A group of rabbis from the Religious Zionist movement have set up a “competing” independent of Jewish Court of Law (Beit Din) which will exclusively handle conversions.
The group' is led by Rabbi David Stav, head of the Tzohar organization, and Rabbi Nachum Rabinovich, head of the Birkat Moshe Yeshiva in Maale Adumim. Others involved in the project are Rabbi Yaakov Medan, head of the Har Etzion Hesder Yeshiva, and Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Chief Rabbi of Efrat.
While it isn't a “revolution,” say its backers, the group is an innovation, conducting conversions that the Chief Rabbinate has preferred not to get involved with. Candidates for conversions by the court will undergo religious education at one of several institutions participating rabbis are involved with, with the support of the Jewish Agency.
The Chief Rabbinate has not commented on the group's announcement. The group said that it would work with the Rabbinate on a case by case business to ensure that their conversion candidates are accepted as Jewish by all government agencies, where possible.
The group expects the majority of those it converts to be the children and grandchildren of families of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Although they are Israeli citizens, many of these children are the products of “mixed marriages,” with their parents marrying in the Soviet Union and immigrating to Israel. Most of the children speak Hebrew fluently and serve in the IDF.
According to the group, the new court is absolutely necessary, as these children are already well-integrated in Israeli society. “It is our moral obligation to ensure that these immigrants are absorbed into Israeli society, for their sake and the sake of the Jewish people.”
In a statement Monday, Natan Sharansky. chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency, welcomed the establishment of the courts. "We all wish to continue the process of ingathering the exiles from throughout the world in an era of lost identities and growing assimilation,” said Sharansky. “In order to keep the gates of Israel open to all who wish to join our people in accordance with halakhah (Jewish law), it is important that rabbis who have been authorized by the Chief Rabbinate to conduct conversions participate in this process, and this new initiative will enable them to do so."