Orthodox convert from US ordered to leave Israel

"I received letter summarily booting me from country," woman says after Chief Rabbinate rules not to recognize her conversion.

Rabbinate fighting non-orthodox 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Rabbinate fighting non-orthodox 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The Interior Ministry has rejected an application for permanent residency by an Orthodox convert, after the Chief Rabbinate informed the ministry it did not recognize her conversion.
After the rabbinate’s decision, the ministry first rejected her aliya application. She does not want her name published.
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Speaking with The Jerusalem Post, the woman said that it was hard to express her feelings.
“It’s weird for me, after all this time. For the past six years I’ve been thinking I’m Jewish, and I have been accepted as Jewish by my parents, my sisters, my relatives, my friends, my colleagues and even strangers – and now suddenly, I’ve been told I’m not Jewish.
“I was told in two short lines, without any explanation, and I received the letter summarily booting me from the country. I never thought of myself as an ‘illegal alien’ or an unwelcome person, but suddenly I’m someone whose status is in question, not by those who know me but, rather, by those who don’t. How would you feel?”
The woman converted in 2005 under the auspices of the rabbi of one of the oldest established Orthodox synagogues in the US (located in New York). The rabbi is a well-respected Orthodox religious leader.
The decision by the ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority to consult the Chief Rabbinate violates a June agreement between authority director Amnon Ben-Ami and Knesset Committee for Aliya, Absorption and the Diaspora chairman MK Danny Danon (Likud).
The agreement stipulated that the ministry would consult with the Jewish Agency regarding the eligibility of Orthodox converts for aliya, instead of the Chief Rabbinate.
This was due to a series of aliya applications by Orthodox converts that were rejected by the rabbinate because it did not “recognize” their conversions.
Until this point, the rabbinate was the default agency for determining the validity of conversions conducted abroad, as a result of the lack of a centralized Orthodox body to make these decisions.
The Interior Ministry told the Post the case was being examined “according to all the criteria,” and that the Population, Immigration and Border Authority “will act in accordance with all agreements.”
A spokesman for the Jewish Agency criticized the Interior Ministry over its decision and said that agency chairman Natan Sharansky would speak to Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) about it.
“This decision was a violation of the agreement between the Interior Ministry and the Jewish Agency,” the spokesman said. “We checked the conversion and concluded that it is completely in keeping with the requirements of the Law of Return. We told the ministry that this was the case, and we are saddened that other considerations went into the decision regarding this person’s aliya.”
Danon told the Post, “I trust the wisdom of [Chief] Rabbi Shlomo Amar, but I will look into this specific incident if I can get the exact details of the case.”
The woman is a PhD candidate who has spent time in Israel conducting research for two six-month periods, in 2008 and again this year.
Having been informed by the Interior Ministry that she was no longer eligible for tourist visas, she applied for permanent residency as the only option available to her.
On November 16, she received a letter dated November 1, stating that her application was denied and that she had two weeks to leave the country from the date the letter was written.
She turned to ITIM: The Jewish- Life Information Center, for help, which subsequently appealed the decision to the Interior Ministry. She has been allowed to remain in the country while the case is under consideration.
“We have reached a new low for converts,” ITIM director Rabbi Seth Farber said. “The insensitive attitude of the Interior Ministry is unconscionable and counters Jewish tradition which forbids Jews from persecuting converts.
“Converts are exceptionally vulnerable and have nowhere to turn. The Torah mentions being kind to the convert 36 times! “ITIM sued the ministry in June, and we will be forced to do so again if they won’t abide by the agreement. In the past 24 hours ITIM has reached out to Amnon Ben-Ami – who signed the agreement – and has given them the opportunity to rectify the situation without having to involve the court.”
According to a 1988 Supreme Court decision, the criteria determining the aliya eligibility of converts are that the community and rabbi through which they converted must be recognized as legitimate, and that in turn, the community and rabbi recognize the convert as a Jew and a community member in good standing.
For Conservative and Reform converts the verification process is simplified by the centralized community bodies for each religious stream, which can easily confirm whether someone has converted through their offices.
The lack of a central umbrella body for all Orthodox communities makes this verification much harder for Orthodox converts, resulting in the confirmation of aliya eligibility of these converts being contracted out to the Chief Rabbinate.
Historically, instead of addressing the legal requirements as stipulated by the Supreme Court, the rabbinate approved or rejected a convert’s aliya application based on its own criteria. Due to this, Orthodox converts found it much harder to make aliya than those who had converted through other streams of Judaism.
The agreement between the Population, Immigration and Border Authority and Danon states that in cases in which the Jewish Agency cannot verify an Orthodox conversion, the Interior Ministry may consult with the Chief Rabbinate.
In the current case, the Jewish Agency verified that the community and the rabbi through which the woman converted were authentic, and the rabbi recognized her as having converted under his auspices, and as a member of his community.