Jerusalem, 22 January 1998
Mr. Benyamin Netanyahu
We respectfully inform you that the committee you appointed to develop ideas and proposals in the matter of conversion in Israel , today completed its hearings. Enclosed is the report and recommendations of the Committee.
The members of the Committee request that the Chief Rabbis of Israel consent to the Committees recommendations. Section 2 of the Committees recommendations, which deals with the procedure for conversion in Israel, imposes on the Chief Rabbis the duty of establishing rabbinical conversion courts. After the Chief Rabbis consent, the members of the Committee will sign the report and recommendations in the matter of conversion in Israel.
In light of the urgency and scope of the problem, the Committee requests all the relevant authorities to establish immediately the Institute for Jewish Studies and the rabbinical conversion courts.
Immediately upon receipt of the Chief Rabbis agreement with the aforementioned recommendations on conversion, the Committee will continue its hearings on the additional subjects.
cc: Members of the Committee
Conversion LawJanuary 1998
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE COMMITTEE TO DEVELOP IDEAS AND PROPOSALS IN THE MATTER OF CONVERSION IN ISRAEL
1. Selection of the Committee
On 27 June 1997, the Prime Minister appointed a committee to develop ideas and proposals regarding the issue of religious conversion in Israel (hereafter: the Committee). The Letter of Appointment is annexed hereto as Appendix 1.
The members of the Committee took account of the legal situation in existence in this matter since establishment of the State, and also the acute problem facing the large numbers of immigrants from the Former Soviet Union, who immigrated to Israel under the Law of Return, have integrated into the educational system, the Israel Defense Forces, the public and private sector, the towns and villages throughout the country, and are not Jews according to Halacha [Jewish religious law]. These immigrants have been precluded from fully integrating into Israeli society, because, in part, they are prohibited from marrying Jews in Israel.
The problem of conversion in Israel is a difficult humanitarian problem personal and national that urgently requires a suitable solution.
2. The Committee Hearings
The Committee reached - after debate and profound and penetrating elucidation of the matter - an agreed-upon proposal that will lead to the arrangement described later in this document. It is emphasized that, although the debate was intense and dealt with basic principles, it was amicable, each participant respecting the other and believing that it was desirable and possible to reach understanding and agreement. This jointly-held understanding is particularly important because the subject involved is so emotionally charged that it has created a feeling of polarity and division among the public. The comments of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda HaCohen Kook, Zaddik of Blessed Memory, in his article "It is my Brother I Seek," published in the Israeli press in September 1948, are particularly appropriate in this matter:
My brother and my sister, throughout our people, in all the political parties and all the organizations, known and unknown, revealed and unrevealed, and those who are not in political parties or in organizations - I beg all of you. Take pity on your souls and on the soul of all our people. Let us not ignore, even for a moment, the gravity of our responsibility concerning the dimension of the destruction and of the building that we are undertaking at this fearsome and exalted time, and do not let us desecrate the Lord, Heaven forbid. Let us not individually decide, each political party and organization and part, for we certainly all want the good of our people and the establishment of our country, that for only with Him lies all truth and justice. Let no one desire or imagine, being faced with the terrible situation in which we find ourselves, to impose his opinion on his neighbor; let us not forget, from the excitement of the holy ideal, that opinion cannot be imposed and will not be realized, but rather will become mixed, softened, and then vanish. Let us not disturb our public freedom in opinions and thoughts, in ambitions and plans, in elucidating and handling them, by transferring the boundaries of the use of physical force and rooting the hate and contempt of the heart. Let us recall that "He who raises his hand on his fellow is called an evil person," and that the negative relationship multiplies mutually and unceasingly between individuals and brothers. Let us reduce our written and verbal disagreements in public and prevent their realization, and let us not descend to the level of the incivility of the fist and the venom of negativity. Let us recall the intention of the ideal justice that is in each one of us, and let us find the correct and proper path to put the relationship between us in order and temper our tendencies. "Truth and justice of peace reigned at your gates, and do not think evil of your fellow in your heart." As we objected to physical force and nurturing the contrast, having preferred that which unites and joins us, which is decisive and greater than that which separates and disperses us, as we heeded and directed ourselves in the channel of our public activities, the possibility of mutual understanding and cooperation of discourse among us will increase, peace among us will increase, and our success and glory of our people will increase.
