311_state conversion panel.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The ITIM religious services and advocacy group has filed a petition with the
High Court of Justice demanding that the Interior Ministry recognize Orthodox
conversions performed in Israel in non-state Orthodox rabbinical
The state conversion authority, which comes under the auspices of
the Prime Minister’s Office, is the only body in the country through which an
Orthodox convert can gain legal recognition that he or she is Jewish.
many Orthodox conversion candidates have in recent years sought to convert in
non-state Orthodox rabbinical courts, largely because of bureaucratic obstacles
and inefficiencies in the state run system.
ITIM claims that the state
has “implemented policies that reject converts out of hand, because of their
personal status as tourists, students or spouses of Israelis,” and that this has
given rise to increased demand for conversion in non-state Orthodox conversion
The organization cited one case in its petition in which a woman
from South America, who wishes to remain anonymous, applied to the state
conversion authority to convert in 2007, but was only accepted by its Exceptions
Committee to begin the conversion process in 2010.
She had, however,
become frustrated with the system by this time and had already approached the
haredi Badatz rabbinical court of Rabbi Nissim Karelitz in Bnei Brak, which
accepted her for conversion.
She successfully completed her conversion
course through Karelitz’s rabbinical court and in March 2011 was registered by a
state rabbinical court as Jewish.
The woman subsequently married and had
a child, but because she is not registered in the Interior Ministry’s population
registry as Jewish, her child is not considered Jewish by the state.
separate case, another woman converted under the auspices of the respected
Orthodox scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz and his private rabbinical court. Her
conversion was also subsequently accepted by a state rabbinical court, which
wrote to the Interior Ministry requesting that her status be changed
accordingly, a request that was nevertheless refused.
According to ITIM,
approximately 10 percent of conversions conducted in the country are carried out
in non-state rabbinical courts.
The Interior Ministry is concerned with
the precedent of accepting converts who have not converted through the state
system, fearing that the process would lose the requisite oversight and
ITIM’s petition argues that the ministry has exceeded its
authority by essentially monopolizing the ability to determine who is a Jew, and
demands that it make public its criteria for establishing this.
organization also requested in its suit that the court issue an injunction
against the Interior Ministry, to compel it to recognize the conversion of the
two women, who are party to its suit, together with two further
ITIM director Orthodox Rabbi Seth Farber said that the petition
was “a good opportunity to open doors of conversion to more people who are
looking for alternative Orthodox conversion routes.”
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