Rabbinate torn between state, halacha

Conversion dispute has Rabbis struggling between dual loyalties.

April 26, 2010 01:53
2 minute read.
Rabbinate torn between state, halacha

jerusalem rabbinate 248.88. (photo credit: Knesset Channel)


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The High Court of Justice is due to decide on Monday whether to give the Chief Rabbinate more time to respond to a petition against city rabbis who have seemingly rejected official conversions, or whether to simply rule on the petition.

The Chief Rabbinate, which was supposed to respond to the petition on Sunday, has asked for a postponement. It was apparently unable to formulate a response, as it is torn between its capacity as the State of Israel’s official body in charge of religious matters, and the actions of its more zealous representatives, who are not accepting the validity of some conversions approved by that same body’s official organs.

The petition was filed against the rabbinate and four city rabbis who have repeatedly refused to grant marriage licenses to Israelis who converted to Judaism in Orthodox religious courts recognized by the state.

The petition was filed by Alina and Maxim Sardiyokov, a convert to Judaism, and her husband; ITIM – The Jewish Life Information Center; and three other public petitioners, including Maj.-Gen. (Res.) Elazar Stern, former commander of the IDF’s Manpower Directorate.

Named in the petition besides the Chief Rabbinate are Rabbi Haim Blau of Ashkelon, Rabbi Simcha Hacohen Kook of Rehovot, Rabbi Yehuda Dov Volpe of Rishon Lezion and Rabbi Yosef Sheinin of Ashdod.

The petitioners object to the postponement of even a single day, as it is “not in the interest of the state or the converts for this absurd situation to go on any longer,” Rabbi Seth Farber of ITIM told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.

“When the phenomenon of marriage registrars not recognizing state-approved conversions came to light, a Knesset committee requested of Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger to resolve the issue, and Metzger suggested appointing marriage registrars in the stead of those who don’t abide with the decision of the original courts that approved the conversions,” Metzger’s spokesman explained to the Post on Sunday.

“However, haredi residents of the cities in which those very stringent rabbis reside objected to the notion, as it would cause their rabbis to appear as rubber stamps to a decision upon which they find reason to cast doubt.”

The state recognizes conversions conducted by the rabbinical courts, the special conversion courts administered by the Prime Minister’s Office and the IDF Rabbinate.

“The rabbis who cast doubt on the conversions do so following reasonable doubts that arise when discussing the conversion process with the marriage applicants, and see themselves obliged to correct an erroneous decision made by the conversion court, which might have been misled by the converts, who could have been prompted by the conversion ulpanim to mislead the rabbis in their answers,” the spokesman continued.

“On the other hand, the Rabbinical Council is aware of the absurd situation in which a state-approved conversion is not accepted by another state-appointed body, the city’s rabbis and marriage registrars. The council is still contemplating its answer to the court petition, and has requested that the court grant it more time to that end.

“The problem lies in the fact that there are no clear-cut procedures on conversion, unlike other state-regulated fields pertaining to religion, such as kashrut,” the spokesman added. “That is what we are hoping to amend now.”

Dan Izenberg contributed to this report.

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