Problems in rabbinical establishment surface over conversions

Analysis: Two revoked conversions reveal problem hushed up by the haredi establishment.

May 18, 2009 22:48
2 minute read.
Problems in rabbinical establishment surface over conversions

jerusalem rabbinical court 248 88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )

The cases of the two women whose conversions by the National Conversion Authority were revoked by the Higher Rabbinical Court have brought to public attention a severe dispute between two government institutions allegedly having the same authority to convert non-Jews. In truth, the problem has been festering for several years, but was hushed up until now by the Orthodox establishment. It came to light when the rabbinical courts declared that two women seeking divorces who had been converted by Rabbi Haim Druckman, the former head of the National Conversion Authority, were not Jewish because after their conversion they had not observed halachic rules. The Dayanim also maintained that the court did not observe the conversion laws and therefore both it and the Dayanim who served on it were unacceptable. The cases outraged a large number of women's rights organizations including those specializing in the rabbinical court treatment of women. But it appears that problems in the rabbinical establishment, specifically the haredi element, began several years ago when a number of religious councils began to reject marriage applications by men and women who had been converted in National Conversion Authority courts. According to Rabbi Gilad Kariv, director-general of the Reform Movement, religious councils in five cities, including Ashdod, Rehovot and Tiberias, have refused to register such converts for marriage. During a meeting of the Knesset Law Committee last year, Yoel Bin-Nun, a leader of the National Religious Movement, charged that the "conversion system has been paralyzed for four years because of internal fights. The outcome is that thousands of converts are being cheated." Bin-Nun added that "a marriage registrar who refuses to accept a certificate from the State of Israel should be regarded as having resigned from his position." Still, the problem was largely kept out of the public eye. Orthodox authorities made certain to steer converts who could not marry in their own cities to religious councils in more "convenient" towns. According to Kariv, there should not be a problem between the rabbinical courts and the special conversion courts because the rabbinical courts are not authorized by law to handle conversions. In truth, the rabbinical courts have dealt with conversion cases for many years, since there was no other Orthodox authority equipped to do so. Unlike the rabbinical courts, the special conversion courts are authorized by law to handle conversions. They were established because the government felt the rabbinical courts could not handle, for various reasons, what had become a national priority. The only time the rabbinical courts and the special conversion courts cross each other's path is when the rabbinical courts handle a divorce case - which is their prerogative by law. In the divorce procedure, the rabbinical courts must make certain both parties are Jewish. In the two cases in the court, they used this authority to reject the special conversion court's authority. The question which the court will have to decide is whether, indeed, they have the power to do so and, if they do, what should be the process for doing so.

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