Israel to set up conversion panel

The Israeli Cabinet will establish a state conversion authority.

With a view toward significantly increasing the number of converts among hundreds of thousands of new immigrants who are not Jewish, the authority will be assembled within the next four months, the Cabinet said Wednesday.

Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar will head a special committee of dayanim, or halachic decisors, to examine ways of resolving halachic difficulties encountered by aspiring converts. As the panel’s chairman and director-general, Amar will serve as its highest halachic authority.

Critics have said the current conversion process is too demanding and requires high levels of religious observance. Conversions have been retroactively canceled if the convert lapses in observance.

An estimated 300,000 non-Jews who immigrated as family members of Jews convert at a rate of approximately 2,000 per year – less than their annual birth rate of 3,000.

According to a government representative, government surveys show that some 150,000 wish to convert.

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