Ahead of the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, which is considered the "Rosh Hashanah of conversion," Israel Democracy Institute scholars present policy recommendations for improving the conversion process and making it more available to those who wish to covert. Experts are available for interviews.
- 30% of immigrants from the Former Soviet Union are not recognized as halachically Jewish by the State of Israel.
- 7% of non-Jewish immigrants from the FSU have chosen to convert, leaving 93% (approximately 300,000 people) suffering from infringement of basic rights and difficulties integrating fully into Israeli society.
- 50% of potential converts begin conversion studies but drop out prior to completing the program.
- 50% of conversion candidates from the FSU are rejected by the rabbinic courts at their first conversion hearing.
(Statistics are based on a 2012 study by Dr. Netanel Fisher.)
- Adopt a more lenient approach to conversion, grounded in Jewish law, which will make it easier to meet the threshold conditions required for conversion. This is especially important when dealing with immigrants who come from a Jewish background.
- The government should set an attainable goal of 5,000 converts by 2019, with projected 10% growth each year, every year after. Conversion efforts should focus initially on young adults.
- Streamline the list of organizations and other bodies working on conversion, making the system more accessible to prospective converts by enabling them to choose among all the established conversion courts in Israel, notwithstanding other existing alternatives.
- Increase the resources allocated for conversion preparation by providing incentives to organizations that offer conversion preparation activities.
- Provide accessibility to conversion classes for residents living in the Israeli periphery, including opening up conversion classes even when the number of registrants is below the minimum.
- Examine the conversion curriculum and set a maximum number of hours required, ensuring that number is one which converts can handle.
- Launch special conversion programs for young Israelis within the framework of the education system, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and as part of the existing Jewish studies curriculum.
- The government, in partnership with the nonprofit sector, should enlist all of Israeli society in supporting the conversion effort.
- The state must protect the status of conversion certificates and ensure their absolute validity.
Prof. Yedidia Stern, Vice President, Israel Democracy Institute
Stern heads IDI's Religion and State project and the Human Rights and Judaism project. He is a full professor of law at Bar-Ilan University, where he served as the Dean of the Law Faculty.
Dr. Shuki Friedman, Director, Center for Nation, Religion and State at the Israel Democracy Institute
Friedman received an L.L.B. and a B.A. in Economics and Middle Eastern Studies and an LL.M. and Ph.D. in Islamic Constitutional Law from Bar-Ilan University. He was ordained by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and is a member of the Israeli Bar.
To arrange interviews or for more information, please contact Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman, Director of International Communications, +972-50-718-9742 or firstname.lastname@example.org.