The ITIM institute petitioned the High Court of Justice Thursday against the
Ministry of Interior’s refusal to grant citizenship to Orthodox converts who
converted abroad. The lawsuit, submitted by the Jewish Life Information Center
on behalf of Canadian convert Thomas Dohlan, called on the court to order the
ministry to explain its decision to refuse him citizenship under the Law of
Return and prevent the ministry from taking action to expel him from the
ITIM’s lawyers, Dr. Aviad Hakohen and Yeshayahu Avraham, argued
in the petition that the Ministry of Interior’s refusal to grant Dohlan and
others like him citizenship because of the Rabbinic Council’s failure to
recognize Orthodox conversions performed abroad was illegal and
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In February, the Interior Ministry rejected Dohlan’s
request to make aliya since “according to the Chief Rabbinate, this is a
conversion that is not recognized,” despite his Orthodox conversion being
conducted by a court composed of two rabbis from the International Rabbinic
Fellowship and one from the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA).
Chief Rabbinate in 2008 decided that it would only accept Orthodox conversions
conducted in the US by the RCA in 10 regional rabbinic courts across North
Non-Orthodox conversions from abroad by established courts,
while not recognized by the rabbinate, are accepted by the Interior Ministry for
citizenship in Israel.
Two months ago, the Chief Rabbinate, Interior
Ministry and State Attorney’s Office declared at the end of a special Knesset
Aliya Committee hearing that they would draw up new procedures to determine the
validity of Orthodox conversions as regards aliya, and set themselves a 45-day
deadline to that end. No such procedures were set, while Dohlan and other such
converts remain in their Orthodox limbo.
“With one hand the state – the
Jewish state – calls on all Jews, including true converts, to immigrate to
Israel; and with the other hand it, through the Interior Ministry, rejects them,
overburdens them and humiliates them and harms their basic human rights of
equality,” reads the petition.
According to the petition, Dohlan
completed his conversion process in a recognized Orthodox Beit Din in Montreal,
and the Rabbinic Council has no right to question the validity of such a
conversion or to instruct the Interior Ministry not to grant him citizenship
based on the Council’s refusal to recognize it. The petition states that such
failure to recognize conversions not only infringes on Orthodox converts’ rights
but also discriminates against them, since converts from other streams of
Judaism do not require the Rabbinic Council’s recognition.
arbitrary custom, the respondents injure the petitioner’s dignity, questioning
the integrity of his conversion and his Judaism; limit his ability to work and
deny him the various rights granted to immigrants to Israel; discriminate
against him relative to others who converted in non-Orthodox communities abroad
– Reform and Conservative communities recognized by the ministry without
requiring the ‘liaison’ or ‘recognition’ of the Chief Rabbinic Council,” the
petition read, adding that, “recognition of a conversion is not among the
authorities granted to the Rabbinic Council and that its intervention in the
matter was an alleged deviation of its authorities.”
continues to argue that the Interior Ministry has no right to question a
conversion performed by a recognized community abroad, that the ministry never
published regulations regarding the validity of conversions, and that the
ministry even lacks the tools to make an educated decision regarding the
“kosherness” of such a conversion.
Hakohen noted in a statement that “the
petition shows the harsh discrimination the Interior Ministry applies to
converts who wish to join the Jewish people, while harming their dignity,
freedom and ability to have a normal life. It makes it even worse that the
policy is in contrast to Jewish and democratic values, and allegedly holds
former court decisions in contempt.”
“Unfortunately, the only way to
protect converts is through the High Court of Justice,” said ITIM founder and
head Rabbi Seth Farber. “This is how the issue of military conversions was
resolved in our previous petition, and what we hope to see this time.”
was the ITIM petition against recalcitrant marriage registrars that recently
forced the Chief Rabbinate to declare IDF conversions kosher.
Dohlan’s case, over a dozen similar cases of converts who are being refused
Interior Ministry recognition have reached ITIM – this simply cannot go on any
further. On Independence Day Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called on every
Jew in the world to make aliya, while in practice the Interior Ministry is
preventing it,” Farber added.