Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Conversion crisis - Olmert promises to intervene

Recipients and Publicity wrote:

JTA's Jacob Berkman (the "Fundermentalist")

"July 21: Olmert responds to UJC’s plea to intervene in conversion crisis

Ehud Olmert has apparently responded to a letter earlier this month from the leaders of the United Jewish Communities in which they asked the prime minister to intervene in the conversion crisis in Israel.

The UJC’s chair, Joe Kanfer, and president and CEO, Howard Rieger, had sent the prime minister a letter July 9, imploring him in fairly strong language that they expected him and his government to step in to help the country settle the dispute over what conversions to Judaism are considered legitimate.

It is a longstanding conflict that was reignited earlier this year when Israel’s Rabbinical High Court dismissed Rabbi Haim Druckman, the head of the Conversion Committee that was established to facilitate the conversion process. In dismissing Druckman, who was considered relatively lenient on conversion, the court said it would annul thousands of conversions of immigrants from the former Soviet Union that he had approved.

Olmert wrote back to the UJC last week – and one can assume his response was not a form letter — saying that the conversion issue was one of utmost importance to him and that he values the relationship between UJC and Israel. Help is in the works, he added.

The prime minister said that he would discuss the issue further when the UJC holds is annual conference, the General Assembly, in Jerusalem this fall.

“It is my hope that the two strategic decisions made byt my Cabinet in the past six months related to this issue will begin catalyzing the conversion process in Israel,” the letter said. “I expect that, in the coming weeks, the new directorship of the Conversion Authority will begin to tackle the complexities of this issue, and that by the time we meet at the General Assembly in November, we will see concrete results.”

(We’ll say this … not everyone with Olmert’s sagging popularity and mounting legal problems would have the confidence to say he’d still be around in November. Of course, the other possibility is that he’s punting because he knows he’ll be out by then.)

Read the rest of the olmert letter.

Thanks to Rabbi Seth Farber, the director of ITIM: The Jewish Life Information center, an Israeli based organization dedicated to making Jewish life accessible, for alerting the Fundermentalist to Olmert’s letter.

Because he saw it first, I’ll give Farber first crack at responding. (For the annotated version – he isn’t satisfied):

“ITIM has received hundreds of phone calls in the past two months from converts concerned about their status and individuals who were hesitant to convert. The PM’s comments are an important first step in restoring confidence in the conversion authority. but words are not sufficient. There must be actions as well. IN the past few weeks, very little has moved forward with little direction from the Prime Minister’s office. The search committee to appoint a new director of the conversion authority has not met, and the tender for the assistant to the director went unfilled.

It is my hope that this letter will be followed by concrete steps to rebuild the conversion authority and give it the power to move this issue forward in Israel"."
See the original official "Dear Joe and Howard" letter from PM Olmert, dated July 16, 2008 at

wherein Olmert concludes: "...I expect that, in the coming weeks, the new directorship of the Conversion Authority will begin to tackle the complexities of this issue, and that by the time we meet at the General assembly in November, we will see concrete results..."
(It would help if the pdf copy of Olmert's letter could be reposted for its importance because if Olmert is still in office in November, his stated intentions will have major ramifications for all concerned with the issue of Halachic vs non-Halachic, or less than Halachic, conversions.)


  1. "Israel Radio quoted Olmert as saying in a statement that such immigrants "include the best of our soldiers, the cream of our academia, and so the issue of conversion in Israel tops the national agenda."

    So sayeth the Zionister Rebbe.

    Should we declare Gentiles to be Jews because they have great muscles (good soldiers) and excellent grades in college (cream of academia).

    What about lots of money or great beauty? Are these also valid criteria for declaring someone to be a Jew? Should we also convert the Princes of Saud and Miss Finland according to the Zionista Rebbe?

    Should we also recruit some Norwegians and Fins for conversion because they are muscular and statistically do very well on standardized IQ tests?

  2. Umm Jersey girl, while I agree with your sentiments, you are going overboard spinning into a failure of logical categorization.

    Olmert was talking about people in Israel, period.

    In your haste to mock and make fun of his words you are then spinning out of control saying things that Olmert obviously does mean nor does he intend to do.

    He is not going to convert all the best of the world, but he is praising the characteristics of the roughly 300,000 or so Russians in Israel who are not Halachic Jews who will need some sort of solution to their status over time. And yes, it is important to hear him out respectfully if you want him to eventually cooperate with the Haredim and not with the Reform instead.

