Miami (February 7, 2016) – Targum Shlishi is supporting efforts by ITIM to make conversion to Judaism in Israel an easier and more inclusive process. In the past several months, ITIM has made significant progress in this area. After years of campaigning for legislation to open the doors of conversion, in August 2015, ITIM, along with other organizations and several prominent Orthodox rabbis, began offering an alternative to the restrictive conversion process provided by rabbinical courts. A network of private conversion courts, Giyur Ke’Halakha, was established; Targum Shlishi’s support provided seed funding for the project.
In the first few months of the project, there was a great deal of activity as well as media attention – by January, eighteen respected Orthodox rabbis had or will be participating in conversion court panels and have adjudicated 120 conversions, with a focus on people who were not successful with the state-sponsored conversion process. ITIM hopes that in the project’s first twelve months, five hundred conversions will be completed and twenty-five rabbis empaneled.
The magnitude of the current problem stems from the large number of Israeli citizens from the FSU who are not recognized as Jews by Israel’s Chief Rabbinate. There are 350,000 immigrants from the FSU who were welcomed as citizens under Israel’s Law of Return. However, because they are not recognized as Jews, they are not eligible to marry, divorce, have Jewish children, or be buried in Israel unless they undergo conversion in official rabbinical courts. However, the conversion process is quite difficult. Not only is there a dearth of conversion courts – there are only three in the country – but only twenty percent of those who apply for conversion are successful.
Critics contend that the conversion process in the rabbinical courts is inefficient and unfair, and that the courts are exploiting their authority to advance sectarian aims, including commitment to Orthodox observance and education of children in religious schools.
“The conversion problem is one that has been created by the Chief Rabbinate, which since Israel’s inception has determined who is Jewish and overseen conversions,” says Aryeh Rubin, Targum Shlishi’s director. “At this point it is clear that the Chief Rabbinate has no intention of addressing the serious problem that its policies have caused. We are thankful for advocacy organizations such as ITIM, which are willing to fight to address problems facing our society.”
According to ITIM’s Rabbi Seth Farber, the existence of the new conversion courts also help to address issues of alienation that many believe stem from the approach of the rabbinical courts – those who are not successfully converted or who are discouraged from entering the process at all often feel rejected and removed from their heritage. In contrast, the new courts are inclusive and welcoming.
“The new conversion courts represent a game changing moment for the question of ‘who will be a Jew’ in Israel,” says Rabbi Farber. “For the first time, the doors of conversion in Israel are open. The reactions we are receiving from immigrants who are part of the Jewish collective, but who seek conversion to certify their status, reinforce how the time has come for Israel to resolve this crisis once and for all.”
ITIM enables and empowers people to live Jewish lives in Israel. By means of personal counseling, legislation, litigation, and oversight, ITIM seeks to secure basic rights of civil society for all residents and qualified prospective residents of the Jewish state, particularly in matters pertaining to life cycle events controlled by Israel’s regulatory and rabbinic establishment. Founded in 2002 by Orthodox Rabbi Seth Farber, ITIM initially engaged in educational and informational activities, including the development of Israel’s leading website on lifecycle events, the writing and distribution of more than 500,000 lifecycle booklets, the development of a bar/bat mitzvah project subsequently adopted by Israel’s Ministry of Education, and a series of multi-faceted web-based programs to engage the Israeli public in their interactions with the religious establishment. In 2009, ITIM created an Advocacy Center alongside its Assistance Center. The Advocacy Center engages in legislation, litigation, regulatory, and compliance work. ITIM has been the prime mover in a number of important bills in the Knesset and played a leading role in a series of significant Supreme Court cases challenging the Rabbinate’s usurpation of authority and ensuring the rights of Israel’s diverse Jewish population. For more information, visit ITIM’s website at www.itim.org.il/en/.
About Targum Shlishi
Targum Shlishi is dedicated to providing a range of creative solutions to problems facing Jewry today. Premised on the conviction that dynamic change and adaptation have historically been crucial to a vibrant and relevant Judaism and to the survival of its people, Targum Shlishi’s initiatives are designed to stimulate the development of new ideas and innovative strategies that will enable Jewish life, its culture, and its traditions to continue to flourish. For more information on the foundation, visit its website at www.targumshlishi.org. Follow Aryeh Rubin, Targum Shlishi’s director, on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Aryeh5.