The state informed the High Court of Justice on Sunday that the Chief Rabbinate
had appointed four dayanim (rabbinical court judges) from the state administered
conversion courts to serve as marriage registrars with the power to register
anyone who had converted to Judaism under the auspices of state-administered
The brief came in response to a petition filed by Rabbi
Seth Farber, head of The Jewish Life Cycle Information Center and others against
four marriage registrars who refused to register the marriages of couples in
cases where one or both of them had converted to Judaism in state-administered
conversion courts, whether military or civilian.
Bill legislating all IDF conversions could undermine
Chief Rabbinate to probe IDF, civilian
In an afterword to the
response, the state’s representatives, attorneys Yochi Gnessin and Avinoam
Sega-Elad, also wrote that the state considered IDF conversion courts to be of
extreme importance and an integral part of the state system of
Farber told The Jerusalem Post
he was satisfied that the
state was “finally officially recognizing the IDF conversions. The state’s
declaration can put the minds of those who converted at ease, and encourage
those considering undergoing the process.”
On the other hand, the
appointment of four dayanim from the state-administered conversion courts to
serve simultaneously as marriage registrars was not entirely new.
are already three “extraterritorial” rabbis who have the power to register
marriages from outside their jurisdiction.
The four new extra-territorial
dayanim are Rabbi Yehoshua Meitlis, chief rabbi of Nahariya, Rabbi Yisrael
Glickman, Rabbi Eliezer Altshuler and Rabbi Eyal Yosef.
The petition was
aimed at the marriage registrars of Ashkelon, Rabbi Yosef Blau; Rehovot, Rabbi
Simcha Hacohen Kook; Rishon Lezion Rabbi Yehuda David Wolpe and Ashdod Rabbi
The petitioners charged that some city marriage
registrars, including those listed in the petition, refused to register converts
“We have learned that in some registrar’s offices, which
operate according to the mandate of Israeli law, marriage registrars take the
law into their own hands and refuse to register for marriage people who
underwent conversion and possess a conversion certificate... These instances of
refusal are not coincidental or exceptional but a widespread phenomenon which
has taken on worrisome proportions...”
The state informed the court on
Sunday that the appointment of the four dayanim as registrars is an
“appropriate, worthy and reasonable solution...
which, on the one hand,
allows couples to be registered for marriage by authorized dayanim while, on the
other hand, not forcing local rabbis to do anything contrary to their halachic
position or their conscience.”
From now on, a couple wishing to register
for marriage may do so with the religious council of the groom’s city, the
bride’s city, the city where the marriage is to take place or with one of the
dayanim belonging to the state-run conversion courts.
will not be obliged to register with their local marriage registrar first, but
may bypass him altogether to avoid unpleasantness and register their marriages
directly with the dayanim.
The state, however, rejected one of the
petitioners’ arguments to the effect that the marriage registrars had no choice
but to register such couples as long as the convert produced his conversion
The state wrote that this rule, which applies to Interior
Ministry clerks who must register as Jewish in the Population Registry anyone
who provides documents to prove that he is, does not apply to marriage
registrars, who are authorized to investigate the documents.
At the end
of the state’s response, Gnessin referred to an incident which occurred during a
hearing on the petition before the High Court of Justice on September 6, when
she announced that soldiers who converted in the IDF could not register to be
married because their conversion was incomplete.
She said she had
discovered that that the validity of the conversions performed in the army was
in doubt because they are not approved by the Chief Rabbinate and are often
conducted by officials who are not authorized dayanim.
statement aroused a sensation. Roughly 4,500 soldiers, most of them women, have
already converted to Judaism via the army rabbinate. If the conversions of the
women were invalid, it meant that not only they, but their children were not
The Justice Ministry confirmed that there were administrative
problems involved in the conversions of soldiers but said these could be
As a result of the furor, the Knesset State Control Committee
summoned Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar to discuss the matter. Following the
meeting, Amar issued a statement which seemed to indicate that he recognized the
“For many years, army chaplains converted soldiers in
IDF conversion courts,” he wrote. “The military chaplains acted in full
cooperation with the chief rabbis on all questions of religion and state.
Soldiers who converted in these courts were also married properly by the
Amar added that his office was working with the
Justice Ministry to resolve the administrative problems.
triggered attacks by Ashkenazi haredi rabbis and he eventually
On October 21, the Council of the Chief Rabbinate appointed
a committee to examine the question of the halachic legality of the army
conversions. However, within less than one week, two members of the five-man
committee appointed by Amar, Rabbis Yehuda Deri and Ratzon Sarrusi, announced
In Sunday’s response, the state stressed that it
“regarded the existence of the conversion system in the army of extreme
importance. It is part of the state conversion system which has been, and is
operating for decades in full cooperation with the chief rabbis and with their
The state added that “the branches of government recognize the
validity of these conversions for all matters.”
Farber expressed concern
that the state had refused to order the reluctant marriage registrars to
register the marriages.
He said the state regards the state-administered
conversion courts as being of extreme importance but “the declaration is not
being implemented de facto, since it does not force the registrars to recognize
“This is a worrisome phenomenon which is spreading
beyond the four cities mentioned in the petition. Furthermore, there is no
reason to force converts to leave the city of their residence and wander all
over the country to open a marriage file somewhere else.
do not have to do that.”
Attorney Aviad Hacohen, who represents the
petitioners, said, “It is saddening to think that the only solution found for
this intolerable situation is reassigning converts to a ‘special’ track, that
will imprint upon them – contrary to the values of Judaism and the principles of
justice and egalitarianism – a mark of Cain as someone whose Judaism is
In a related development, the Ministerial
Committee for Legislation is due on Monday to discuss a bill initiated by
Knesset Law Committee Chairman David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu) and Robert Ilatov
(Israel Beiteinu) officially establishing army conversion
According to the bill, “The conversion court’s decision to
convert a soldier is decisive proof of his Jewishness.” The bill also calls on
the Chief Rabbinate to confirm these conversions and stipulates that the
conversion cannot be repealed.
In the explanation to the bill, the MKs
wrote that the bill was necessary “to remove any doubt and to clear away the
cloud of suspicion over the heads of those who have already converted or are
studying now for conversion [in the army.]”