Conversion must be taken out of haredi hands, officials say

Cabinet Secretary to Post: If haredim aren't flexible, Israel's moderate Orthodox will convert.

kippa 88 (photo credit: )
kippa 88
(photo credit: )
The three Israeli officials most involved in relations with the Diaspora called on Wednesday to remove the country's conversion process from the "hands of the haredim." Cabinet Secretary Ovad Yehezkel, Diaspora Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog and Jewish Agency chairman Ze'ev Bielski, all outgoing as the country goes to elections and Bielski takes a leave of absence to compete in the Kadima primary, said the conversion process was too inflexible and harmed aliya and society. The final legal authority on conversion is Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, a follower of Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Speaking at a Jewish Agency Board of Governors meeting in Jerusalem, Yehezkel said the current conversion process was "stuck" because of the demands of haredi political parties that converts "adopt a haredi, not merely observant, lifestyle after their conversions." The failure of the Conversion Authority to deal with some 300,000 non-Jewish olim who came to Israel as family members of Jewish olim "is not an administrative problem," Yehezkel told The Jerusalem Post. "It is a political problem. If the haredim don't begin to show flexibility, the moderate Orthodox establishment in Israel will begin to independently convert many thousands of Jews. In the end, the State of Israel will be forced to recognize these conversions regardless of the desires of the Chief Rabbinate or the official Conversion Authority." Bielski warned at the meeting that "the [overly] stringent conversion process could delay the decision of potential olim to come to Israel." Only a government coalition without haredim could enact the necessary reform to the conversion process, Herzog said. A conversion court judge who preferred to remain anonymous responded to the criticism by noting that the vast majority of his peers were religious-Zionist, not haredi. "But I guess that from their [the officials'] point of view anyone who is Orthodox is automatically haredi," he said. "It just goes to show that they do not appreciate the differences of approach between religious-Zionist rabbis and haredim." He did, however, question "why Rabbi Amar appointed 10 new conversion judges, most of whom are haredim. The chief rabbi has to decide whether he has a lenient or a stringent approach to conversions." Also on Wednesday, Kadima's candidate for prime minister Tzipi Livni told the thousands of Americans and Canadians in Jerusalem for the General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities that rabbis should not determine the Jewish nature of the state. "A Jewish state is not a monopoly of rabbis," she said. "It's what each and everyone feels inside." "It's not about learning Hebrew or about joining the army, it's about Jewish tradition, Jewish history," Livni said. "We need to keep the nature, the character of the State of Israel as a Jewish state because this is - excuse me for using the French - the raison d'être of the State of Israel."