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    Conversions in Israel – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. Why is the Israeli rabbinate so strict in what it expects from converts?

    529px-JudaicaA. The halachic answer ought, theoretically, to function regardless of political considerations.

    However, the pure ideal cannot be achieved while there is such controversy about the relationship between State and religion when the religious parties demand a price as part of their membership of the coalition and the public objects to spiritual matters becoming part of party horse-trading. Converts feel that they have been sold down the river.

    The halachic rules are neither too strict nor too lenient. They require a candidate for conversion to really want to be Jewish and to undertake to study and observe the laws of the Torah.

    The number of people who seek to become Jewish depend on the circumstances. Decades ago the group involved in conversion controversies were the Ethiopians. Now it is the Russians. It is in the interest of Israel and the Jewish people that their halachic situation be regularised and that they move out of limbo to full membership of Judaism and the Jewish people.

    This means having rabbis deal with them who are warm and welcoming and do not bring the rabbinic profession into disrepute. It also means, when the applicant is a woman, having warm and welcoming women to accompany them to the rabbinate and to ensure they are not frightened away by the official face of Israeli religion.

    Must the potential convert must be free of all ulterior motives and want Judaism for its own sake, not, for example, in order to marry a Jew? Many rabbis allow flexibility, arguing that if one begins with an ulterior motive they will come to love being Jewish for its own sake. It all depends on the judgment of the rabbinic court.

    Rabbi David Hoffmann, the author of M’lammed L’ho’il, accepts certain people who are involved in intermarriage, arguing that this would retain the Jewish partner and their children for Judaism. Rabbi Zvi Kalischer comments, “It may even be that great religious leaders will descend from them”.

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