further, since he may adopt a wait and see attitude until his tenure as chief rabbi concludes in another year.

This will cause even more upheaval in the conversion authority as there will be no guiding force to rule on complex issues, and no one in place to allow for “shortening” the course of study for individuals who are already prepared for a rabbinical court hearing.

One can only hope that Rabbi Druckman’s successor will be able to revitalize conversion in Israel, and address meaningfully and responsibly the demographic time bomb that is facing the Jewish state. And if he isn’t able to address it in any significant way, hopefully he’ll have the character to shut down the Conversion Authority, and find a new method of dealing with the challenges that we all face.

The writer is a rabbi and the director of ITIM: The Jewish Life Information Center.

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