Israeli gossip columns were abuzz this week over news that a reality television star discontinued her conversion to Judaism after the Orthodox rabbinate demanded that she quit her budding acting career.
Alin Levy, a 24-year-old Ukrainian who immigrated to Israel at the age of four, gained instant fame by dint of her participation in the Israeli version of the hit reality show Big Brother.
Levy, who was born to a Christian mother and a Jewish father, was recently in the midst of converting to Judaism, a process she decided to take on while performing her military service.
In deference to the difficult process of converting to Judaism, Levy has taken to dressing more modestly and eschewing the provocative outfits that celebrities are often seen wearing. Yet Channel 2 reported earlier this week that the rabbinate informed Levy that she had to put a stop to her acting career and to quit acting lessons.
“Acting as a career does not go together with the spirit of religion,” Levy was reportedly told.
As a result of the rabbinate’s edict, Levy decided to put a stop to the conversion process.
“From her perspective, it’s a privilege to be Jewish, not an obligation,” a source close to Levy told Channel 2. “Her dream is to be a Jew, but she has no intention of giving up her acting career for that. How will she earn a living?” Levy is said to be in discussions with rabbinate officials in hopes of convincing them to be more flexible, though these efforts are not considered likely to produce a change.
“The conversion court is a religious body, and its demands are in accordance with Jewish law and the requirements to carry the burden of performing mitzvot [Jewish commandments],” Channel 2 quoted an official from the Religious Services Ministry as saying.
“The religious courts that meet with prospective converts instruct them and notify them as to the requirements of the process and the necessary changes to lifestyle that are requisite. The court will not deny a prospective convert the opportunity to bring up any individual matters in an orderly, private setting.”
Yesh Atid MK Rabbi Dov Lipman said Levy’s case demonstrated the need for a new approach to conversion, referencing legislation on the issue currently in the Knesset.
“I have already made contact with Deputy Religious Services Minister Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan and will not rest or remain quiet until Alin’s conversion process is resumed and she converts,” Lipman said. “We receive complaints of this kind on a regular basis, which is why I co-sponsored the new legislation to enable rabbinical judges throughout the country to perform their own conversions.”
The bill on conversion reform was authored by Hatnua MK Elazar Stern and is to be discussed in committee on Tuesday morning for the first time since it passed its first reading in the Knesset plenum last month.
Ben-Dahan and the Chief Rabbinate have expressed significant opposition to several of the proposals in the bill, particularly provisions to decentralize the system and allow local rabbis, ordained by the Chief Rabbinate, to perform conversions.
Rabbi Seth Farber, director of the ITIM religious services and advocacy group, similarly said that the incident underlined the need for a fresh approach to conversion.
“While I don’t know all the particulars of the situation, this would not be the first time that the gap between rabbinical judges and normative Israeli society has been highlighted,” Farber said. “This is a good example of why we need to have more moderate rabbinical courts that are deeply committed to halacha but at the same time understand the cultural vicissitudes of everyday Israeli society.”