50 members of one family required to convert after 1960s conversion not recognized

Chief rabbinate declares young woman not eligible to marry since she was considered to be non-Jewish.

May 14, 2015 17:56
2 minute read.
Council of the Chief Rabbinate

The rabbis of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate. (photo credit: CHIEF RABBINATE)

At least 50 members of a practicing Jewish family have been told they need to convert, after a conversion that took place in the 1960s was declared unrecognized by the Chief Rabbinate.

It all began when a young haredi woman recently sought to register for marriage in her city of residence, Netanya.

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She was asked to provide proof of her Jewish status, a standard procedure for anyone whose parents married outside of Israel.

Instead of the immediate approval she was expecting, the Netanya Rabbinate referred her to the local rabbinical court to clarify her Jewish status. The problem stemmed from the 1960s conversion of the woman’s mother. The rabbinate was seeking to clarify whether or not the rabbi who conducted her conversion process was recognized by the Chief Rabbinate.

The woman submitted her documents to the rabbinical court, which turned to the Chief Rabbinate, as it is required. A clerk at the Chief Rabbinate said the credentials of the rabbi who performed the conversion in the US were unknown to the body, and therefore the conversion was not recognized.

The Chief Rabbinate therefore declared that the young woman was not eligible to marry since she was considered to be non-Jewish.

By extension, some 50 other family members including children and grandchildren, some of whom were married, were all deemed to be non-Jewish for practical purposes and needed to convert.

Eventually a decision was made to perform a rapid conversion process requiring only immersion in a mikve, or ritual bath.

Although the rabbinical courts praised their swift resolution of the incident, critics of the Chief Rabbinate bemoaned the bureaucratic failure.

“The incident shows the intransigence of the rabbinical courts,” said Rabbi Seth Farber, director of the ITIM religious services advisory and lobbying group. “Rather than seeking to certify and verify the original conversion they rely on a clerk who tells them the conversion is no good, and then humiliate an entire extended family by denying their basic Jewish identity.”

ITIM frequently receives pleas for help from Israeli citizens, often immigrants, whose Jewish status is not recognized by the Chief Rabbinate.

Farber asserted that the swift conversion implemented in this case was only made possible due to the Chief Rabbinate’s trust in the family since they are haredi. But such trust, he said, is not evinced towards less observant citizens.

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