Want to be Jewish? Tough luck

March 19, 2014
Richard Kuper

Sudanese celebrate their escape to Israel – but they are not allowed to convert to Judaism

Israel’s chief rabbis urge Netanyahu to block conversion bill

Rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef want to prevent Knesset from voting on allowing other rabbis to convert.

By Yair Ettinger, Haaretz
March 19, 2014

Israel’s chief rabbis, Rabbi David Lau and Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, have urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett to block the conversion bill that is to be voted on Wednesday by the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.

“The bill in its current format threatens the entire conversion system,” the rabbis wrote. “It’s a law that could lead many in the State of Israel to lose faith in the state conversion process.”

The bill, which would allow local rabbis to oversee conversions and not force prospective converts to go through special state conversion courts, has already passed its first reading. If the committee approves it, the bill will go to the Knesset plenum for its second and third readings.

In Tuesday’s committee debate, the bill was the focus of confrontation among coalition MKs, particularly those of Habayit Hayehudi, which is now renouncing the bill, and the bill’s sponsor, MK Elazar Stern (Hatnuah) and Law Committee chairman MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu).

Under the agreement reached Tuesday night among the coalition factions, the bill will be approved Wednesday morning by the Law Committee, but it will not be submitted for its second and third readings until the Knesset’s next session. Habayit Hayehudi believes that the bill will not pass in its current format, which has become a point of sharp confrontation between the government and the two chief rabbis.

According to Lau and Yosef, “It is inconceivable that a bill on an issue that is at the very heart of the existence of the Jewish people and its spiritual survival is being promoted without first undergoing a halakhic evaluation by the Chief Rabbinate and the chief rabbis, who are responsible for this issue by virtue of their position. A new precedent is being set under which MKs are irresponsibly dealing with issues they do not understand, when such a momentous matter hangs in the balance.

“Promoting a law of this type without broad agreement is liable to split the Jewish people in its land into camps that will not recognize each other’s Jewishness and bring us to a situation whose aftermath we cannot imagine. It is such a situation the Chief Rabbinate is seeking to prevent.”

During Tuesday’s lengthy debate in the Law Committee, Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben Dahan, along with Habayit Hayehudi MKs Orit Strock and Yoni Chetboun took potshots at the bill.

“Elazar Stern is trying to appease all kinds of Reform and Conservative groups that are trying to give us conversions that are not according to Jewish law,” Strock said, adding that the Knesset should take into account, “the laws that God gave us − the Torah as given to Moses at Mount Sinai.

“There is no way we can do anything to aid in widening the opening for the Reform with regard to anything that touches on what they call conversion,” Strock continued. “We can’t defraud people who want to embrace Judaism. We are selling them a bill of goods instead of conversion.”

Ten reasons conversion to Judaism has failed

Conversion in Israel is a lengthy and cumbersome process that combines all the worst attributes of government red-tape, religious corruption, and legal obstructionism.

By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz
May 15, 2013

This morning, Jews around the world read the Book of Ruth in Shavuot prayers. The story of the most famous convert to Judaism has its inevitable ups and downs, tragedy and triumph, but the actual conversion, the acceptance of Ruth, the Moabite princess into another nation was remarkably straightforward. She simply said to her mother-in-law, Naomi – “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried.” And that was that.

Today of course, conversion is both a business and bureaucracy, a lengthy and cumbersome process which is not only intentionally designed to make things as hard as possible for potential converts, but combines all the worst attributes of government red-tape, religious corruption, and legal obstructionism. Last week, the State Comptroller published his annual report which includes a 50-page chapter on the manifold failings of the governmental conversion apparatus. The report makes for depressing reading and is a damning indictment of everything both the government and the rabbinical establishment have done on the issue over the last decade.

Here are the national conversion system’s top ten screw-ups, and no, it won’t get any better by next Shavuot.

1. Despite the recommendation of two different government commissions on conversion (Neeman 1998, Halfon 2008), two major reorganizations of the state conversion apparatus in 1995 and 2003, which brought it under the responsibility of the Prime Minister’s Office, a special ministerial steering committee which was established in 2008 (but was never convened), and a steady increase in the state budget dedicated to conversion (32 million NIS in 2011), the actual number of conversions was nearly halved from 2007 to 2011, down from 8000 to 4300, with 26 percent of conversion candidates failed to complete the process.

2. The main motivation behind the attempts to improve the conversion system was to alleviate the predicament a large number of immigrants from the former Soviet Union found themselves in. Despite receiving Israeli citizenship due to their Jewish ancestry they were not considered Jews according to the Orthodox rabbinate and were therefore classified as being “without religion” and thus barred from getting married in Israel. But despite their plight and the government’s efforts, the number of citizens “without religion” has only grown from 320 to 327 thousand, in 2012.

3. Sixty percent of the conversion budget went to the “Joint Institute” which employs teachers from the Orthodox, Reform and Conservative streams. Despite the funds and the endorsement, only 39 percent of students who began their studies at the “Joint Institute” converted successfully.

4. While financing the “Joint Institute,” the government funds another Education Ministry conversion college and subsidizes some of the fourteen private colleges. Despite recognizing their students, supervision of these colleges is patchy and the National Conversion Authority does not inform prospective converts of their existence.

