Jewish Agency calls for 'independent' conversion authority

Motion comes after agency officials discuss issue with head of the National Conversion Authority.

conversion class 248.88 (photo credit: Hilary Leila Krieger [file])
conversion class 248.88
(photo credit: Hilary Leila Krieger [file])
The Jewish Agency Assembly called on the government on Sunday to create an "independent" authority dealing with conversion, removing responsibility for conversions from the Prime Minister's Office. The motion came out of a Sunday morning meeting in Jerusalem in which agency officials and representatives discussed the issue with head of the National Conversion Authority, Rabbi Haim Druckman, and Prof. Yaakov Neeman, former chair of the Neeman Commission tasked in the 1990s with reforming Israel's conversion apparatus. Druckman, a senior figure in Israeli Orthodoxy, has faced excoriation from haredi dayanim (rabbinic judges) for being "too lax" in his conversions, including a controversial ruling in the Ashdod Rabbinical Court earlier this year that retroactively canceled conversions by Druckman-led rabbinic courts as far back as 15 years ago. Some 300,000 non-Jewish Israelis have made aliya as family members of Jews. They live as members of the Jewish sector, serving in the military and often marrying Jews. Their conversion to Judaism, say critics, has been held up by demands from the official rabbinate that converts adopt an Orthodox and sometimes haredi lifestyle. "The governmental bureaucracy is preventing the conversion of many of these people, keeping them from joining the Jewish people," said Neeman on Sunday. According to some Jewish Agency officials familiar with the situation, the call from the agency is due to a feeling among members that the bitter delegitimization of Druckman is not for halachic reasons, but for political ones. The Jewish Agency's Assembly and Board of Governors both have large representations from Diaspora Jewish communities, who have been affected particularly strongly by the debate over conversion, said a Jewish Agency spokesman on Sunday.