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Up until three weeks ago, when the Interior Ministry changed its immigration policy, Orthodox converts who wanted to immigrate to Israel faced more bureaucratic obstacles than their Conservative and Reform counterparts.
Paradoxically, the same state that gave Orthodox Judaism a dominant role in the religious sphere applied more stringent criteria to its converts.
Until the change in policy at the end of October, every new immigrant to Israel who underwent an Orthodox conversion in the Diaspora was required to appear before a rabbinic conversion court in Israel for an interview. Only after being interviewed would the convert receive a conversion certificate (te'udat hamara) and the authorization of the Chief Rabbinate, which would make him or her eligible for citizenship.
In contrast, Reform and Conservative converts enjoyed a quicker immigration process that could usually be handled abroad by a Jewish Agency representative. The convert must write an affidavit explaining why he or she converted. The rabbi that oversaw the conversion must verify the convert's sincerity and must testify that his or her congregation is affiliated with the Reform or Conservative movements. In addition, a local representative of the Reform or Conservative movement must verify the information.
Rabbi Seth Farber, chairman of ITIM, an organization that helps navigate religion-related bureaucracy, represented four Orthodox converts stymied by the old policy and said it violated Judaism's injunction to "love the convert."
Farber, whose complaints helped bring about the policy change, added, "It is in Israel's best interest to help Orthodox converts, not hinder them."
As a result of the policy change, an Orthodox convert needs to prove only that he or she was converted by a recognized Orthodox rabbinic court. Which rabbinic courts are recognized by the chief rabbinate and which are not is a separate issue that has also been disputed, most notably between the Rabbinical Council of America and the Israeli rabbinate.
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