The only sensible way to approach Jewish conversion is with an open mind and a goal to successfully integrate candidates into the Jewish people. The Chief Rabbinate of Israel doesn’t have this central tenet of conversion in mind, as it would be impossible to successfully integrate a large number of people with such a top-heavy, overbearing structure that dehumanizes these candidates and turns them into pieces of paper.
The demand to convert doesn’t guarantee the candidate will successfully finish the process, but that already goes without saying. The Rabbinate’s protest that decentralizing the organization that oversees the process doesn’t make sense and borders on declaring the local Rabbis unfit to run their own courts. In their words:
“The conversion bill grants power over conversion to unqualified clerks and endangers the Halachic process of converts in Israel.”
There is no discernible difference between the credentials of a municipal Chief Rabbi and the national ones, nor a certified Rabbi who isn’t on the few Rabbinical conversion courts and the lucky handful who happen to be employed as such.
The new law, honestly, does not go far enough in allowing local Rabbis to administer the conversion process. That principle should be legally applied abroad as well. The 2007 GPS – Geirut Policy & Standards – that the Rabbinical Council of America implemented came about as a result of unprecedented pressure from our Israeli Chief Rabbinate. The result there was a centralization of conversion where it was not justified: the creation of 11 – only 11 – regionalcc courts in the entire United States, something absurd that hurt the prospect of candidates in more far-flung places like Delaware, Nebraska and even southern New Jersey and artificially dragged out their conversion experience.
Where the United States’ enormous geography brings into question the sense of centralizing conversion, the geography of Israel isn’t the issue. Israel is too rich a Jewish culture, too rich in even the apparently narrow world of Jewish Orthodoxy, to have such a rigid approach to conversion. The Chief Rabbinate defends a structure where one segment of Orthodox Judaism, one hashkafah, imposes its extra standards on communities across Israel whose respective leaders are perfectly competent in their own right to administer to communities they know much more intimately.
Every conversion candidate is entitled to experience the multiple facets of Jewish Israel in order to find a community that suits them. It’s not about having a selective approach to religious obligation. It’s about culture and points of view. The approach to Judaism more prevalent in my home of Neve Daniel is not exactly the same as the one in neighboring Beitar Illit. Regardless, I trust the leadership in both towns to acclimate their respective conversion candidates appropriately, in line with local custom and being able to communicate with candidates who feel more comfortable in calling those communities ‘home.’
The Rabbinate’s opposition to the bill in its current form is illogical. There is nothing in it that compromises the integrity of the conversion process; it only snips the branches of power at the top of the Chief Rabbinate’s bureaucracy.