200 Orthodox converts forced to wait for certificates

JERUSALEM — More than 200 Orthodox converts have been waiting for over three months for their conversion certificates from the Chief Rabbinate, because of the changeover in functions between Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yisrael Lau and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Eliahu Bakshi-Doron.

In reaction, leaders of the country's Reform and Conservative movements said Tuesday that if this is the way Orthodox converts are being treated by the Chief Rabbinate, it is clear there is no validity to the proposed recommendations of the Ne'eman Committee suggesting a joint conversion institute and graduates being converted under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate.

On March 28, responsibility for conversion went from Bakshi-Doron to Lau, who became president of the Rabbinical Court of Appeals.

Rabbi Yitzhak Ohana, who is responsible for conversion in the Chief Rabbinate, said the delay is due to the fact that Lau wants to institute changes of both "substance and procedure" in the conversion process, but he would not say what the changes are.

"He does not want to make it either stricter or more lenient, just different," Ohana said.

According to Ohana, all those who have undergone ceremonies in the special rabbinical courts for conversion would eventually receive their certificates. But as long as they do not have them, converts cannot marry a Jew, and those who are not citizens often find themselves without a visa, making it impossible for them to work or be covered by health insurance.

Rabbi Ehud Bandel, president of Israel's Conservative movement, said he was shocked to learn that the Chief Rabbinate is transgressing a specific commandment, not to torment the convert.

"This only strengthens the need to take from the Chief Rabbinate the monopoly on personal status in general and conversion in particular," Bandel said.

The situation, he said, proved that the Ne'eman Committee had not reached a solution to the problem of conversion and only makes his movement more steadfast in its court battle to have its own conversions recognized as valid.

Rabbi Uri Regev, director of the Reform movement's Israel Religious Action Center, said that Lau has to face some tough questions.

Until now, Regev said, Lau has not related to questions regarding conversion, saying it was the realm of Bakshi-Doron.

"[Lau] has to say what his position is," Regev said.

Regev added that this proved that the Ne'eman Committee was a dead letter: "If this is what happens to Orthodox converts, how can anyone seriously talk about the Chief Rabbinate recognizing converts who identify with Conservative or Reform congregations."