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Saturday, 22 December 2007

Knesset c'tee to probe delays in approving conversions

Knesset c'tee to probe delays in approving conversions
By MATTHEW WAGNER

The Knesset State Control Committee will discuss on Monday a
bureaucratic bottleneck in the Conversion Authority that is holding up
300 potential conversions.

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss may be called upon to investigate
the delays, which have forced some potential converts to wait for years
to join the Jewish people. Most of the prospective converts are the
spouses of Israelis who met non-Jews abroad, got married in civil
ceremonies and returned to Israel, where the spouses showed interest in
converting to Judaism.

The delays are being caused by a committee for exceptional cases, made
up of legal representatives from the Prime Minister's Office and the
Interior Ministry and a representative from the Chief Rabbinate. This
committee is vested with the power to either approve or deny requests by
non-citizens to convert to Judaism.

In Israel, all Jews, whether converted or born to a Jewish parent, are
entitled to automatic citizenship. Therefore, the decision to allow a
non-Jew living in Israel without citizenship to convert to Judaism is
both a religious and a civil issue.

However, the exceptional cases committee, which is supposed to convene
once a week, has been meeting irregularly. Many weeks, at least one of
the three members has been sick or on maternity leave or has simply been
unable to make the meeting due to previous engagements, according to
sources in the Conversion Authority.

A change in the composition of the committee about a year and a half ago
has also created obstacles. Originally no legal advisers were involved;
rather, two representatives from the rabbinate determined the religious
seriousness of the potential convert, while a representative from the
Interior Ministry made sure the candidate had a clean criminal record,
had not come to Israel as a foreign worker whose work permit had
expired, and did not have any other naturalization problems.

But since two legal advisers replaced the Interior Ministry
representative and one of the rabbinate representatives, the approval
process has become bogged down with bureaucratic red tape. As a result,
prospective converts are forced to meet with the committee at least
twice - once before beginning the conversion process and once after
completing the requisite learning.

"The delays put incredible pressures on couples who are already living
together but who are putting off having children until the non-Jewish
spouse converts so that the children will be considered Jewish," said a
source in the Conversion Authority.
Rabbi Dr. Seth Farber, director of ITIM - an organization that helps
Israelis and non-citizens navigate the religious bureaucracy in Israel -
called the malfunctioning committee an absurdity.

"Jewish communities around the world are fighting soaring intermarriage
rates with conversion," said Farber, who petitioned the State Control
Committee to discuss the bureaucratic delays in conversions. Farber said
he had personally dealt with 27 different cases of prospective converts
who had been delayed repeatedly.

"Young Jewish Israelis who fall in love with non-Jews are being forced
to remain married outside their faith by an inefficient bureaucracy,"
added Farber. "For no logical reason, clerks and government workers have
taken upon themselves the function of rabbinical judges [by claiming] to
fathom the intentions of potential converts. This must stop."

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