Druckman fires back in conversion controversy

Conversion Authority head Druckman berates 'closed haredi clique'.

haim druckman 88 (photo credit: )
haim druckman 88
(photo credit: )
In his first public response to caustic haredi criticism of his conversion methods, Rabbi Haim Druckman, head of the Conversion Authority, lashed out this week against what he called the "closed haredi clique." In an interview Sunday night with Radio Kol Chai, a haredi radio station, Druckman also attacked Rabbi Avraham Atia, of the Ashdod Rabbinic Court, who annulled retroactively the conversion of a woman performed by Druckman 15 years ago and ruled that the woman's three children, born after the conversion, were gentiles as well. Atia also berated the entire Conversion Court apparatus, calling them "a bunch of apostates [apikorsim]". The conversion courts are headed by Druckman and include 25 conversion judges, almost all of whom are religious Zionists. The dispute between Druckman and Atia is part of a much larger point of contention between rival religious factions. The haredi community adamantly opposes the very existence of "special conversion courts." To haredi sensibilities it is improper to encourage conversions in any way. Rather, anyone sincerely interested in embracing an Orthodox way of life should be accepted - after initial attempts to dissuade - by a regular rabbinic court. In contrast, religious Zionists see mass conversion as at least a partial solution to the problem of intermarriage created by the immigration of close to 300,000 non-Jews from the Former Soviet Union under Israel's Law of Return. The law permits people not considered Jewish according to Orthodox criteria, but who would have been persecuted under Nazi racial laws (such as people whose father, spouse or grandparents are Jewish) to immigrate to Israel. Religious Zionists see these immigrants as individuals with a closer bond to the Jewish people than most non-Jews. Therefore, some means of moderate encouragement can be used. For instance, thousands of religious Zionist families across the nation are volunteering to "adopt" a non-Jew interested in converting and to help him or her (60% of the converts are females) through the 10-month conversion process. Haredim claim that many of the converts produced by Druckman's Conversion Authority have no intention of adhering to an Orthodox way of life and are, therefore, not to be considered Jewish until double-checked by a haredi rabbinic court. In response to Atia's diatribe, which was written in his nine-page legal decision on the retroactive conversion annulment, Druckman said, "A rabbinic judge who does not hear both sides of the story before he makes a decision does not deserve to be called a judge." Druckman also defended the conversion judges who were denigrated by Atia."How can a rabbinic judge disgrace dozens of learned rabbis? It is obscene!" As reported by The Jerusalem Post last week, Atia ruled in February that the woman's three children and husband were deemed "unacceptable for marriage to the Jewish people." Atia made the ruling based on the woman's own admission that she did not adhere to Orthodox Shabbat laws or to laws governing family purity. The woman had come to Atia to divorce her husband. But Atia ruled that she was not Jewish since she did not have the intention at the time of conversion to adhere to Orthodox Jewish law. Therefore, she did not need a writ of divorce (get) since Jewish law does not recognize the marriage of a gentile to a Jew. Druckman also lambasted the haredi daily Yated Ne'eman, the mouthpiece of the haredi Lithuanian rabbinic establishment in Israel which is represented in the Knesset by the Degel Hatorah faction. Over the weekend Yated came to the defense of Atia and published excerpts of his excoriating attack on Druckman. "Every minor haredi apparatchik suddenly becomes a 'rabbi' no matter how unlettered and boorish," said Druckman. "As soon as he is voted into the Knesset he automatically adopts the title 'rabbi.' Anyone who does not belong to the haredi clique cannot be called rabbi. Haredi have a corrupt and insensitive worldview that is devoid of true God-fearing faith."