The Happy Arab News Service

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Israeli vs Jewish

In the ongoing controversy around the issue of conversions Chief Sepharadi Rabbi Shlomo Amar dismissed accusations that the rabbis have made the conversion process too stringent scaring away potential converts. Such accusations are frequently leveled against the conversion courts by many people involved, as for example by Jewish Agency Chairman Ze'ev Bielski.

"We cannot tolerate a situation in which there are so many immigrants who want to convert, who want to become a part of the Jewish people and don't, because rabbis reject them," said Bielski.

There are about 275,000 FSU immigrants who are not Jewish according to the orthodox criteria. It's about from 1/4 to 1/3 of all Russian immigration. These people immigrated under the Law of Return which grants automatic citizenship to any person who would be persecuted for Jewish connection under the Nuremberg laws, even to a grandchild of a Jew.

The Russian Jewish community was heavily assimilated and intermarried with the local population. While it's not clear whether the authorities were aware of the situation from the beginning, any attempt to amend the Law of Return at that time would have either stopped the immigration from Russia completely or reduced it to a trickle. Given the precarious demographic situation of Israel at that time, probably the authorities had no other choice.

Given the militant secularism of the bulk of Russian immigration, the conversion process had a very slow start. In 2001 and 2002 respectively only 954 and 890 conversion certificates were issued which led to the establishment of the Conversion Authority in 2003 to improve the conversion process. The authority is headed by Rabbi Haim Druckman, who is considered moderate, yet he failed to influence the judges, or so he claims. In 2005 and 2006 the authority signed only 1,165 and 1,020 conversion certificates respectively, with additional 2,000 soldiers having converted in the army since 2003. 7.3 million NIS assigned to the authority for 2007 are not expected to affect dramatic changes in the situation.

Now Bielski and former finance Ya'acov Neeman are calling for the appointment of dozens of new conversion judges blaming the orthodox' intransigence and inflexibility in chasing away many potential converts. The judges, backed by Amar, are refusing to consider any leniences. In fact, it appears now that Amar is pushing for a few new nominations, all of them from the orthodox hardcore.

Amar does not deny that there are many immigrants, yet he disagrees that the rabbis have anything to do with the extremely small number of conversions. Predictably the judges side with him saying that they eventually convert 85 percent of the candidates. It's just that there are not so many candidates because of the lack of interest.

"But most people never reach the conversion court," said Rabbi Israel Rosen, a veteran conversion court judge.

Responding to the critics Amar got a brilliant way to put the whole situation.

"Every single individual interested in converting is given the best possible treatment," Amar said. "However, in reality, there are not that many gentiles asking to convert because they are used to living like Israelis, not necessarily like Jews."


What the rabbi basically says is that the vast majority of these non Jewish immigrants live comfortably as secular Israelis and feel little need to go through orthodox conversion. In fact, one can reason that they live so comfortably as secular Israelis because secular Israelis feel comfortable too and see no need to check if another person has a conversion certificate. This is probably because secular Israelis themselves live more like ... mmm ... well ... like secular Israelis and not necessarily like Jews in Amar's understanding of the word. This is not to say that secular Israelis feel as comfortable with other people, even if these other people are certified Jews, and even if, god forbid, it's Shlomo Amar himself.

Ayatollah Shlomo ... oups, sorry ... Chief Sepharadi Rabbi Shlomo Amar

Oups ... Sorry again. That was an ayatollah. This is the rabbi.


To save unnecessary email traffic to the Internet: The ayatollah is Ayatollah Jannati from Iran. And yes, this is a Jewish rabbi. In fact, it's Rabbi Amar himself. And no, not all rabbis dress like this.

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