Information on conversion to Judaism [ISR25084.E]

The following information was provided during an interview held in Jerusalem on 31 May 1996 with the Director of Conversions of Machon Zomet.


Machon Zomet is a private institution, an administrative body, that receives government funding for the purpose of conversion matters. The Chief Rabbinate relies on and trusts our institution (Minhal Hagiyar be Israel). The objective of our institution is to help the whole conversion process to go smoothly without the bureaucratic problems usually associated with it, and also to increase the number of conversions. There are now three special Rabbinical Courts for conversion. These are very active courts and they deal very fairly and very objectively with all conversions that come before them. We also deal with problems that arise in the regular Rabbinical Court. Another of our objectives is to increase the number of schools in Israel where there are a large number of immigrants. These schools are all over Israel, in all the big cities.

Our institution found out that in the first year of their stay in Israel, immigrants are much more open towards Jewish religious values (including conversion) than they are three or four years later. This is because they learn that you can live in the State of Israel as a secular person.

The attitude towards conversion in the State of Israel is different than in the diaspora. Our institution deals with conversion only with people who are Israeli citizens. We deal differently with people who just want to stay temporarily in Israel (for example, people who come from the Western countries with the intention to go back).

The Jewish Agency funds our schools; only a minimum fee is asked to attend these schools. This is in order to help people integrate into Israeli society. This is not advertized. However, our institution is being advertized by the Religious Affairs Ministry.

Conversion Procedures

Let us start with the problem of conversion pertaining to Jews and non-Jews who are coming to Israel. Non-Jews usually come to Israel in mixed families. In the beginning, they are more apprehensive about the fact that they are non-Jewish. When they send their children to school, usually in non-religious schools or secular schools, they are apprehensive about that fact. But, as time goes on, they get used to it. Israeli society is generally not prejudiced against the non-Jews.

Some problems may arise in the dormitory schools. In those schools, boys who live together can make the distinction between those who are circumcised and those who are not (this also applies to those who go into the army). Some of them are ashamed of the fact that they have not been circumcised and then they want to be circumcised to be like all the other boys. Our institution has never heard that somebody was beaten up because he was not circumcised. For example, Israeli Jews do not make a distinction between Ethiopian Jews and non-Jews. But Ethiopian Jews do make it. The Israeli Jews could make a distinction between an Arab and a Jew, but they do not differentiate so much between the non-Jews from the Eastern countries or the Western countries. Some questions may be asked on one's religious affiliation if you attend a religious school but not if you attend a secular school. Generally speaking, as long as you are an Israeli citizen no questions will be asked.

The only place where there might be problems is among the Soviet immigrants themselves. Some immigrant Jews might have been discriminated against in Russia, Ukraine or Belarus and could be sensitive to these questions, but a regular Israeli who has never suffered anti-semitism is not. Among boys in dormitories, circumcision might be a problem. The life of immigrants in Israel may be difficult because of other reasons such as the lack of work, the economic level of the regular Israeli. But the living and the economic conditions of immigrants are far better here in Israel than it is for the Jews who live in today's Russia.

Israel never had a missionary program nor made an appeal to non-Jews to join the Jewish nation and to accept the Jewish religion. This has never been the goal of the nation of Israel. When people want to convert and become part of the Jewish nation then the Hallakha (the Jewish law) deals with that subject. But obviously the motivation to convert comes from the non-Jew and not the other way around. Unlike Christian missionaries who went to Africa in order to spead the message, this has not been the case for Judaism.

There is a difference between converting outside Israel and converting people here in Israel. Today, Jews in the rest of the world, the organized religious communities (even orthodox, not only conservative and reform) are on the defensive because there is a large amount of assimilation. The number of Jews is going down, they are not rising. Jews are not multiplying elsewhere in the world. Usually, conversion happens because of practical reasons, not religious reasons. For example, bringing up your children like all the other Jews who live in Israel, marrying a Jew, to conform to the norm. Conversion today is looked upon more favourably than it was a few years back in Israel. Today we are even appealing to mixed families of Soviet immigrants to come and convert.

You can make a request for conversion by applying to the Rabbinical Court. This is an option that is open to everybody. A few hundred (200 or 300) conversions are made through this Court every year. You can also make a request for conversion by applying to special conversion courts. These courts were founded just a few years ago and they deal only with conversions. These courts have special consideration toward Soviet immigrants. They are supervised by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. These courts are connected to schools which are run and funded today by the Jewish Agency. Usually, the learning in these schools is done in the evening, after work (or partly in the afternoon and partly in the evening). These schools teach Jewish law, Jewish philosophy and Jewish history. These schools are connected to the Rabbinical Court and their curriculum is laid down by the Jewish Courts. The students who graduate from these schools are accepted in the Jewish nation.

The learning program usually takes a year. The students also have a tutorial family that shows them what religious Jewish life is all about, what is the Jewish sabbath, etc. This gives the immigrants the opportunity to integrate socially with an Israeli family. Once they have completed their studies and passed one exam, the students are sent to a Rabbinical Court which accepts or rejects their request for conversion. Some people are sometimes turn away from conversion because they see the Jewish nation differently than the Jewish Hallakha or because they do not want to observe the Jewish laws. These people can however be accepted in the Israeli society but they may have problems when they want to get married. Nobody is turned away completely and forever from conversion, all can reapply. Bureaucracy has also been made more easy to facilitate conversion.

To recap : 1) a certificate is given by the Chief Rabbinate to the people who convert; 2) the Religious Affairs Ministry then has to approve the conversion with respect to the law; 3) the newly converted immigrant goes to the Ministry of Interior and requests that the appropriate modifications be made to his or her status in the registry and on their Teudat Zehut.

Cancelling a conversion

It can be done only in one instance. If a person who has converted says that she had lied about her conversion in front of the Rabbinical Court, then the Rabbinical Court can cancel the conversion. On the other hand, if people say at first that they accept Judaism with all its laws but changed their mind after a year or two, this does not cancel the conversion.

Now, there are cases where a person has told the Rabbinical Court that she is going back to live in a secular kibbutz but that she had made provisions to follow the Jewish law. In such instances, the Rabbinical Court could agree.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the DIRB within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.


Director of Conversions, Machon Zomet, Gush Etzion. 31 May 1996. Interview.