Is the Ministry holier than the Rabbinate?

The Ministry of Interior still claims the final say on who's a Jew.

By MATTHEW WAGNER
December 24, 2007 20:51
3 minute read.
conversion class students 248.88

conversion class 248.88. (photo credit: Hilary Leila Krieger [file])

 
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The Interior Ministry continues to disregard a Supreme Court ruling that would make it easier for converts abroad to immigrate to Israel, according to a petition filed Monday by ITIM - the Jewish Life Information Center. According to the petition filed at the Supreme Court, ITIM says that the Interior Ministry continues to demand that all Diaspora converts live in their Jewish communities for a year before immigrating to Israel. As a result, absurd situations are created in which converts are recognized as full-fledged Jews by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel but are not considered Jewish by the State of Israel. In a decision published in March 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that it was unreasonable for the Interior Ministry to demand that converts reside in their local communities for a year following their conversions. The court rejected the Interior Ministry's claim that the directive was designed to guarantee the converts' seriousness. "For more than two years, the Interior Ministry has acted in bad faith, causing deep anguish to genuine converts who have made enormous sacrifices to join the Jewish people," said Rabbi Seth (Shaul) Farber, director of ITIM. "Not only is their policy illegal, but it is fundamentally anti-Jewish." ITIM filed the suit on behalf of Rachel (Immanuelle del-Conte), an Italian Catholic who became interested in Judaism more than four years ago. Immanuelle applied for conversion in Israel four years ago, and studied in a conversion course sponsored by the religious kibbutz movement. However, the Interior Ministry rejected her request to convert in Israel despite the fact that it was accompanied by half a dozen recommendations from leading Orthodox rabbis in Israel. As a result, Immanuelle returned to her home country of Italy and began the conversion process at the local Orthodox rabbinical court. After completing her conversion in Italy, Immanuelle's Jewishness was confirmed by the office of Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar. But the Interior Ministry refused to recognize it. Immanuelle's plight is the reverse of the situation faced by thousands of Russian immigrants to Israel who are recognized by the Interior Ministry as Jews under the Law of Return, but cannot marry because they do not meet the criteria of the Chief Rabbinate. In contrast, Immanuelle can now marry in Israel, but she cannot become a citizen. In response to ITIM's petition, the Supreme Court ordered the Interior Ministry to provide Immanuelle with interim citizenship by the end of the year until the court case is settled. Farber said that his organization is presently handling nearly 10 cases similar to Immanuelle's. Farber added that until April, the Jewish Agency refused to accept converts who had not met the one-year residency requirement in the Diaspora Jewish community. "Following pressure from ITIM, the Jewish Agency has apparently changed its policy," said Farber. "But the Interior Ministry has demonstrated obstinacy and caused irreparable harm to a woman who should have been embraced by the state, not slapped in the face," said Farber. The Interior Ministry told The Jerusalem Post that a "central and important stage has just been completed regarding citizenship criteria for converts, in coordination with the Justice Ministry. These criteria have been distributed to various organizations for comment and suggestions. "The Interior Ministry is sorry that Rabbi Farber preferred to express his suggestions and recommendations via the news media and not in consultation with the ministry. Rabbi Farber did this despite the fact that he specifically requested a period of extension to present his suggestions to the ministry. Until we finish drafting the new citizenship criteria regarding converts, we will be unable to expand or comment on this subject. "It would be proper for Rabbi Farber to present his suggestions to the Interior Ministry as quickly as possible so as to expedite the drafting process."

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