Despite an ongoing battle over state conversions in Israel, rates have been rising among immigrants from Eastern Europe, data from the Prime Minister's Office shows. The data include both state and military conversions.
Head of the Conversion Department Shmuel Jeselsohn said there was a 27% increase in conversion certificates issued to Eastern European immigrants in 2010, and a 6% rise in the number of IDF soldiers and parents of soldiers who converted.
The conversion crisis in Israel involves some 300,000 immigrants the state considers non-Jews. In the past the state has called their conversion a national mission and this year, for the first time, more than 2,000 of these immigrants converted to Judaism.
A drop in conversion rates, however, can be seen in the Ethiopian sector in 2010. Jeselsohn explains that this is due to a decrease in immigration from Ethiopia over the past few years. The Falashmura aliyah is expected to bring rates back up in 2011, he says.
More than 400 people attended a conference organized by the Conversion Department Tuesday. Rabbi Haim Drukman, who spoke at the conference, said conversion was "one of the most important national missions of this generation" because many of the immigrants were children of Jews who were forced to assimilate.
"It is a mitzvah to bring them closer (to Judaism) because we are helping them come home," said Drukman. "This is what the great rabbis have instructed us to do throughout the ages."
The rabbi also championed state conversions, saying that haredi claims suggesting the converts were not leading Jewish lifestyles after receiving the required stamp of approval, were false. He added that as long as the converts accepted Judaism at the time of their conversion, they remain Jews even if afterwards they did not perform rites.
"The haredim look out only for their own, not for the people of Israel," Drukman said, "but we make sure there won't be mixed-race marriages in the next generation. There are about 100,000 kids and teens under age 18 who are not Jewish. If they come to convert and study for so many months it is only because they want to be Jewish."
Jeselsohn supported the rabbi and said, "The moment of conversion is the moment of birth. Afterwards they are Jews and that's it."
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