Elyashiv: Shut down Conversions Authority

Video footage shows Elyashiv encouraging stricter standards for conversions.

rabbis klein eisenstein  (photo credit: Matthew Wagner)
rabbis klein eisenstein
(photo credit: Matthew Wagner)
Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the most respected halachic authority within the haredi world, called this week for the immediate dismantling of the Conversion Authority, which is administered by the Prime Minister's Office. "There is no reason for a Conversion Authority or for institutions in Israel that have the sole purpose of encouraging non-Jews to convert," said Elyashiv. The nonagenarian spiritual leader spoke on the eve of a three-day convention, The Conference of Rabbis for Improving Conversions and Preventing Intermarriage, organized by Eternal Jewish Family, a haredi organization based in America. Video footage of Elyashiv encouraging stricter standards for conversions was screened at the conference, which was sponsored by Tom Kaplan, an oil and mining magnate. Kaplan paid for dozens - perhaps more than a hundred - rabbis to stay at the capital's David Citadel Hotel. This reporter was also invited to stay at the hotel free of charge. Elyashiv has said in the past that every conversion performed by the Conversion Authority cannot be accepted automatically and must be re-examined. On Tuesday, the second day of the conference, Rabbi Moshe Klein, deputy director of the the Conversion Authority, was severely criticized by a group of rabbis, many of them employees of the Chief Rabbinate, including rabbinic judges. The rabbis said conversions performed by the authority were invalid, since Klein and its rabbinic judges cooperated with the Reform and Conservative streams of Judaism. The rabbis were referring to an arrangement reached in accordance with the recommendations of the Neeman Commission. Under the arrangement, never formally accepted by the Rabbinate, Joint Conversion Institutes were created that employed Conservative and Reform teachers alongside Orthodox ones to prepare prospective converts. Orthodox authorities maintained control over the final steps of the process - approval by a rabbinic court, immersion in a ritual bath and circumcision. Klein said that all conversions were performed under the direct supervision of Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar. Rabbis at the conference also claimed that the rabbinic judges who worked with the Conversion Authority were under pressure to meet quotas. There, they said, the judges could not be trusted to objectively evaluate the sincerity of prospective converts. In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Klein said he was not surprised by the attacks. "I am familiar with Rabbi Elyashiv's opinions and I respect them, but the Conversion Authority will continue to work. My rabbi is [former chief Ashkenazi rabbi] Avraham Shapira. His shoulders are broad enough for me." Klein denied that the Conversion Authority pressured judges to approve conversions. "We just try to make the system red tape-free and as user-friendly as possible," he said. Rabbi Leib Tropper of Monsey, New York, founder of Eternal Jewish Family, said the attacks on Klein had come from rabbis who did not reflect his organization's message. "All we want to do is improve the conversion process in Israel so that every convert will be recognized universally," said Tropper. He said his organization dealt solely with intermarried couples in which the non-Jewish partner wished to convert. Tropper said Eternal Jewish Family did not want to dismantle the Conversion Authority. "EJF is interested in creating a parallel track of conversion that will be recognized all over," he said. He said he planned to consult with conversions experts who would scrutinize all the rabbinic judges who perform conversions in Israel. EJF would only recognize those who met its standards, he said, and would blacklist the rest.