Poll: Slight majority of Israelis want easier conversions

Currently, the two main authorities that conduct conversions in Israel are the Chief Rabbinate and the IDF.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Just over half of all Israelis (52 percent) would like criteria for converting to Judaism to be loosened, according to a survey published Wednesday by the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI).

The number jumps to 68 percent among secular Israelis, but among the ultra-Orthodox, only two percent thought that the conversion process should be made more lenient to enable more people to join the Jewish people.

Currently, the two main authorities that conduct conversions in Israel are the Chief Rabbinate and the IDF. The Rabbinate is under ultra-Orthodox control, and is known to be very strict. It does not recognize any non-Orthodox conversions, nor those done by local Orthodox private courts. It has even greatly limited the number of strictly Orthodox courts abroad whose rulings they would accept.

Only 32 percent of Jewish Israelis think this body should continue its exclusive responsibility for conversions. A yet-to-be-established new government conversion agency is the preference of 36 percent, while 17 percent think each religious stream should just have its own private conversion courts.

The IDF conversion process is simpler and some 10,000 soldiers have benefited from its services. It enjoys broader public support, with 45 percent thinking its program should be expanded, and 26 percent opining that it should stay as is. Still, 17 percent believe it should be cut back or even closed.

Dr. Shuki Friedman, the IDI’s director of the Center for Religion, Nation and State, said that the data was clear.

“The results of the survey show that the majority of Israelis attribute significance to the conversion of these Israelis — and potentially — these Jews, and support a change to a more moderate conversion policy by the Chief Rabbinate,” he said.

In terms of acceptance of non-Jews in society, a vast majority (86 percent) of Jewish Israelis say they wouldn’t have a problem having them as neighbors, However, over half, 54 percent, would not accept a child’s marriage to a non-Jew, including a full quarter of those Jews who defined themselves as secular.

The poll was deliberately taken just before the holiday of Shavuot, IDI said, because the biblical Book of Ruth is traditionally read on that day. The conversion of the Moabite heroine in the story plays a central role in the history of the Jewish people, as she was the ancestor of King David and thereby also of the future messiah.

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Shavuot, or the Feast of Weeks, falls this year on Saturday night and runs through Sunday.

The IDI’s Guttman Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research conducted the survey among 586 Hebrew speakers and 105 Arab speakers, both via the internet and by phone. The sampling error was 3.7 percent.

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