    So give the man some slack. He is walking a tightrope. We all know that the final decisions in these matters belongs to the rabbonim and not to politicians like Olmert, and stop making a fool out of a very clever and foxy man who is in a position of power and who can yet be won over to your cause if you will treat him right and not vent at him like an overheated hen.

  3. Well, now it's a moot point what Olmert will do because he has announced that he will quit his post as Israeli Prime Minister after his Kadima party has its primaries in September (well at least Moris/Moishe Talansky has gotten his revenge!) Olmert's anounced impending resignation throws the major Israeli governmental political issues and policy decisions surrounding the conversions controversies in Israel into the lap of the next Israeli Prime Minister, whoever he or she may be...(oh, and one final comment, pity that Rebbes and Rosh Yeshivas are not subject to the same intense scrutiny as regular secular leaders who are forced to resign when serioua questions and charges or allegations arise against them or their many followers and they instead continue on with "life tenure" like autocrats above the rule of law):


    Olmert to step down in September, vows to push for peace first

    By Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondent and Haaretz Service

    Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Wednesday that he has decided not to contend in the Kadima primary election and would resign as soon as the new party leader was chosen, due to the criminal investigations in which he has been embroiled in recent months.

    "I have decided I won't run in the Kadima movement primaries, nor do I intend to intervene in the elections," Olmert said in an official statement to the public
    from his residence in Jerusalem on Wednesday evening.

    "When a new [Kadima party] chairman is chosen, I will resign as prime minister to permit them to put together a new government swiftly and effectively," he added.

    The prime minister has been under official investigation in recent months over allegations of corruption in his former capacities as Jerusalem mayor and trade minister.

    Political sources had expected Olmert to announce that he would not run in upcoming leadership contest in his Kadima party, scheduled for September 17. This decision in effect signals an end to Olmert's political career.

    Olmert began the address by saying that despite having been beset by investigations during his tenure, he has improved the situation in Israel and continues to believe that peace is the most important track for the country.

    The prime minister went on to say that as long as he was in power, he would work toward this goal of peace.

    "I am proud to be the prime minister of a country that investigates its prime ministers," he said. "The prime minister is not above the law, but he is in no way below it."

    The two most prominent investigations involve suspicions that Olmert took bribes from American businessman Morris Talansky, and charges he submitted duplicate claims for travel expenses which he allegedly used to fund family trips abroad. He has denied wrongdoing, but said he would resign if indicted.

    Olmert's announcement comes a day after Kadima said it had scheduled its leadership vote.

    The prime minister's advisers in recent days have split into two groups: those who expect him to continue in his position and resign only if indicted, and those who have been urging him not to run in the primary elections and conclude his term with an air of respect."

  4. Assimilation, intermarriage and with conversion, have a fallout on everyone in the Jewish world, so that even SOME Zionist leaders are panicking, see this report in "The Jewish Advocate"

    "Thu July 31 2008

    Economy and intermarriage worry Zionist organizations

    By Lorne Bell - Thursday July 24 2008

    Leaders debate assimilation's effect on funding for Israel

    Rising inflation and an unstable stock market have affected nonprofit organizations across the country, including pro-Israel groups. But the floundering U.S. economy is not the only threat to maintaining the American Jewish community’s support for the Jewish State. Intermarriage and assimilation may also play a significant role, according to leaders in the American Zionist community.

    “Certainly intermarriage dilutes Jewish philanthropy,” said Stewart Greenebaum, a Baltimore real estate developer and major contributor to Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. “In the past, Jewish philanthropy generally went to Jewish causes, and now that the general community has opened the door to so many things, where frankly the door used to be closed, philanthropy is being dissipated.”

    Greenebaum, who serves on the board of the Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem, addressed the organization’s 94th annual convention last week in Los Angeles. He cited a 20 percent shortfall in actual cash contributions to Hadassah in 2008 and warned of the consequences of a weakened economy, changing demographics and assimilation.

    “Hadassah is caught in the proverbial ‘perfect storm,’” he said. “I’m preaching to the choir. But the reality is, the choir is shrinking.”

    Mady Donoff, president of the Boston chapter of Hadassah, said the organization has experienced a drop in resources and membership, although she noted that many charitable organizations are facing similar challenges. But she dismissed the notion that intermarriage is to blame.
    “I just don’t see that,” said Donoff. “I see young families that, in order to maintain their lifestyle, have to work very hard. These women don’t have a lot of time for leisure or working for causes and only a finite amount of time to spend with charities.”

