Sharansky: More converts should be able to immigrate

Jewish Agency head recommends that Agency, and not heads of relevant religious community, advise ministry on validity of immigrant's status.

By JONAH MANDEL
February 22, 2011 06:29
2 minute read.
Natan Sharansky

Natan Sharansky 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

In an effort to curb the trend of Orthodox converts from abroad not being recognized by Israel for citizenship, the Jewish Agency on Tuesday appealed the Interior Ministry for a more dominant role in identifying established Diaspora communities as such.

A resolution passed on Tuesday by the agency’s board of governors called on the government “to confirm the role of the Jewish Agency as a body directed to ascertain, through inquiry with appropriate parties in the relevant country, that the party confirming the Jewish eligibility of a prospective oleh for the purposes of aliya is qualified to do so.”

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Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky said the resolution does not seek to establish the Jewish Agency as the judge of who is a rabbi, nor to sway the rabbinate’s positions on the halachic validity of conversions being conducted abroad. The resolution only aims to address the fact that the Interior Ministry, which according to the Law of Return must give citizenship to converts coming from established Diaspora communities, was basing its civilian policy on the recommendations of the halachic stances of the Chief Rabbinate, in cases of Orthodox converts.

While the Chief Rabbinate does not recognize Orthodox conversions from North American rabbinic courts that are not part of the regional network established by the Rabbinic Council of America, it never contested the general legitimacy of Orthodox communities at large.

“We ask the Israeli government to consult with us on deciding which communities are normative communities,” Sharansky said, emphasizing the organization’s intimacy with the Jewish world around the globe.

“One must differentiate between Halacha and the Law of Return,” Sharansky reiterated.

Despite a High Court decision from several years ago, the Interior Ministry has yet to formulate an official policy on the matter. It currently operates on the basis of an internal memo drafted by its legal department in 2008. The memo refers the ministry to the head of the relevant religious community in Israel, when determining if a convert should be eligible for citizenship.

A spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry said on Tuesday that they were not aware of the agency’s new resolution, but stressed that there were ongoing talks between the relevant bodies, at the ministry’s initiative, “to put this issue into order once and for all.”

The Chief Rabbinate would not comment on the topic, but said that a meeting on Wednesday would clarify the rabbinate’s stance on the issue.

Sources close to the rabbinate said that they were inclined to accept the direction suggested by the Jewish Agency.

The current situation leads to non-Orthodox conversions being more easily accepted for citizenship, than the Orthodox ones, need the Chief Rabbinate’s approval.


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