Finding Jewish roots for Israel’s Russians

June 7, 2013 by Henry Benjamin
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J-Wire visited the Knesset recently to talk with MK Elazar Stern who is spearheading an effort to facilitate conversions for Russian immigrants who have difficulty in proving their Jewish roots.


Elazar Stern    Photo: Henry Benjamin

Stern admitted that number of Russians who had been put off conversion by the stringent conditions attached was “very high” and holds great hope that simplifying the process would bring many back into the fold.

He said “I am sure that because of the way that treated them putting many obstacles in front of them they came to the conclusion that ‘if they don’t want us, let’s go because we are not less successful and we know who we are’ so they live in Israel as full citizens but unaffiliated.”

We have found them that if we present to them a more friendly process they are ready to invest effort in order to reveal their roots. This way they can discover roots but unfortunately they do not have their certifications.

J-Wire asked Stern of procedure and or legislation had to be changed. He said: “Both of them. With Harry Triguboff of Sydney’s involvement we established a project  to discover their roots to save them having to fulfill the full conversion process. This is one issue…a big issue. I have suggested bringing in a law that every rabbi in every municipality can create a court and convert. Many rabbis understand that the process must be more friendly but they don’t have permission to establish a court for conversion. There is a situation in Israel where halachically they can do it but the rabbinical institutions have overruling power under Israeli law. So I put it to the Knesset that a rabbi can choose another three and establish a conversion court.

He told J-Wire that the State knows the Russians who have no religious identification. “If we effect the changes, we will have the manpower on the ground to canvas them to complete the process but we have to be sure the process will work otherwise we may lose them forever.”

J-Wire asked Elazar Stern about moves in the immediate future. He replied: “I hope the next Chief Rabbi will be more pluralistic. Many go to Rabbi David Stav in Sham because if he can find a way he will help them according to Halacha. He accepted the conversions made in the IDF when others did not. Hopefully if he becomes Chief Rabbi he will make an impact on the overall system for conversion.”

He told J-Wire that he had changed the law which governed the body which elects the Chief Rabbi under which more women would be involved. “More than 20% of the those voting will be women. Right now there are only three but I want that number to be about 40.”

Elazar Stern told J-Wire that the election for a Chief Rabbi is held in the Knesset itself…every ten years. “Not only by Knesset members…but also mayors from the larger cities, around 80 rabbis, public identities approved by the government…around an extra 150 people. So we will introduce voters from WIZO and Hadassah and organisations like that.”

The election for the Chief Rabbi will be in less than two months.







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