    Hadassah is addressing that demographic shift by designing programs that appeal to young women, regardless of whether or not they are intermarried. Still, intermarriage cannot be entirely ignored as a factor in pro-Israel activism.

    According to the 2001 National Jewish Population Survey, 61 percent of in-married Jews “strongly believe” that Israel still needs the financial support of American Jews, compared to only 42 percent of intermarried couples. In-married Jews are also nearly three times as likely to claim they are “very” emotionally attached to the Jewish State, according to the survey.
    “Intermarriage poses a serious future threat to charitable giving to Jewish causes and to Israel,” said Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America.

    The ZOA, the oldest pro-Israel organization in the country, has only recently begun to experience a decrease in charitable giving as a result of the weakened economy, according to Klein. Overall, the organization has registered a marked increase in philanthropy in recent years in response to the dangers facing Israel. But Klein believes that intermarriage is a major concern for the sustainability of those efforts.

    “There is a real danger here, and I worry about the future,” he said.
    At the community level, Jewish leaders are also concerned about the effects of intermarriage on financial contributions to Israel. Rabbi Benjamin Samuels of Congregation Shaarei Tefillah, an Orthodox synagogue in Newton, cited increasing rates of intermarriage as a call to action.
    “The future of donations to Israel and support for all things Jewish relies on people having a strong and robust sense of Jewish identity, and intermarriage and assimilation certainly attenuate our Jewish identity,” he said.

    But not all segments of the Jewish community are convinced that intermarriage spells the end of American Jewish support for Israel.
    “I don’t think there is necessarily any correlation,” said Donald Cohen-Cutler, communications manager for the Union for Reform Judaism. “Embracing non-Jewish spouses into the congregation is extremely important and we want to help them to be educated and connected to the Jewish community and Israel.”

    In Reform Judaism – where intermarriage, though discouraged, is viewed as a reality of modern life – Cohen-Cutler said intermarried families are an important part of the movement’s pro-Israel outreach efforts. He pointed to several Israel travel initiatives spearheaded by the Reform movement that educate interfaith families about the importance of supporting the Jewish State.

    “Hundreds of kids and adults are going to Israel [through these programs] each summer,” he said.

    Still, support for Israel from the next generation of American Jews is far from assured. And without the active engagement of all Jews, whether intermarried or not, Greenebaum said that Zionist groups face significant challenges.

    “Let’s face it: asking for more money from fewer and fewer people is not a viable long-term strategy,” he told Hadassah. “It is a recipe for disaster"."

  5. And here is what the Vaad HaRabbonim LeInyonei Giyur had to say to Olmert, but now that he's stepping down sometime after September, the world awaits to hear the moves that will be made by the next Israeli Prime Minsiter and cabinet on conversion issues:

    "21 Tammuz 5768 - July 24, 2008


    Vaad HaRabbonim LeInyonei Giyur: The Government Has No Authority to Make Promises on Clearly Halachic Issues

    By Yechiel Sever

    Following a remark by PM Ehud Olmert that he intends to solve the "conversion crisis" within four months, the Vaad HaRabbonim LeInyonei Giyur, founded by HaRav Chaim Kreiswirth, zt"l, once again points out that Israel's demographic problem cannot be solved through mass conversion.

    The rabbonim on the Vaad warn that if PM Olmert goes through with his stated intentions of accelerating conversion, the Vaad will issue international announcements stating that conversions performed under the Government of Israel are wholly unreliable.

    The warning came in reaction to a letter Olmert sent to Jewish leaders in the US, promising "the conversion crisis would be solved within four months." The letter also said, "The immigrants from the FSU are among our best soldiers and top students, and conversion in Israel is a national priority."

    Vaad HaRabbonim LeInyonei Giyur responded with a statement reading, "The demographic problem cannot be solved through mass conversion and the government has no authority to make promises on clearly halachic issues. If this happens, choliloh, we will be forced to openly announce that conversions done by the Government of Israel have no halachic value and should not be relied on at all. We are certain that every Orthodox rabbi will agree on this and the Orthodox rabbis will set up a limited conversion program to meet the very limited needs of gerei tzedek who genuinely want to convert and alter their lives to a way of life in accordance with halacha, with no compromises."

    The Vaad also said, "The immigrants from the FSU, who currently represent the vast majority of conversion applicants, cannot be expected to undertake keeping Torah and mitzvas in full and in earnest, through a fast, large-scale procedure, especially as they have been severed from any connection to Judaism for many decades"."


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