ministry of religious services 311.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
On Monday morning, I will begin a new stage in my rabbinic career. I will appear
in the High Court of Justice as a plaintiff who is petitioning it against the
Chief Rabbinate. Over the past four months, since ITIM filed its petition
against the rabbinate and on behalf of Orthodox converts who cannot register for
marriage in their municipalities, hundreds of people have asked me why I needed
to go to such an extreme and sue in a secular court.
The response of the
rabbinate to our filing – published just last Monday – reinforces my conviction
that we are doing the right thing.
Jewish life here has been hijacked by
fundamentalists and, unfortunately, their ideologies have permeated into the
corridors of reason.
For almost two years, a set of zealot city rabbis
has unilaterally refused to register for marriage converts who converted through
the national conversion authority. After receiving close to 40 complaints about
individual rabbis, ITIM turned to the Chief Rabbinate, and asked – both
respectfully and quietly – that alternative marriage registrars be appointed in
those cities where the chief rabbi snubbed the national conversions. In April, I
spent a full day at the Chief Rabbinate trying to come up with a solution that
would stop the discrimination against converts.
The rabbinate was
unwilling to offer any meaningful solution.
My understanding is that the
chief rabbi is uncomfortable with those marriage registrars who refuse to
register converts, but prefers not to confront them directly by sanctioning them
for their behavior.
Unfortunately, this action continues to intimidate
converts – by not allowing them equal access to marriage registrars. This week,
the chief rabbi offered a potential solution: He is willing to appoint special
registrars for converts, thus, theoretically, allowing them easy access to
This is completely unsatisfactory.
tradition is exceptionally clear: The vulnerability of converts mandates
treat them as equals. If it is forbidden to remind a convert of his or
shouldn’t it be forbidden to make them (proverbially speaking) register
marriage on the back of the bus? The solution suggested by the chief
the onus on the convert, as if he did something wrong, rather than on
marriage registrars who, in my mind, are blatantly violating principles
Halacha. If a marriage registrar took a bus on Shabbat, I can’t imagine
take more than a few hours to have him replaced. But when he persecutes a
convert, he is rewarded.
In the end, the Rabbinate has
it cannot confront the fundamentalists on this issue.
choice, I will turn to the court on Monday, to try and bring reason back
religion.The writer is founder and director of ITIM, the Jewish Life
Information Center. He is the rabbi of Kehillat Netivot in Ra’anana and
An American Orthodox Dreamer: Rabbi Joseph B.
Boston’s Maimonides School.