Issues surrounding the process of conversion are becoming a particular concern for women, Yesh Atid MK Aliza Lavie said in the Knesset Tuesday, after the Committee for the Advancement of the Status of Women heard about difficult experiences by women in the conversion process.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, Hagit Bar-Tuv, 45, talked about the conversion process for her infant son, whom she adopted from Russia.
Bar-Tuv grew up on Kibbutz Yavne, part of the network of national-religious kibbutzim around the country, and is herself Orthodox and religiously observant, although liberal.
She is unmarried but decided to adopt an infant boy from Russia, at the age of one year and eight months, and sought to convert him, believing the process to be simply a matter of paperwork, aside from the brit mila, as her son was so young.
Bar-Tuv decided to move to Moshav Klahim, just north of Netivot, to be close to her brother.
She was invited to the Rabbinical Court for the Conversion of Minors in Jerusalem, where she was interviewed by the rabbinical judges, who asked her to send her son, whom she named Hallel, to the Shas-run religious kindergarten in the moshav, instead of the standard state-run kindergarten.
Bar-Tuv responded that she did not want to send him to the Shas kindergarten but would look into it, although she did not believe the judges would coerce her into sending him there.
Hallel had a brit mila, but Bar-Tuv was subsequently contacted by the secretary of the court who informed her that the conversion would not be completed until she sent her son to the Shas kindergarten.
She then contacted the Masorti Movement, which said it would convert him and that the Interior Ministry would register him as Jewish, although she knew it would prevent him from marrying through the rabbinate in the future.
Eventually she was invited to another hearing at the rabbinical court, where she was again told to send him to the religious kindergarten. Bar-Tuv spoke strongly to the judges and protested their interference in the way she wished to raise her son, expecting that they would continue to refuse to convert him and that she would have to convert him through the Masorti Movement.
However, the rabbinical judges consulted among themselves and said that her appeal had touched them and agreed to convert Hallel.
“I wasn’t able to give birth to Hallel, but I feel like I received the child I had always wanted as a present from God.
It was a miracle and I feel like he was born from my heart if not from my womb,” Bar Tuv said. “He feels like my child, and because I am Jewish and will raise him in a Jewish home it seemed like it should be just a technical process to convert him.”
“It is a very difficult process to adopt a child, and for spiritual leaders to behave like this and make difficulties, and to close doors and make people feel like their adopted child is not really their child is hard to understand.
“What kind of Judaism is this? Who are they representing? It’s clear that there are rulings in Jewish sources less harsh than what they were saying, and so why were they taking such a stringent path?” Bar-Tuv asked.
Speaking in a Knesset hearing on the matter on Monday, Lavie said it was time to abandon “the conventional methods of thinking” which have not worked in terms of conversion in Israel, and quoted the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef who said in a Knesset committee hearing in 1976 that “I don’t remember one case [of conversion] I did not resolve.”
“Who today can say something like that?” asked Lavie. “His halachic courage does not exist today, and we are encountering stories of women who are standing alone in front of a very tough bureaucratic system.”
Rabbi Seth Farber, the director of the ITIM religious services organization that worked with Bar-Tuv, said that it was gratifying that she had succeeded in gaining approval for her son’s conversion but said that her ability to insist on her rights was an exception.
“In a democratic country and especially within Israel’s religious establishment, success should not be measured on the basis of the minority of people who have the kind of courage and strength and courage Hagit has,” said Farber.
“We must provide an infrastructure that enables even those who are weak, unaware or unable to fully exercise their rights.”
He also criticized the rabbinical courts’ policy of demanding that minors attend a religious school, even if their parents are themselves religiously observant.
“This is an enormous distortion of Halacha, completely ignores personal circumstances and ignores the basic principles of human dignity, which are also part of the halachic corpus.”