The High Court of Justice is due to decide next week whether it will hold a
hearing on a petition calling for formal recognition of the authority of
independent Orthodox rabbinical courts.
The petition’s basis is a case in
which bureaucratic contradictions and obstructions led to a man being registered
as married to a spouse who, bureaucratically speaking, does not
The case was filed in February by ITIM, a religious rights
advocacy group, which has been critical of the way in which Orthodox converts
and conversion candidates are treated by the state.
ITIM has petitioned
the High Court on behalf of two women – and their spouses – who converted in the
independent Orthodox rabbinical courts of two of the most highly regarded Torah
scholars of the generation, but could nevertheless not get their conversions
recognized by the Interior Ministry.
One of these couples is Avraham and
Tikva, not their real names.
Avraham is now happily married to Tikva who
converted in the independent rabbinical court of Rabbi Adin Steinzaltz, a
renowned Torah scholar and prolific author of numerous works on the Talmud and
Tikva originally sought to convert at the beginning of
2008 and began a conversion process under the auspices of the late Rabbi Yosef
Azran, then Sephardi chief rabbi of Rishon Lezion.
After Azran’s death in
2010, Tikva’s case was referred to the Exception’s Committee of the state
Conversion Authority – under the authority of the Prime Minister’s Office, which
deals with all non-Israeli nationals seeking to convert in Israel.
Exceptions Committee is notorious for its bureaucratic shortcomings, the
extremely high number of applicants it rejects and the lack of clear operating
criteria. It was singled out for criticism by the state comptroller in a report
released in May, for its rejectionist attitude towards those seeking to
Tikva’s request was repeatedly held up by the Exceptions
Committee and she finally despaired of being able to convert to Judaism through
She instead turned to Steinzaltz’s independent court and
successfully converted, receiving her certificate on August 15, 2010.
the beginning of 2011, Avraham and Tikva traveled to the town of Medzhybizh in
western Ukraine, once the residence of the founder of Hassidism, known as the
Baal Shem Tov – a place the couple connect to spiritually – in order to get
married. They were married in an Orthodox ceremony by an Orthodox rabbi of a
religious town in Israel.
Having wed, the couple sought to have their
status as a Jewish married couple recognized by the state.
14, 2012, the state rabbinical court of Jerusalem recognized both Tikva’s
conversion and her marriage to Avraham and instructed the Interior Ministry to
register the couple as married in the population records. The ministry
It did recognize Avraham as married, because of the declaration
of the state rabbinical court, and registered him as such, but did not recognize
Tikva’s conversion or her married status for the purposes of granting her
citizenship, to which she is entitled, both for being Jewish and as the spouse
of an Israeli citizen.
In its petition to the High Court, ITIM demanded
an interim injunction be handed down to force the Interior Ministry to explain
why Tikva’s conversion was not accepted by it, although her conversion was in
accordance with Jewish law and recognized by the state rabbinical court
ITIM is also demanding an explanation as to why the ministry does
not establish criteria for the recognition of conversions performed by non-state
“Our main goal is to open the doors of Orthodox
conversion in Israel to all those who genuinely seek to join the Jewish people,”
said Rabbi Seth Farber, director of ITIM.
“When I first met this couple,
I was flabbergasted. How could Israel be denying Jewish rights to a family so
obviously committed to Jewish peoplehood and Jewish tradition?” Farber said that
his organization was “seeking to break the rabbinic establishment’s monopoly on
‘Who is a Jew’.”
The organization says it is currently dealing with
around 20 similar cases and believes there are between 300 to 400 couples facing
the same kind of problems.
In 2011, approximately 400 people turned to
independent Orthodox rabbinical courts to convert because of difficulties they
encountered with the Interior Ministry and the State Conversion
“Israel cannot survive as a Jewish and democratic state if
bureaucrats ad clerks are given the power to determine the destiny of the Jewish
people,” he continued.
“The great irony is that the couples we are
representing got the rabbinical courts in Israel to recognize their
conversions. In every country in the world they would be seen as Jews.
Only in Israel are they denied this right.”
Because it was anxious for
the High Court of Justice not to issue a ruling on the matter, the the ministry,
via the Attorney General’s Office, offered that Tikva could undergo a simple
ceremony, immediately, in order to gain recognition as a convert by the
Tikva accepted, but the wife from the second couple named in the
petition who was offered the same deal has not yet decided whether or not to