Court orders Interior Ministry to register private Orthodox convert as Jew

The Interior Ministry has defied the spirit of a High Court of Justice ruling for 18 months by refusing to register as Jewish a woman who converted in a private, Orthodox rabbinical court.

The Western Wall in Jerusalem (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The Western Wall in Jerusalem
After defying the spirit of a High Court ruling for 18 months, the Interior Ministry has been ordered to register as Jewish in the population registry a woman who converted to Judaism in a non-state, Orthodox rabbinical court.
The ruling represents a significant victory for the ITIM religious services organization which brought the legal suit and the Giyur K’Halacha independent Orthodox rabbinical court, which is seeking greater legitimacy for its growing number of converts, mostly from the former Soviet Union.
ITIM director Rabbi Seth Farber said that the decision gives Giyur K’Halacha legal standing in Israel, and would make conversion through this framework more attractive for its target audience.
The ruling will not, however, influence the Chief Rabbinate’s stance, which does not recognize the Giyur K’Halacha’s conversions, meaning such converts will still not be eligible to marry in Israel since Jews can only marry through the Chief Rabbinate.
Interior Minister and Shas leader Arye Deri said in response that the decision in no way constitutes recognition of Giyur K’Halacha’s conversions.
The decision was handed down by the Jerusalem District Court last month, but only published on Thursday, and ruled in favor of ITIM’s demand that the woman in question be registered as Jewish.
She converted through Giyur K’Halacha in 2016, and then applied to be registered in the population registry of the Interior Ministry as Jewish in March 2017.
The right to be registered as Jewish was afforded to Orthodox, non-state converts in a dramatic ruling by the High Court of Justice in 2016, which determined that non-Israeli nationals who convert in independent Orthodox rabbinical courts in Israel should be eligible for citizenship under the Law of Return.
By extension, this meant that the Interior Ministry would have to register all conversions through non-state Orthodox rabbinical courts as Jewish, but the ministry has steadfastly refused to do so until now.
This led ITIM, which brought the initial petition to the High Court of Justice regarding non-state converts, to file a motion in the Jerusalem District Court in March this year to compel the ministry to comply with the 2016 ruling.
Farber welcomed the decision, saying that “it not only gives legitimacy and standing to the Giyur K’Halacha courts but also opens the door to thousands of young families who wish to fully join the Jewish people and have rights in Israel like other Jews.”
Giyur K’Halacha describes itself as “the largest private orthodox conversion court in the world,” founded three years ago and with more than 55 rabbis serving on its courts.
The president of Giyur K’Halacha is one of the most respected arbiters of Jewish law in the religious Zionist movement, Rabbi Nahum Rabinovich, and the convert herself converted under the auspices of Rabbi Yehuda Gilad of the Ma’aleh Gilboa Yeshiva in the summer of 2016.
“This is a Rosh Hashanah victory for immigrants, the State of Israel, and the Jewish people,” said Farber.
Deri said in response that the ruling did not have any significance.
“[The ruling] does not instruct the Interior Ministry or the Population Registry to do anything apart from declare the conversion for the purposes of registration, and does not constitute significant recognition of the conversion,” he said.
Farber responded that Deri “misunderstands the immigrant community from the former Soviet Union,” whom he said “feel disenfranchised as Jews and want to be recognized as Jewish by the state,” even if they do not care about the stance of the Chief Rabbinate.
Although registry as Jewish in the population registry is mostly a symbolic status, Giyur K’Halacha and ITIM, which is closely associated with the court, see the legal status afforded to these converts by the High Court decision as crucial in the struggle to eventually pressure the Chief Rabbinate into recognizing such converts, and thus enabling them to marry in Israel.
Giyur K’Halacha was established in order to increase the number of converts from the population of immigrants from the former Soviet Union who are not Jewish according to Jewish law as a way of stopping intermarriage in Israel.
The court mostly deals with converting minors – with parental consent – which is a far simpler process in Jewish law than converting an adult, and has converted almost 700 people in total since 2015.