'Conversions of non-Jewish Israelis declining'

Knesset c'tee hears that number of Israelis from the former Soviet Union converting to Judaism has dropped by 23 percent.

Conversion 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Conversion 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The number of Israelis from the former Soviet Union converting to Judaism has dropped by 23 percent, it was revealed on Monday during a Knesset hearing.
Figures presented to the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women showed a significant drop in the number of Israelis of Jewish descent – and who are not Jewish under Jewish law – successfully converting.
Attorney Elad Kaplan, a representative of the religious services and advocacy organization ITIM, presented the findings.
There are 318,000 Israelis from the former Soviet Union who fall into this category and groups such as ITIM have advocated a strong conversion campaign to prevent intermarriage, which such organizations fear will lead to an irrevocable split of the Jewish people inside Israel.
According to ITIM’s annual report on conversion in Israel, and based on the figures of the Conversion Authority, 2012 saw a 23% decrease from the year before of conversions of Jews of Jewish descent from the former Soviet Union.
And 2011 itself witnessed a 10% decline of such conversions from the year before.
In 2010, 2,159 such people converted, in 2011 the figure was down to 1,936, and in 2012 it fell further to just 1,492 converts.
ITIM’s report is released every year before Shavuot because of the festival’s association with the biblical figure of Ruth, who converted to Judaism.
Along with the decrease in conversions, the organizations findings demonstrated that the number of non-Jewish Israelis from the Soviet Union and their descendants would rise by another 100,000 people by 2030.
Speaking during the hearing, committee chairwoman Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) said that the state was obligated to ensure that the number of converts would begin to rise and not continue to decrease.
The State Comptroller’s Report published last week revealed several significant administrative problems with the Conversion Authority, including a high dropout rate of candidates from the conversion programs.
In 2008, 20% of candidates left the course, followed by 22% in 2009, 32% in 2010 and 26% in 2011 – representing on average a quarter of all candidates.
Speaking at the hearing, Prof. Yedidya Stern of the Israel Democracy Institute said that “a small group is dictating conversion policy and the relationship between different Jewish denominations.”
Stern called on the Knesset to formulate legislation that would demonstrate that “Israel embraces converts,” and said that “75% of Jewish Israelis believe assimilation to be a tragedy.”
ITIM’s report also found other bureaucratic problems, pointing to the fact that the Conversion Authority’s telephone hotline only operates between the hours of 9 a.m and 1 p.m.
The hotline is supposed to provide conversion candidates with information on the process, programs, contacting and liaising with rabbinical courts and the issuance of conversion certificates.