Jewish Agency proposes independent conversion courts for immigrants
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Jewish Agency proposes independent conversion courts for immigrants

New body would perform conversions abroad for all denominations, and help interfaith families become integrated into the Jewish people

Amanda Borschel-Dan is The Times of Israel's Jewish World and Archaeology editor.

A 2014  protest promoting greater pluralism for conversions. (Courtesy: Ne'emanei Torah Va'Avoda)
A 2014 protest promoting greater pluralism for conversions. (Courtesy: Ne'emanei Torah Va'Avoda)

Reform and Conservative conversions completed outside of the State of Israel are accepted by the country’s Interior Ministry as grounds for application for citizenship. On the other hand and quite confusingly, only a select number of Orthodox rabbis abroad are authorized by the Israeli chief rabbinate to sit on a conversion court for kosher Orthodox conversions.

Further muddling the who-has-a-right-to-convert-non-Jews issue, there are cases of Orthodox rabbis who hold two pulpits — one abroad and one in Israel — who are only authorized to adjudicate on conversions overseas.

In a step to rectify this conversion confusion, the Jewish Agency’s Unity of the Jewish People Committee proposed a resolution calling for the organization’s support for the establishment of an independent conversion court at Wednesday afternoon’s closing plenary in Tel Aviv of the summer Board of Governors meetings. The resolution was adopted overwhelmingly by the full board.

The committee — made up of Chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency for Israel Natan Sharansky, leaders and clergy from throughout the Diaspora and all Jewish denominations — suggested the Agency support the creation of this new conversion court to serve all streams of Judaism “in light of the Jewish Agency’s responsibility to ensure the unity of the Jewish people.”

“The Jewish Agency serves the needs of Jewish communities around the world. This is one of the very real needs voiced by various Jewish communities. The time has come to respond,” said Sharansky, who played a central role in proposing the resolution.

The proposal is framed as a way for interfaith families, as well as individuals, to become fully integrated into the Jewish people through conversion, and through the possibility of immigration to Israel.

In a draft of the proposal sent to The Times of Israel, it says that if there aren’t any conversion facilities in the Jew-by-choice’s area, the Jewish Agency will ostensibly help deploy this new beit din, or religious court, to assist local rabbis.

The Jewish Agency is further called upon by the committee to assist those converts who wish to immigrate to Israel in navigating the Jewish nation’s bureaucracy.

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