Friday, May 02, 2008

Conversion Crisis Boils Over

As reported on YNet and last night on Mabat:

All conversions performed since 1999 by Rabbi Chaim Avior and Rabbi Chaim Drukman, who heads the Israeli Conversion Court, must be disqualified,” the Supreme Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem concluded earlier this week, while discussing an appeal made a by a woman whose 15-year-old conversion conversion was annulled by the Ashdod Rabbinical Court, thus naming her children non-Jewish.

In the 50-page verdict, Judges Sherman, Izirer and Scheinfeld it said: "First, all conversions performed since 1999 by Rabbi Chaim Avior and Rabbi Chaim Drukman must be disqualified; second, conversions can be retroactively annulled for those who are not observant."

Literally thousands of people are now in jeopardy of losing everything: their Jewishness, citizenship, families and children. In order to give an idea of the issues here, I'd like to post here some major points made to me by two Dayyanim of impeccable credentials, who are involved in the Conversion Authority:

1) The Conversion Authority (Minhal le-Giyyur) is an independent system of Rabbinical Courts, directly responsible to the Chief Rabbis and the Prime Minister's office. Headed by R. Haim Druckman, the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Ohr Etzion, always requires a period of extended study and a clear, verifiable Kabbalat ha-Mitzvot from every convert. It categorically rejects the opinion that conversion may be effected without Kabbalat ha-Mitzvot. Since 1992, of the thousands of converts that have been certified by the Minhal, only seven have been invalidated. Five were done by the Minhal itself and two by the Bet Din HaRabbani ha-Gadol. All other converts were registered as Jews without question, for purposes of marriage.

2) The special Battei Din for Giyyur have always been an anathema to the Haredi dominated Bet Din system. As Hareidi control has increased, led by R. Avraham Sherman, these forces have mounted a systematic effort to disqualify conversions. This has been done on the direct orders of a certain Hareidi Poseq, whose openly stated objective is the neutralization of the 'Zionist' rabbinate. Toward that end, he mobilized these same forces to abolish the Heter Mekhira for Shemitta. R. Sherman is a loyal follower and soldier of that Hareidi Poseq.

This agenda has been consistently stopped by Dayyan Shlomo Daichovsky, who categorically rejected any attempts to retroactively annul properly performed conversions. Rav Daichovsky, however, was recently subjected to unbearable pressure, and forced to take early retirement. As a parting shot against those who effectively silenced him, Rav Daichovsky wrote a legal testament that will appear in the next issue of Tehumin. (I will forward it on request.)

3) As to the case at hand, the individual did accept the mitzvot in a convincing manner, and the giyyur was duly registered. The issue only arose when the couple came to get divorced. Dayyanim who, as noted hate the Minhal le-Giyyur and obey the dictates of certain Lithuanian quarters, often use such venues to take a stab at the conversions of one of the divorcing spouses. (Not infrequently, moreover, the husband in such cases tries to impugn the wife's conversion as a tactic to obviate a get.) Dayyan Attiah of Ashdod, (who no one I spoke to seems to know personally but whose legal decisions are considered underwhelming), used the opportunity not only to annul the conversion, but devoted his psak to excoriating and vilifying R. Druckman. He was censured for his behavior, but there were no real sanctions taken against him.

The case was appealed to the Supreme Rabbinic Court. The head of the panel, R. Sherman, not only upheld R. Attiah's ruling but disqualified all conversions supervised by R. Druckman retroactively since 1999. Rav Amar, the Sephardic Chief Rabbi, apparently asked him to delay publication of the ruling until a special Bet Din could review it. He ignored the request and issued it anyway.

4) The disqualification of Rav Druckman is based upon an admitted administrative irregularity.

Administratively, not halakhically, conversion courts must be comprised of two Rabbis and a certified Dayyan. Two exceptions to this rule were made: Rav Zaphaniah Drori, the Chief Rabbi of Qiryat Shemonah and the Rosh Yeshiva of the Hesder Yeshiva and Rav Haim Druckman. The exception was made in light of their thirty years of experience in conversion. Rav Druckman, while he was a member of Knesset, was unable to be physically present at a large number of conversions, which did have a presence of three recognized musmakhim. In order to formally validate the conversions, he signed the certificates based upon the valid actions of the actual panel of rabbis. This behavior was called to Rav Druckman's attention. Rav Druckman was called in by both R. Avraham Schapira zatzal and yibadel le-hayyim arukim ule-refu'ah shleima Rav Mordekhai Eliyahu shlita. They told him to stop signing such certificates.
Both emphatically added that no big deal should be made of this, because it was merely an administrative matter and DID NOT AFFECT THE VALIDITY OF THE GERUS. Furthermore, they ruled that the acts of one Bet Din should not be questioned by another.

So, Rav Sherman's personal invective is of no halakhic validity. Rav Druckman's response is here.

The Dayyanim with whom I spoke surmised that the result will likely be a tremendous Hillul HaShem, compounded by having the anti-religious Supreme Court adjudicate this case. However, the court will likely emancipate the Minhal le-Giyyur from the supervision of the regular Shas/Degel Ha-Torah/Agudat Yisrael dominated Battei Din.

Maybe, just maybe, מעז ייצא מתוק.

[UPDATE: On Shabbat I had the opportunity to read R. Sherman's decision. Interestingly, he devotes over 75% of his attention to demolishing R. Druckman, 15% to deconstructing R. Daichovsky, and only 10% to the case under consideration.]

R. Sherman's ruling is now available on-line at:

If you have trouble with the download, e-mail me at:


Nachum said...

"(who is a gadol ba-Torah, it must be acknowledged)."

Why must it be acknowledged? For that matter, does knowledge in Torah make one a "gadol ba-Torah"? Finally, if you're not even naming him, why this line at all?

Moshe said...

Can you post a link to the actual Psak in question? I don't like getting my facts from newspaper articles.



Cosmic X said...

Did the Beit Din disqualify all of the conversions of the Conversion Authority of just those of Rabbis Druckman and Avior?

Anonymous said...

Why are you avoiding naming the poseq in question?

Ben Bayit said...

do you think Rav Daichovsky now regrets listening to this Lithuanian posek and not accepting Aron Barak's offer of a position on the high court? Interesting that they squabble yet all consider themselves talmidim of RYSE.

Anonymous said...

That this happens during sefirat ha'omer makes it all the more interesting. I don't understand why you refuse to name names. Rav Elyashiv, nearly run out of Meah Shearim years ago for becoming a dayan in the then Zionist rabbanut, is now, it seems "doing teshuva" and playing politics with halakhah as well as Am Yisrael. He and Olmert deserve each other.

- former OOSJ

Seth (Avi) Kadish · אבי קדיש said...

Excellent article.

"As a parting shot against those who effectively silenced him, Rav Daichovsky wrote a legal testament that will appear in the next issue of Tehumin. (I will forward it on request.)"

Please forward it to me:
s kadish 1 at


Anonymous said...

please forward me R. Daichovsky's article - thank you very much
yroness - at - gmail . com