Interior Ministry defies Court on conversions

The ministry refused to register a woman as Jewish who used the largest non-state Orthodox court.

By
March 27, 2018 03:30
3 minute read.
ACTIVISTS TAKE part in a demonstration in Jerusalem in July against legislation that would have stre

ACTIVISTS TAKE part in a demonstration in Jerusalem in July against legislation that would have strengthened the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly over conversion in Israel. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

The Interior Ministry has refused to register a woman who converted through an independent Orthodox rabbinical court as Jewish, in defiance of a groundbreaking High Court decision.

The woman converted through the Giyur Kahalacha Orthodox rabbinical conversion court in 2016 and applied in March 2017 to be registered as Jewish in the population registry of the Interior Ministry.

The right to be listed as Jewish was afforded to Orthodox, non-state converts in a dramatic ruling by the High Court of Justice. The court determined that non-Israeli nationals who convert in independent Orthodox rabbinical courts in Israel should be eligible for citizenship under the Law of Return.

The Interior Ministry refused to register the woman as Jewish, leading ITIM, a religious-services advisory group with strong connections to Giyur Kahalacha, to file a motion in the Jerusalem District Court to compel the ministry to comply with the ruling.

The State Attorney’s Office responded on behalf of the Interior Ministry by arguing that since the government is currently working on new legislation dealing with conversion, the ministry should not be required to act on the matter until a law is drafted and passed by the Knesset.

It also noted that there is currently another, highly significant petition before the High Court regarding citizenship rights for non-Orthodox converts, and the ministry was entitled to wait until these matters were decided.

Following the state’s response to the court motion, ITIM director Rabbi Seth Farber sent a letter to Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked protesting the failure to implement the High Court ruling.

He expressed concern that the highly controversial legislation regarding conversion would be used by the High Court to revoke the rights afforded non-state Orthodox converts, in direct opposition to promises made by Shaked last June.

Farber also pointed out that non-Orthodox converts are currently being registered by the Interior Ministry as Jewish, and it was therefore absurd to refuse to register an Orthodox convert who was converted by religious-Zionist rabbis, a sector represented by Shaked’s Bayit Yehudi Party.

“Hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens who had the right to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return are knocking on the door of the Jewish home and are seeking to enter its gates,” Farber said.

“Hundreds of them have converted in an Orthodox process through Giyur Kahalacha but are still classified as having no religion in the population registry and are waiting for recognition by their country. This is [of] national and Jewish interest of the highest order.”

Farber acknowledged that Shaked has tried to prevent damage to Giyur Kahalacha, but he insisted that “elements” within the government were working against her and the work of religious-Zionist rabbis.

The haredi (ultra-Orthodox) political parties United Torah Judaism and Shas are strongly opposed to Giyur Kahalacha.

They sought through the legislation proposed in June to create a monopoly on conversions for the Chief Rabbinate, which would revoke all legal status currently afforded to those who underwent independent conversions, Orthodox or non-Orthodox.

As Interior Minister, Shas chairman Arye Deri has ultimate control over who is registered as Jewish.

The High Court ruling in 2016 granted state recognition to conversions done through independent Orthodox rabbinical courts, although it did not require the Chief Rabbinate to recognize them.

Although registry as Jewish is mostly symbolic, Giyur Kahalacha and ITIM see the legal status afforded to these converts as crucial in their struggle to eventually pressure the Chief Rabbinate into recognizing these converts, thus enabling them to marry in Israel.

Giyur Kahalacha was established to increase the number of converts among immigrants from the former Soviet Union who are not Jewish according to Jewish law, as a way of stopping interfaith marriages in Israel.

The independent rabbinical court has so far converted 500 people, most of whom are minors according to Jewish law – under the age of 12 for girls and 13 for boys – since conversion for minors is a much simpler process in Jewish law than for adults.

Shaked’s office declined a request for comment.


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