Seth Farber
Rabbi and Social Activist

The Chief Rabbinate can keep pretending, we can’t

The Chief Rabbinate has all but buried the conversion bill – for the time being.  In a statement made last week and reinforced this past Saturday night, the Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef made clear that under no circumstances will he sign conversion certificates for those who convert with municipal rabbis, even though the cabinet decision passed in November allows them to perform conversions.

Though the Chief Rabbinate’s position is guided more by politics than by halachic substance, the truth is that by burying the bill the Rabbinate is once again putting its head in the sand regarding the demographic problem in Israel.

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, there are presently more than 349,000 olim who are listed as “no religion” in the population registry. These are people who were brought on Aliyah and who comprise some six percent of Israel’s Jewish population.

The Rabbinate is pretending these people don’t exist.

Many of the immigrants see themselves as Jewish and send their children to Jewish public schools. Some 88,000 students are listed as “no religion” and each year, approximately 7500 students join the IDF, many of whom see themselves as Jews, but who are not halachically Jewish.

The Rabbinate is pretending these people don’t exist.

At present, the Rabbinate opposes the legalization of any form of civil marriage. But some 4500 individuals get engaged each year or seek marriage each year, but cannot be married in the Rabbinate because of their “no religion” status. Many of them are marrying Jewish Israelis and having children with them.

The Rabbinate is pretending these people don’t exist.

The Rabbinate and the religious ministry claim that these immigrants (and mostly their children) are not interested in converting. And yet, according to recent polling, some 76 percent are interested in the conversion process and would pursue it if they thought it was surmountable.

The Rabbinate is pretending these people don’t exist.

The Rabbinate can continue to pretend.  But the time has come for the Jewish people to stop pretending. We need a solution and if the chief Rabbinate cannot provide one, maybe we should be looking elsewhere.

About the Author
Rabbi Seth Farber is Founder and Director of ITIM, an organization committed to making Israel’s religious establishment respectful of and responsive to the diverse Jewish needs of the Jewish people, and a Founder and Director of Giyur K'Halacha, Israel's largest non-governmental conversion court network. He is a recipient of the Nefesh B'Nefesh Bonei Zion Prize, and the Israel Ministry of Aliyah & Integration's Prize for Outstanding Contribution to Israeli Society.