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More Russian Speakers Converting via State Process

Despite the success among Russian speakers, the overall number of conversions completed in 2010 plunged 24 percent.

The Prime Minister's Office released statistics yesterday showing that the number of Russian speakers converting to Judaism via the state process is increasing.

Muli Yeselson, head of the PMO's conversion division, said the PMO last year issued 27 percent more conversion certificates to people who had immigrated from the former Soviet Union. The number of converts from those countries rose to 1,335 from 1,052 in 2009.

Sailors carry a giant Russian national flag

The number of converted soldiers from the former Soviet Union or soldiers born to parents from these countries rose 3 percent.

Both the state and army have special conversion procedures to convert certain immigrants, such as those from the former Soviet Union, whose Jewish roots are not always clear. But despite the success among Russian speakers, the overall number of conversions completed in 2010 plunged 24 percent.

Yeselson said the drop is due to a major slowdown in the number of immigrants from Ethiopia. He did not provide data about the overall number of converts, but the plummet indicates that most converts in recent years have been from Ethiopia. "We don't feel we're in any kind of crisis, we're forging ahead," Yeselson said.

Yeselson spoke to reporters at a conference of the state conversion division in Jerusalem yesterday, attended by conversion teachers, rabbis and rabbinical judges who are involved in civilian and military conversion courses.

Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman and the chief military rabbi, Rafi Peretz, also attended. Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar - Israel's top conversion authority - did not attend. Amar's recent ratification of thousands of military conversions evoked harsh protests from leading Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox rabbis.

Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, recently issued a ruling upholding the validity of military conversions. But Avidgor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party continues to insist on legislation to authorize military conversions.