(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Nearly 100 orthodox North American rabbis signed a letter demanding of Interior Minister Eli Yishai to “rectify the injustice being done to our converts, ourselves and the Jewish people” and “insure that those individuals whom we convert will automatically be eligible for aliyah as they have been in the past.”
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The appeal, scheduled to be delivered to Yishai on Tuesday morning, comes in the wake of the ministry's policy to accept primarily the converts of ten regional courts established a few years ago by the Rabbinic Council of America for the purpose of granting Israeli citizenship. This directly follows the Chief Rabbinate's policy of only recognizing the Judaism of converts from those courts (the RCA established eleven, but the rabbinate only recognizes ten of them), and creates a reality in which an orthodox convert from abroad could face more difficulties from the Interior Ministry in making aliyah than a convert from a Reform or Conservative community.
“We are concerned that some of the conversions performed under our auspices are
being questioned vis-à-vis aliyah eligibility,” the rabbis, belonging to
the RCA, International Rabbinic Fellowship, Orthodox Union and Yeshiva
University write Yishai. “We find this unacceptable, and turn to you in
an effort to insure that those individuals whom we convert will
automatically be eligible for aliyah as they have been in the past.”
“Recent reports that the Interior Ministry is consulting with the
Israeli Chief Rabbinate are disturbing. Those Orthodox rabbinical
leaders in the United States who are content with such an arrangement
represent only one slice of the North American Orthodox Jewish
community, and do not represent us or our constituencies,” the rabbis
wrote of the RCA regional conversion court system. At least one of the
rabbis signed on the document is a member of one of the RCA's regional
“As rabbis and as Zionists, we call upon you to clarify the situation
and rectify the injustice being done to our converts, ourselves and the
Jewish people,” they concluded.
The letter was initiated by head of ITIM Rabbi Seth Farber, whose Jewish
life information center is encountering more and more cases in which
not only the rabbinate won't recognize conversions by established
orthodox communities from abroad, but the Interior Ministry won't grant
such a convert citizenship under the Law of Return.
“I began this initiative out of a sense of the unity of the Jewish people,” he told The Jerusalem Post
on Monday. “Unfortunately, those entrusted with determining who is a
Jew are often unaware of the complexities of diaspora Jewish life. This
could cause a major rift between Jewish communities around the world and
in Israel,” he warned. “It is bad for Israel and bad for the Jewish
unity. At this time, we need understanding and sensitivity, not
dismissiveness and divisiveness. These policies are anti-halachic as
they persecute the vulnerable,” he added.
Among those on the letter include Rabbi Barry Gelman of the United
Orthodox Synagogues of Houston, Rabbi Yosef Blau of Yeshiva University,
and Rabbi Adam Mintz of the Manhattan Kehilat Rayim Ahuvim, who has been
a member of the RCA for some 25 years, and been conducting conversions
for 20 years.
“The recently initiated regional conversion courts were created because
they establish the standards for conversions,” he told the Post
. “That was done in spirit of making conversion process uniform and halachic.”
“But to say that there is one standard displays no understanding of the
subjective quality of conversions,” each bearing unique characteristics
dealing with a different subject. “The Chief Rabbinate is saying that to
come to Israel you have to have a certain standard. But if someone is
accepted as a member of the RCA, the RCA should accept their
conversions,” he added.