The Jewish Agency has asked Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar to make it easier for gentile Israeli immigrants to convert to Judaism. Former finance minister Ya'acov Neeman, a member of the Jewish Agency's executive, board of governors, and unity of the Jewish people committee, and Agency Chairman Ze'ev Bielski want Amar to add 40 Orthodox rabbis who are willing to rule more leniently to the Conversion Authority.
Priorities, not ideology, divide Haredi parties
Neeman and Bielski say the 25 judges currently responsible for conversion in the Conversion Authority, which is headed by Amar and Rabbi Haim Druckman, are too strict. As a result, many potential converts who could have been converted according to Orthodox, albeit more lenient, standards, are turned away, they say.
In parallel, Amar has been trying for many months to get 10 haredi rabbis, including Bnei Brak Rabbi Nissim Karelitz, approved as conversion judges. So far, Rabbi Eliyahu Maimon, the Conversion Authority's administrative head, has managed to block the appointments, claiming they are based on nepotism.
Amar wrote a letter to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert complaining that Maimon was an obstacle to facilitating conversions.
Sources in the Authority denied its judges were too strict.
"There has been no significant growth in conversion in the last few years," said the source, "not because the judges are too strict or because they are not nice to the candidates. The real reason is because there are simply not enough gentiles interested in converting."
The source said 95 percent of the authority's judges were modern Orthodox.
There are an estimated 275,000 non-Jews who have immigrated to Israel under the Law of Return. Only about 2,000 conversions are performed per year. The Jewish Agency hopes to increase that number to 8,000.