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.”

NEXT STORY