About 50 new immigrants from Ethiopia, candidates for conversion to Judaism, hiked in Sunday's simmering summer heat from Arad toward Jerusalem in protest of the inability of the Conversion Authority, the Jewish Agency and the Absorption Ministry to coordinate to help them join the Jewish people.
Police managed to stop them after several kilometers when representatives from the three groups agreed to meet with them.
These young men and women are participants in the Kedma program.
During the preparatory one-year program, participants, all new immigrants who are not Jewish according to Orthodox Jewish law, are taught Judaism before conversion.
After conversion some are enrolled in higher education institutions.
However, during the five years since Kedma was created, approximately 500 have dropped out due to a lack of coordination between the Conversion Authority and other organizations that deal with immigration absorption.
Rabbinic judges of the conversion courts refuse to convert these young men and women until they are sure that after the conversion they will be enrolled in religious educational institutions.
Meanwhile, the organizations responsible for placement of these students in educational institutions refuse to fund tuitions and dormitory costs for the religious institutions. As a result, potential converts are stuck.
Also, young people who return home are often not called to appear before a conversion court to complete the conversion process.
Rabbi Menachem Waldman, Head of the Shvut Am Institute, who is responsible for the spiritual aspects of the absorption of Ethiopian immigrants, called the situation "a tragedy".
Waldman explained, "We have young people with motivation to join the Jewish people. But these kids face a bureaucratic system that places obstacles in their way."
In other words, the Ethiopians wish to obtain educational training so they can be gainfully employed. Rabbis – late in the game and without valid halakhic grounds – demand that the new converts attend only religious schools. But the people charged with funding education for these Ethiopians will not pay for religious schools. So the Ethiopians languish. And, if they should dare to go home to thier families in the absorption centers or slums, the rabbis simply do not call them in for their final conversion test.
But the problems with conversions run deeper. In a sister article, Wagner reports workers in the Conversion Authority are going out on strike:
Workers in the Conversion Authority, the government body responsible for converting immigrants, are planning to strike in protest against what they call the "unbearable working environment" created by a protracted power struggle between rabbis and rabbinic judges.
The Conversion Authority's administrative employees - not including rabbinic judges - recently met and agreed to declare a labor dispute that would paralyze operations, thus effectively bringing to a halt all conversions.…
At the meeting, workers expressed a feeling of "total despair" resulting from the worsened working relations between various rabbinic groups within the authority. Some of the workers complained that they were receiving contradictory orders, while others complained of a total lack of the trust necessary for the authority to function properly.…
Here is the breakdown of the power struggle:
…There are two vying camps within the authority. In one camp is Rabbi Eliyahu Maimon, administrative head of the authority, who enjoys the backing of most of the authority's 25 rabbinic judges who preside in the rabbinic courts responsible for conversions. He has the backing of [Ya'akov] Zeltzer [head of the Histadrut workers union].
In the other camp is Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar and Rabbi Haim Druckman, the senior rabbinic authority in the authority.…
Maimon is seen as blocking most conversion. Rabbi Druckman is a moderate and Rabbi Amar is moderate on conversions done for "lost" populations of "former" Jews. My guess here is to follow the money. Hundreds of Ethiopians forced to attend yeshivot instead of trade schools means hundreds of thousands of dollars in the coffers of those yeshivot. Ethiopians overwhelmingly attend National Religious yeshivot. In this case, the bad guys may be Modern Orthodox rabbis.
Maimon is seen as blocking most conversion. Rabbi Druckman is a moderate and Rabbi Amar is moderate on conversions done for "lost" populations of "former" Jews.
My guess here is to follow the money. Hundreds of Ethiopians forced to attend yeshivot instead of trade schools means hundreds of thousands of dollars in the coffers of those yeshivot. Ethiopians overwhelmingly attend National Religious yeshivot. In this case, the bad guys may be Modern Orthodox rabbis.[I'd also note that, for all of you who have previously attacked Rabbi Druckman, it seems Rabbi Amar – Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's chosen successor – has no trouble working with and relying on Rabbi Druckman.]