While the government considers it a national task, the state of conversion in Israel continues to deteriorate. Official data indicate a 12% drop in the number of conversions to Judaism in Israel in 2009. Just 986 out of 300,000 people with no religious affiliation have converted to Judaism in the last year. The drop in the Israeli Defense Forces stands at 4% compared with 2008.
The data was presented by Rabbi Israel Rosen in a letter he sent to religious courts and state conversion bodies. The numbers indicate an ongoing trend since 2007. A report published by the Itim Center for Jewish Life Information noted a 27% drop in conversions in 2008 compared with the previous year.
The data presented by Rabbi Rosen, which he described as accurate, indicate that 4,206 people converted to Judaism in 2009, compared with 4,800 in the previous year. Only 986 of them, less than a quarter, are immigrants from the former Soviet Union, whose conversion is considered most urgent. In the IDF the rate dropped from 838 to 801.
Rosen, the former head of the conversion administration enclosed to his report a letter titled "Conversion's Decline" where he lamented the ever decreasing rates of conversion.
He noted that 2009 had the lowest number of conversions since 2002. He also described IDF conversions as sluggish, despite its bureaucracy-free standards.
Rosen concluded that the problem does not lie with the courts but with PR, a field he believes has been neglected. "The issue of conversion keeps resonating in the media in a negative tone," he wrote.
According to Rosen, practical suggestions that were put forward to address the issue were "rejected by the administration in a way which suggests arrogance and unwillingness to listen to others."
He further stated that appointing a new department head for conversion in the Prime Minister's Office has not had a positive effect and has led to cut backs on conversion class budgets and delays in signing conversion certificates.
These have affected around a thousand people seeking conversions in 2009. He further noted that delays and bureaucracy had a negative effect on motivation for conversion.
Rosen also criticized Rabbi Chaim Drukman, head of the Israeli Conversions Court who signs the certificates and said that the his post was redundant.
The Prime Minister's Office commented that the conversion department is in the midst of a re-organization which will be completed soon, and that accurate data will be provided in the future.