PM taken to task for conversion scandal

Bielski, Ne'eman send Olmert indignant protest over firing of Conversion Authority head Rabbi Druckman.

Olmert 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Olmert 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Jewish Agency Chairman Ze'ev Bielski and former justice minister Yaakov Ne'eman sent a strongly worded letter to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert over the weekend blasting the firing of Rabbi Haim Druckman, a leading religious-Zionist leader, as head of the Conversion Authority. The letter is the result of a Thursday meeting of the Jewish Agency's task force on conversion, which is headed by Ne'eman and includes representatives from all three major streams of Judaism in the Diaspora. The firing of Druckman last month dealt a severe blow to the already-battered State Conversion Authority, after a High Rabbinical Court ruling by Rabbi Avraham Sherman called into question thousands of conversions presided over by Druckman. Many politicians and Diaspora leaders rushed to Druckman's defense, including Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, but the Prime Minister's Office has upheld the termination of his contract, saying it was done on the grounds that his advanced age - he is 75 years old - was significantly higher than the retirement age of 67. Druckman was already over 70 when he was hired in 2004. Bielski and Ne'eman, who headed the state commission dealing with conversion in the 1990s, called for a discussion of the matter in next week's meeting of the Coordinating Committee of the Jewish Agency and the Government, and will likely raise the issue at the upcoming Jewish Agency Board of Governors meeting on June 22. The letter complained of the "public" and "unreasonable" firing of Druckman, saying it "sabotages the state's conversion process." Bielski and Ne'eman called the move "an attempt to disrupt the decision of the previous prime minister, Ariel Sharon, to put conversion at the top of the national agenda." The two wrote that it contradicted Olmert's own positions and the "public commitment" they said he had repeatedly demonstrated on the issue. Calling the current conversion process "harmful, insulting, and ineffective," Bielski told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday night that Druckman's sacking was "unforgivable." Diaspora Jewry, the Jewish Agency, and even Olmert were in agreement on the need for reform, Bielski insisted. Furthermore, the representatives at the Jewish Agency of all Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Jews have agreed to subject the reforms of the conversion process - including dozens of additional volunteer rabbinic judges and better educations for aspiring converts - to the supervision and direction of Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar. "Even when everyone wants this, we still can't get it done" Bielski said. Asked if the problem was political - Druckman had blamed the Sherman ruling and his subsequent sacking on political expediency - Bielski pointed the finger at bureaucratic barriers such as the State Service Commission and government legal advisers who prevented action on the issue. Matthew Wagner contributed to this report