Poll: Majority of Israeli Jews want easier, more welcoming conversion process

Israel Democracy Institute poll finds 52% support move ‘to enable more potential converts to join the Jewish people’

Illustrative: An Israeli rabbinical court reviews a conversion case. (Flash90)
Illustrative: An Israeli rabbinical court reviews a conversion case. (Flash90)

Most Israeli Jews support making the state process for conversion to Judaism more “welcoming and lenient,” according to a survey published Tuesday, reflecting criticism that the Chief Rabbinate is too strict in demanding that potential converts keep religious laws as a condition.

A slim majority, 52 percent, said they believe the process should be “more welcoming and lenient in order to enable more potential converts to join the Jewish people.”

A large majority, 71%, said they back the IDF’s conversion process for soldiers who wish to convert to Judaism. Nearly half, 45%, support the program’s expansion, according to the latest Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) Israeli Voice Index survey.

The poll found that 10% support the closure of the program, which has so far converted some 10,000 soldiers, while 7.2% think it should be scaled back.

A soldier in the Nativ conversion program visiting a kindergarten in the settlement of Efrat to learn about the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah on November 7, 2013. (Gershon Elinson/FLASH90)

Israel’s state conversion system has been a politically divisive issue since as many as 300,000 non-Jewish relatives of Jews moved to Israel during the great wave of immigration from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s.

Many of these Russian-speaking Israelis have lived their lives as Jews and have no other identity, but encountered difficulties converting to Judaism in Haredi-controlled state rabbinic courts that have demanded stringent Jewish religious observance as a precondition for conversion.

Asked who they believed should determine a person’s Jewish status for the state, 36% said it should be a “yet-to-be established new government conversion agency”; 32% sided with the Chief Rabbinate; 17% backed “private conversion courts for each of the religious streams — ultra-Orthodox, Orthodox, Conservative and Reform”; and 9% said the authority for each stream should lie with “conversion courts in Israel or abroad.”

The poll said 86% of Jewish Israelis would accept a non-Jew as their neighbor, but only 39% would accept their child’s marriage to a non-Jewish partner.

Dr. Shuki Friedman is the director of the Religion and State department at Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avoda. (Courtesy: Shuki Friedman)

“Some 400,000 Israelis living among us are not defined as Jews according to Jewish law, despite the fact that they are an integral part of Israeli society, serve in the army, share the burden, and are part of the Jewish-Israeli social fabric,” said Dr. Shuki Friedman, director of the IDI’s Center for Religion, Nation and State.

“Many of them would like to complete the conversion process and be recognized as Jews. However the current conversion policy makes it difficult to realize this aspiration, because of the strict policy adopted by the Rabbinate,” he added.

“The results of the survey show that the majority of Israelis … support a change to a more moderate conversion policy by the Chief Rabbinate.”

Most Popular
read more: