A woman was gratified to learn on Tuesday that, 30 years after she converted to Judaism, the chief rabbinate and the rabbinical courts continue to see her as Jewish, despite a ruling last year in which a lower court rejected her conversion.
In November 2015, the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court ruled that there were doubts over the conversion of the woman in question, and therefore refused to validate the Jewish status of her daughter who was seeking to register for marriage.
The ruling generated heavy criticism of the rabbinical courts, and, following an appeal by the woman and her daughter Sarit Azoulai, the Supreme Rabbinical Court ruled on Tuesday that it found no reason to doubt the validity of the conversion.
“From looking at the proceedings of the regional rabbinical court, it transpires that the mother said she was religiously observant [in the past]… and this court sees no reason to doubt the validity of the conversion,” rabbinical judges Chief Rabbi David Lau, Eliezer Igra and David Dov Levanon wrote in their ruling.
Despite the victory for Sarit and her mother, the Center for Women’s Justice, which represented the two women in the case, criticized the basis of the court’s ruling, which it said left open the option for rabbinical courts to revoke a person’s conversion, something which has little basis in Jewish law.
“Today we can smile and be proud of our hard work. Sarit left the rabbinical court with a kosher stamp of her Jewishness,” said attorney Nitzan Caspi-Shiloni, of the Center for Women’s Justice.
“However, although Sarit’s case has been solved, the policy of investigating a convert as to their lifestyle when they come to marry or divorce has not changed. Converts may still have trouble to sleep at night out of the concern that the religious establishment can invalidate their Jewishness.”
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Sarit herself said that she and her family are pleased with the ruling, but are still angry about what she described as the original injustice, and criticized the court for failing to acknowledge that and failing to apologize.
“We are happy today because this is the ruling we wanted,” Sarit told The Jerusalem Post.
“But in the broader picture, we are angry because no-one apologized to us and no-one took into account the three and a half years of injustice that was done.”
Sarit also noted that the rabbinic judges had recommended to Sarit’s brother, who also attended the hearing, to attend Torah classes and for the family to draw closer to religion.
“I can’t accept this recommendation from them because of the way they treated us, the whole process has left a bad taste in the mouth, especially because no-one had the decency to apologize for this injustice,” she said.
The story began in 2012, when Sarit went to register for marriage. The marriage registrar noticed through Sarit’s documentation that her mother, who has asked not to be named, was a convert and said that she must clarify her Jewish status in the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court before he could register her for marriage.
Sarit’s mother converted in 1983 in a conversion course which was under the auspices of the serving Ashkenazi chief rabbi of the time Rabbi Shlomo Goren.
She married shortly thereafter and gave birth to Sarit and a son, but divorced her husband two-and-a-half years after they married.
She describes herself as traditional in her Jewish practice, saying she observes kashrut and marks the Jewish holidays, but does not observe Shabbat.
During the hearing at the rabbinical court, Sarit was questioned as to whether or not she observes Jewish law and whether or not her mother does. The rabbinical judges also called in Sarit’s mother on three occasions, once in front of a full panel of seven rabbinical judges, to question her about her Jewish observance, and investigate her religious lifestyle and that of her daughter.
Two weeks before Sarit herself was scheduled to get married, the rabbinical court issued its ruling stating that “since there are doubts as to the conversion of the mother, the rabbinical court, therefore, cannot affirm the Jewish status of the applicant, and she is able to appeal our decision to the Supreme Rabbinical Court.”
After consulting with friends, Sarit and her fiancé approached Rabbi David Stav, chairman of the Tzohar rabbinical association who, through his authority as a municipal chief rabbi of Shoham, registered them for marriage.
Earlier this year, however, Sarit decided to appeal the original 2012 decision of the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court to the Supreme Rabbinical Court after she gave birth to a daughter out of concern for the possible complications her daughter might face later in life due to what amounted to the annulment of her own mother’s conversion.
Speaking to the Post, Stav was critical of the Supreme Rabbinical Court for failing to issue a clear statement against the lower court for investigating the validity of Sarit’s mother in the first place.
“The Supreme Rabbinical Court missed an opportunity to say clearly that the regional courts do not have any authority to investigate conversions done by the great rabbinical leaders of Israel from the previous generation, or indeed rabbis in Israel or abroad today,” said Stav.
“Instead of making a statement to stop the abuse of converts and their children, the Supreme Rabbinical Court has left open the possibility for the rabbinical courts system not to recognize conversions, and therefore the continued abuse of converts,” he continued.
“They have however saved themselves from the additional disgrace of the [civil] Supreme Court forcing them to recognize the conversion in this case” he added.
As previously reported by the Post, the initial decision of the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court was strongly criticized by several experts on conversion.
Rabbi Yisrael Rosen– the founder of the state conversion authority in the Chief Rabbinate and the head of a private conversion court – called the decision at the time “halachically absurd,” and said there is no concept in Jewish law of annulling a conversion, and that even if a convert returns to his previous way of life after converting he remains Jewish.
“Forty days after the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, the Jewish people made the Golden Calf, but their ‘conversion’ was not canceled, and their declaration of ‘we shall do and we shall listen’ was not abrogated either,” said Rosen.
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