Much uncertainty remains in the wake of Israel’s High Rabbinical Court ruling in May that voided all conversions performed by Rabbi Chaim Druckman since 1999.
Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar promises the decision will not stand, while the RCA calls the ruling "entirely beyond the pale of acceptable halachic practice." Dozens of major Israeli religious Zionist rabbis also support Rabbi Druckman.
The case now stands in Israel’s Supreme Court.
Rabbi Druckman is the chairman of Bnei Akiva in Israel, rosh yeshiva of Or Etzion, a former Knesset member, and outgoing head of the Conversion Authority.
The Jewish Press recently spoke to Rabbi Druckman about the conversion controversy, the philosophy of Bnei Akiva, and where he thinks Israel is heading.
What is the current status of the converts in question?
They are Jews. Nobody can take their Jewishness away from them. This is the truth. But still, the psak din harms those who converted. There will definitely be different rabbinates that will not register them for weddings.
That’s a problem.
Yes. Practically we can help them go to those rabbinates that will register them, but still it’s no good.
Are we talking about hundreds of converts? Thousands?
Believe me, I don’t know the number. But it doesn’t matter because each and every one is a human being, not a number, so it doesn’t matter how many there are.
What was the main issue of contention between you and the beit din that opposed you?
I think the difference is that we think we have a responsibility for Am Yisrael. Those immigrants who came from Russia suffered for being Jewish. For about 70 years, the Russians took away from Jews everything which belonged to their being Jewish; they punished Jews and Jews suffered. Non-Jews who married Jews also suffered because the Russians considered them Jewish.
Therefore, when [these Russian non-Jews] come here, I think it’s a great mitzvah if they want to become Jewish to do everything to help them become an integral part of Am Yisrael.
But some of your critics maintain that to attain this goal you have lowered the standards for conversion.
No, no! We are not lowering any standards of conversion, it’s false, it’s not true! We are doing everything according to the halacha.
What is the future of conversions in Israel?
I really don’t know. Look, I hope that we will continue in the same way because if we won’t find a way to help [these Russian non-Jews] become Jewish there are going to be, unfortunately, mixed marriages. Their children will grow up, speak Hebrew, serve in the army, be a part of Medinat Yisrael and there will be a danger of mixed marriages.