Russian non-Jews can begin conversion before immigrating to Israel


(JTA) — Russian non-Jews who are preparing to immigrate to Israel have been given the option of beginning their conversion to Judaism in Moscow.

The option came with the launch last week in Russia of the Maslul project, a joint initiative of several organizations for facilitating the conversion process for prospective immigrants even before they land in the Jewish state.

Started last year in Ukraine, the Maslul course, which was born out of a partnership between the Triguboff Institute, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Australian branch of United Israel Appeal, will operate in Russia from Moscow’s Choral Synagogue Jewish community center, headed by the city’s chief rabbi and president of the Conference of European Rabbis, Pinchas Goldschmidt.

In Moscow, a six-person team will locate eligible nominees for the project and run the educational program, which meets the curriculum of the Jewish Agency’s National Institutes for Identity and Conversion, a state-recognized entity. In Ukraine, Maslul operates a program for several dozen people with 10 instructors. Conversion students are accredited for material covered in Maslul programs outside Israel and may complete the process in Israel.

Israel’s Law of Return for Jews gives citizenship to some people with family ties to Jews but are not Jewish themselves according to halachah, or religious Jewish law, and therefore can not marry under Jewish law. Israel has hundreds of thousands of citizens, mostly from former Soviet countries, who identify culturally as Jewish but are not recognized as such, thus they are unable to marry as Jewish in Israel.

This and other problems lead to a feeling of estrangement, according to Benjamin Ish-Shalom, the National Institute’s chairman. Many olim who are not familiar with Judaism “find themselves bewildered once they come across it after their aliyah,” he said.

Non-Jews who begin their conversion after immigrating to Israel, or making aliyah, have difficulties completing their conversion because of the hardships of immigration, according to Shalom Norman, the Harry O. Triguboff Israel Institute of Conversion Policy, adding that Maslul was designed to solve this problem.

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