Conversion Authority head threatens to resign

Druckman to 'Post': "Unless all of the Halfon Committee recommendations are adopted by the government I will have to seriously weigh my future plans."

druckman  (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In protest against a government decision to reject conversion reforms, Rabbi Haim Druckman, head of the State Conversion Authority, announced Monday that he was considering resignation. "Unless all of the Halfon Committee recommendations are adopted by the government I will have to seriously weigh my future plans," said Druckman in a telephone interview with The Jerusalem Post. Druckman's resignation threats come after an appearance in the Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee which discussed the government's rejection of some of the reforms proposed by the Halfon Committee. The Halfon Committee, named after its head Erez Halfon, director-general of the Immigration and Absorption Ministry, was commissioned by the government to troubleshoot the conversion process and offer suggestions that would increase the number of converts to Judaism. All the recommendations were enthusiastically supported by the Jewish Agency, Druckman and Professor Ya'acov Ne'eman, who headed the Ne'eman Committee which created the Joint Institute for Jewish Studies. The institute is a unique educational body that employs Reform, Conservative and Orthodox teachers who prepare potential converts to Judaism. However, several key recommendations were not adopted by the government. The Halfon Committee called for the appointment of 40 "volunteer" conversion judges who would supplement the 25 existing ones. It was hoped that these volunteer rabbis would be more lenient in their approach to conversions. But legal advisers in the attorney-general's office rejected the proposal, arguing that state employees cannot be volunteers. In addition, the Halfon Committee also recommended giving Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar the power to appoint his own director-general without getting the approval of an official appointing committee. However, Civil Service Commissioner Shmuel Hollander rejected the proposal, arguing that all state employees must be hired in accordance with legal directives. Sources inside the Immigration and Absorption Ministry said that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert personally promised to look into the objections made by the Attorney-General's Office and the Civil Service Commission. The State Conversion Authority was created at the beginning of 2004 to streamline the conversion process. But after four years of operations the number of conversions has remained static at around 2,000. According to ministry estimates, there are approximately 300,000 non-Jewish immigrants who came to Israel under the aegis of the Law of Return, which grants automatic citizenship to the offspring of Jews even if they are not defined as Jewish according to Orthodox Jewish law. During the Knesset committee discussion Halfon said that the total budget for conversions in 2007 was NIS 42.5 million, which came out to NIS 10,600 per conversion. A total of 3,500 people on average begin the extensive learning process which is required for conversion to Judaism. However, only 55% of those who begin the process finish, Halfon said. Only about 30% of prospective converts in the IDF's "Nativ" program, which targeted enlisted soldiers who are non-Jewish, ended up finishing the program, said Halfon. In both the IDF and the civilian programs most of the dropouts never even reach the rabbinic courts. The authority has been sporadically paralyzed by infighting between Druckman and the administrative head of the authority, Rabbi Eliyahu Maimon. The tension has generated negative news media coverage, which has not aided the authority in encouraging non-Jewish immigrants to embrace Orthodox Judaism.