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A convert to Judaism and her husband petitioned the High Court of Justice on Sunday against four rabbis who have allegedly repeatedly refused to grant marriage licenses to Israelis who converted to Judaism in Orthodox religious courts recognized by the state.
The petition was filed by Alina and Maxim Sardiyokov, Itim – The Jewish Life Information Center, and three other public petitioners including Maj.-Gen. (Res.) Elazar Stern, former commander of the IDF’s Manpower Directorate.
Named in the petition were marriage registrars Rabbi Haim Blau of Ashkelon, Rabbi Simcha Hacohen Kook of Rehovot, Rabbi Yehuda Dov Volpe of Rishon Lezion and Rabbi Yosef Sheinin of Ashdod.
“This petition,” wrote attorney Aviad Hacohen, dean of Shaarei Mishpat Academic College in Hod Hasharon, “recounts the shameful and unacceptable practice whereby marriage registrars throughout the country refuse to register converts who converted according to the law and possess official certificates of conversion to Judaism issued by the State of Israel.”
This phenomenon has become widespread over the past two years, Hacohen wrote.
“With one hand, the state of the Jewish people gives the converts a certificate proving that they have joined the Jewish people; while with the other, through the marriage registrars, it rejects them and causes them hardship. In so doing, it humiliates and degrades them and violates the basic principles of equality and non-discrimination and [these converts’] fundamental right to marriage.”
According to the petition, the various marriage registrars present different obstacles to the converts.
In Rehovot and Ashdod, for example, they refuse to automatically register converts bearing conversion certificates – as they are obliged by law. Instead they order them to appear before the local rabbinical court, which must confirm that the convert is indeed Jewish.
In Rishon Lezion, the religious council automatically opens a marriage file for converts. However, the registrar later refuses to ratify the ketuba (marriage contract) signed by the couple and countersigned by the officiating rabbi at the marriage ceremony.
In Ashkelon, the registrar allegedly refuses to register any convert for marriage.
The petitioners, Alina and Maxim Sardiyokov, who live in Ashkelon, wanted to register their marriage there. Alina, who immigrated to Israel in 1992, has a non-Jewish mother and converted to Judaism through the IDF Rabbinate. The state recognizes conversions conducted by the rabbinical courts, the special conversion courts administered by the Prime Minister’s Office and the IDF Rabbinate.
However, when the couple approached the Ashkelon religious council to register their marriage, Blau refused and ordered them to have their conversion examined first by the local rabbinical court. The Sardiyokovs complied, even though Blau was acting illegally.
The rabbinical court confirmed the conversion, and the couple returned to Blau to register their marriage. Despite the court’s confirmation, Blau still refused to register them and advised them to open their file with the marriage registrar in Be’er Tuviya.
Rabbi Seth Farber, head of Itim
, told The Jerusalem Post
that in light of recent decisions, including relocating the proposed
emergency room of Ashkelon’s Barzilai Medical Center and haredi MKs’
nixing of a bill to allow local authority rabbis to perform
conversions, “we are no longer going to allow militant rabbis to
dictate the Jewish culture of the State of Israel.”
“Furthermore, on the eve of Pessah, we are instructed to remember that
we were once strangers in the land of Egypt and therefore have a moral
responsibility to care for those who are vulnerable, particularly those
who have tied their destiny to the Jewish people.”