Conversion Controversy 2008 - 3

2. Take Two: Conversion in Israel

The ups and downs of the Conversion Controversy in Israel and the Neeman Agreement to establish a joint Conversion Authority appear on this website. Without entering into the recent institutionalized biting and fighting between the parties to this agreement, it has worked to a minor extent for a number of years. While not offering a solution to the overall demographic, social and cultural problems posed by 200,000 non-Jewish olim to Israel from the former Soviet Union who immigrated under the provisions of the Law of Return, the agreement provided a less hostile framework for about 1,000 young giur applicants each year, many of whom used the modern orthodox, religious Zionist frameworks available via the IDF, Itim, the RCA in Israel – while others have converted through the Movement for Conservative Judaism and the Reform Movement in Israel.

One of its significant features was the assignment of final responsibility for recognition of conversions to the Sephardi Chief Rabbi's office, based on the greater tolerance of Sephardi Judaism towards conversion – a factor that did not go uncommented in ultra-orthodox Ashkenazi sectors. In recent years, however, the latest elections to the Chief Rabbinate, particularly the position of Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, moved the institution into the field of the ultra-orthodox, non-Zionist sector and the consequences are beginning to be felt:

A. The Chief Rabbinate's pronouncements in 2007 about the non-recognition of Shemittah arrangements created by Chief Rabbi Kook z"l - whereby land sold to a non-Jew could be used for growing produce for sale during the sabbatical year – were a clear signal of this political change taking effect.

B. The Ashdod Rabbinical Court pronounced a psak din (ruling) in Spring 2007 on a divorce case, revoking in retrospect the conversion 15 years ago of a woman which was under the auspices of Rabbi Druckman, and calling other conversions by him into question. The case was then heard by 3 dayanim (senior religious court judges) at the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, who upheld this ruling; as of this year (2008), they have Chief Rabbi Amar's full support. The same RCA, the US orthodox rabbinate, protested against the ruling revoking conversions, on the grounds that it was not in accordance with Halachah.

Rabbi Druckman, Head of the Hesder Yeshivot, is closely associated with the Tzohar group of socially active rabbis, and a leading religious Zionist figure in Israel on the political right; he has been the force behind the effort to facilitate orthodox, halachic conversion for serious candidates.
Rabbi Druckman was subsequently fired from his position as head of the Joint Conversion Authority, which operates directly under the aegis of the Israel Prime Minister's office; this was reportedly on grounds of age, but it has been widely considered a clear statement of the Israeli government's political alignment with the Shas (Religious Sephardi) party on this issue.






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22 Jun 2008 / 19 Sivan 5768 0