The ITIM religious services and advocacy group has filed a petition with the High Court of Justice demanding that the Interior Ministry recognize Orthodox conversions performed in Israel in non-state Orthodox rabbinical courts.

The state conversion authority, which comes under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s Office, is the only body in the country through which an Orthodox convert can gain legal recognition that he or she is Jewish.

But many Orthodox conversion candidates have in recent years sought to convert in non-state Orthodox rabbinical courts, largely because of bureaucratic obstacles and inefficiencies in the state run system.

ITIM claims that the state has “implemented policies that reject converts out of hand, because of their personal status as tourists, students or spouses of Israelis,” and that this has given rise to increased demand for conversion in non-state Orthodox conversion courts.

The organization cited one case in its petition in which a woman from South America, who wishes to remain anonymous, applied to the state conversion authority to convert in 2007, but was only accepted by its Exceptions Committee to begin the conversion process in 2010.

She had, however, become frustrated with the system by this time and had already approached the haredi Badatz rabbinical court of Rabbi Nissim Karelitz in Bnei Brak, which accepted her for conversion.

She successfully completed her conversion course through Karelitz’s rabbinical court and in March 2011 was registered by a state rabbinical court as Jewish.

The woman subsequently married and had a child, but because she is not registered in the Interior Ministry’s population registry as Jewish, her child is not considered Jewish by the state.

In a separate case, another woman converted under the auspices of the respected Orthodox scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz and his private rabbinical court. Her conversion was also subsequently accepted by a state rabbinical court, which wrote to the Interior Ministry requesting that her status be changed accordingly, a request that was nevertheless refused.

According to ITIM, approximately 10 percent of conversions conducted in the country are carried out in non-state rabbinical courts.

The Interior Ministry is concerned with the precedent of accepting converts who have not converted through the state system, fearing that the process would lose the requisite oversight and regulation.

ITIM’s petition argues that the ministry has exceeded its authority by essentially monopolizing the ability to determine who is a Jew, and demands that it make public its criteria for establishing this.

The organization also requested in its suit that the court issue an injunction against the Interior Ministry, to compel it to recognize the conversion of the two women, who are party to its suit, together with two further cases.

ITIM director Orthodox Rabbi Seth Farber said that the petition was “a good opportunity to open doors of conversion to more people who are looking for alternative Orthodox conversion routes.”

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