State to investigate red tape in Conversion Authority

Alleged inefficiencies force prospective converts to wait needlessly to convert to Judaism.

lindenstrauss 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
lindenstrauss 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss will investigate complaints of excessive bureaucratic red tape and inefficiencies in the Conversion Authority that force prospective converts to wait needlessly, sometimes for years, to convert to Judaism. At the end of a stormy Knesset State Comptroller Committee meeting Monday, committee chairman MK Zevulun Orlev (NU-NRP) received the unanimous backing of his committee to request an immediate investigation of the Conversion Authority. "I hope that by getting the state comptroller involved officials in charge of conversions will wake up and fix the problem," said Orlev. ITIM, an organization that helps Israelis navigate religious affairs bureaucracy, presented to the Knesset committee over 20 cases of prospective converts who were delayed for months, and sometimes years, by the Conversion Authority's Exceptional Cases Committee. The potential converts complained that the committee met irregularly. They also said that the criteria for choosing who could and who could not begin the conversion process were arbitrary and overly stringent. Also, the committee demanded that candidates for conversion make multiple appearances before the committee for no apparent reason. All individuals residing in Israel who wish to convert to Judaism but who do not have Israeli citizenship must receive the approval of the Exceptional Cases Committee to embark on preparatory studies that lead to conversion. Conversion to Judaism automatically grants Israeli citizenship, so the decision to permit a prospective convert to begin the conversion process is not just a religious issue, it is also a naturalization issue. Government officials in the Interior Ministry and in the Justice Ministry are concerned that foreign workers or other non-citizens living in Israel will take advantage of the conversion process to become citizens. The Conversion Authority was created over four years ago to streamline the conversion process in an attempt to encourage prospective converts living in Israel to officially join the Jewish people. The main bulk of the authority's efforts is devoted to about 300,000 immigrants who came to Israel under the Law of Return but who are not Jewish according to Orthodox Jewish law. These people cannot marry in Israel since marriages are conducted in accordance with Orthodox Jewish law, which prohibits intermarriage. Also, these people are torn between their Israeli and gentile identities in a state that defines itself as "Jewish and democratic".