3. The Sole Method of Conversion in accordance with Halacha
The proposed method for conversion is intended to ensure, to the extent possible, within the framework of halacha, that the numerous current constraints and human distress be given maximum consideration.
4. The Institute for Jewish Studies
The composition of the Committee, which included, among others, a representative of the Reform movement and a representative of the Conservative movement, reflects a trend of cooperation among the streams of Judaism and toward unity of the Jewish people, a trend that is to be maintained. In implementing the recommendations of the Committee regarding the nature and activity of the Institute for Jewish Studies, this trend will become manifest. The Institute, intended to be a learning stage preceding the conversion process, and rooted in it, will reflect the entire Jewish population in Israel, in its variations and streams. It will include a variety of courses that will teach the student about Judaism. The curriculum will emphasize the uniqueness of the Jewish people and its Torah, and what unites the Jewish people in its variations and streams. The program is intended to teach, prepare, and qualify the students - if they wish - for the conversion process conducted by special rabbinical courts for conversion.
5. Rabbinical Conversion Courts
The desire to establish a standard and consensual process is understandable. Prior to its execution, during the period of the studies or upon their conclusion, each student can come to an educated decision as to whether he or she wants to apply to the Court to undergo the conversion process.
It is assumed that the aforementioned does not limit the discretion of the court, which will convert, according to Halacha, those whom it considers to have accepted the obligation of obeying the commandments.
A candidate for conversion "is taught the essentials of the religion, which is that the Lord is One and that idolatry is forbidden. This matter is further taught, and the candidate is instructed about some of the lesser commandments and some of the more serious commandments, but these are not taught at length," all as stated by Maimonides in Chapter 14 of Hilkhot Isurei Biah [Laws of Cohabitation] - "... do not be strict with him lest it bother him and cause him to stray from the good to the bad path already at the start, and do not draw him to you other than through soft and acceptable words.,,"
6. Necessity of Discourse
When a person feels a complaint in his heart and disaffection toward his fellow, the hate increases daily, but where he speaks to his fellow... the peace returns, and if the tribes could speak with him, it would have brought peace among them....
It cannot be denied: in matters dealing with faith and philosophy, there have been and still are disputes. The Committee does not purport to settle these disputes, but rather to propose an arrangement that will comprise an agreed, practical framework for conversions in Israel.
We were given the task of finding a way to live together in mutual respect despite different world views, and as a road that Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook, Zaddik of Blessed Memory, wrote of in 1933 in his article "Trip of the Camps":
... And we must decide that there is a latent power leading toward the good in each of the camps and in each of the heads of the nation, and in the unification of all of these that the general value of the Jewish people and its hope are dear to them to the same degree.
Acknowledgments and Appreciation
The Committee acknowledges with thanks the assistance it received during the course of its work, in particular:P Rabbi I. Ben Dahan, Administrator of the Rabbinical Courts, who participated in all the Committees hearings and assisted us greatly on the subject of conversion in practice.
Attorney Yitzhak Herzog, who coordinated the Committees work at the beginning, and then attorney Malka San, Deputy Legal Advisor of the Ministry of the Interior, who coordinated the work of the Committee and provided it with legal advice.
Attorney Shimon Stein, legal advisor of the Prime Ministers Office, who participated in all of the Committees hearings and advised the Committee.
Mr. Bobby (David) Brown, Advisor to the Prime Minister for Diaspora Affairs, and Mr. Gidon Meir, Advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Diaspora Affairs, who served as observers at all of the Committees hearings and assisted in foreign liaison matters for the Committee.
Attorney Ofra Friedman, Chairperson of Naamat, and attorney Eti Pilpel, legal advisor of Naamat, who were present at some of the meetings of the Committee as observers.
We also thank the secretary of the Committee, Ms. Judith Bensusan, and Ms. Idit Hakak.
Rabbi Ehud Bandel, President of the Conservative movement, and Rabbi Michael Boyden, of the Reform movement, served as permanent replacements to members of the Committee.
We especially thank attorney Noam Solberg, Senior Assistant to the Attorney General, for his professional assistance, devotion, and diligence in drafting this report and for his insightful advice.
The Committee must also thank Minister Michael Eitan, Minister Natan Sharansky, and MK Alex Lubotsky, who led to the establishment of the Committee and accompanied us throughout.
Section 1 - Institute for Jewish Studies
Sources: Israeli Prime Minister's Office