Rabbi Haim Druckman 311.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
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decision that annulled his conversions has been retracted, all conversions have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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.