5. Despite the fact that new legal procedures for the Rabbinical Conversion Courts were formulated by the chief rabbi in 2006, they have still not been formalized and legally codified as a procedure obliging all the courts.

6. Rabbinical court judges have in the past been paid according to the number of sessions they attend. Some have been accused of delaying procedures so they could make more money per convert. Despite a government decision in 2008 to change their pay structure, the change was not implemented. Neither has the problem of the rabbinical judges’ chronic tardiness, often opening sessions over two hours late, been solved.

7. The final stage of the conversion process is ritual immersion in a mikve. For some reason, despite there being thousands of mikvaot, throughout the country, built and operated by state-funded religious councils, only four are used for conversion ceremonies. This causes a bottleneck in the end of the process with hundreds of converts forced to wait, some for close to a year, and on average in 2012, 43 days, to complete their conversion.

8. Even after completing the entire process, converts have to wait many months for their conversion certificate which allows them to get married. A third received their certificate only a year after the process was over. This is due to endemic chaos in the filing and the computer system of the Conversion Authority. Converts details in the Interior Ministry’s Population Registry are not updated due to the bureaucratic muddle.

9. An “exceptions committee” set up stringent conditions that bar nearly every non-Israeli candidate from beginning a conversion process. Ostensibly, the committee’s aim is to block those who are trying to take advantage of the Law of Return to receive Israeli citizenship but the conditions keep out also earnest candidates who simply want to be Jewish who are not even allowed to appear themselves before the committee.

10. The previous head of the Conversion Authority, Rabbi Chaim Druckman retired in early 2012, after years of valiant but ultimately doomed attempts to improve the conversion process. Fifteen months after vacating the position a replacement has yet to be appointed.

How to Convert to Judaism

Courtesy of WikiHow
Edited by Jack Herrick, Jamie Littlefield, Scott Solkoff, Ben Rubenstein and 56 others

Judaism is among the seminal religions of the world and, is one of the first mono-theistic religion (in which only one god is worshiped). It was before Islam in tracing its shared roots back to Abraham, a patriarch of the Torah, the holiest book to Judaism. It preceded Christianity, by as much as two thousand years and, in fact, Jesus of Nazareth was Jewish according to Christian theology. What Christians refer to as the “Old Testament” is, in fact, an edited version of the original Hebrew Tanach. If, after deep consideration, you decide to convert to Judaism, follow these steps.

Convert to Judaism Step 1

Research Jewish laws, history and customs, and talk to Jews about their religion. Figure out what you are getting into, and determine why you want to do it. Be aware that Judaism is a major commitment which will affect every part of your life, will last as long as you live, and will even transfer to your children. Judaism is based on the commandments (of which there are 613 in total, though many are not applicable today) and the Thirteen principles. They should be your first step and the foundation of your Jewish faith.

Convert to Judaism Step 2
Speak with your family about your intention to convert. This can often be a touchy subject among families, so be sure to explain your reasoning and desire to become Jewish. Make sure that you are comfortable with your decision to leave your former religion, if you had one.

Convert to Judaism Step 3.

If you are converting because of marriage, speak with your future husband/wife to determine the best course of action, including what denomination you will join. Not many rabbis will convert people just because of marriage, the potential convert MUST be sincere and want to convert because of spiritual feelings and not just because of marriage. There are three main branches, all with differing levels of observance and ritual. Generally speaking, from most to least traditional, these are: (a) Orthodox, (b) Conservative – called ‘Reform’ or ‘Masorti’ in Europe, and (c) Reform – called ‘Progressive’ or ‘Liberal’ in Europe.

Convert to Judaism Step 4

Once you feel that you have sufficient reason to convert, make an appointment with a Rabbi to discuss the process. Be prepared for the rabbi to try to dissuade you, or turn you away. Many rabbis consider this part of their job. The goal is not to prevent honest seekers from converting, it is to test the individual’s commitment, and make sure that becoming a Jew is truly what he or she wants. If you are persistent, show that you know what you’re getting into and are still committed to doing it, the rabbi may eventually decide to start you on the path to conversion.

Convert to Judaism Step 5
Unlike in many religions, converting to Judaism is not fast or easy. You will need to spend at least a year – some times two or more – studying (many organizations offer night classes) and living a Jewish life before your conversion is finalized. Your studies will cover the basics of Jewish history and culture, and you will also receive some instruction in the Hebrew language.

Convert to Judaism Step 6
At the end of your studies, you will take a test to determine how much you’ve learned. You will also be questioned before a Jewish court (called a Beit Din, consisting of three authorities) about adherence to the Halacha, as part of the conversion proceedings.

Convert to Judaism Step 7
7f you have passed all these steps, a conversion ceremony will be scheduled. It will involve a ritual bath (full-body immersion in a Mikveh), and if you’re an uncircumcised male, you will also need to be circumcised. In the cases where the man has already been circumcised, creating a small drop of blood is sufficient.

Convert to Judaism Step 8.
Children born prior to the end of conversion do not become Jews if their parent converts. Some authorities (often Orthodox and those of higher levels of observance) have stricter rules, considering a child conceived before conversion as not being Halachically Jewish. If they want to be Jewish, they will have to go through conversion themselves after they reach the age of 13. Children born to a Jewish woman AFTER she has converted are Jewish automatically.

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