Rabbinical court retroactively invalidates decade-old conversion

According to the rabbinical court ruling, the woman met her partner during her military service while she was still studying for conversion in the IDF’s conversion program.

Overhead view of Beersheba (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Overhead view of Beersheba
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The Beersheba Rabbinical Court has invalidated the Jewish conversion of a woman who converted through the IDF conversion program, and has denied her the right to marry another Jew.
In a July ruling that has only recently come to light, the court said that since the woman, during her own conversion process, was cohabiting with a man who was also going through the conversion program – and he ultimately did not complete the process – the approval of her conversion should be reconsidered by the conversion court, since he was not Jewish and she did not reveal this to that court.
The drastic and controversial step prompted harsh criticism from Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, who said it created a situation in which no convert could ever feel certain that their Jewish status was assured.
According to the rabbinical court ruling, the woman – whose name has not been disclosed – met her partner during her military service while she was still studying for conversion in the IDF’s conversion program.
He was also in the process of converting, and she told the Beersheba rabbinical court justices that she continued to live with him during the conversion process so that he would complete it.
He did not ultimately complete the course, although she did, and the couple nevertheless married in a civil ceremony in 2015.
“It transpires therefore that at the time of her conversion, she had in mind to have relations with a man who was not Jewish who decided not to convert,” wrote the head of the judicial panel presiding over the case, Rabbi Eliyahu Edri.
The couple have since divorced, and the woman is now engaged to a Jewish man. His request for a marriage license is what brought her case to the attention of the local rabbinical court.
According to the court, the woman also acknowledged that she does not observe Shabbat, and that the only aspect of Jewish law she observes is keeping kosher.
“Anyone who converts understands that the heart of conversion is accepting the yoke of the commandments, and there is no doubt that the rabbinical courts for conversion explain this thoroughly,” the rabbis wrote in their decision. “Similarly, there is no doubt that to undergo the conversion process with the thought that after converting the convert will live with someone who is not Jewish is something that totally contradicts the concept of conversion.”
The decision instructed the woman to appear before the conversion court for it to decide if her conversion was not sincere.
The Beersheba Rabbinical Court said that it itself was not annulling her conversion since it was the IDF’s conversion court that should evaluate the matter.
Until that court reaches a decision, the woman will be prohibited from marrying, the Beersheba court ruled.
Liberman denounced the decision, saying that the woman’s conversion a decade ago had been done in accordance with Jewish law, and that the rabbinical court’s demand is “unacceptable.”
The decision, he said, “creates a reality in which converts are permanently in a state of concern that their conversion will be annulled. We cannot let this pass, and we must stop the illegitimate behavior of the rabbinical courts who behave in this crass and muscular manner toward entire communities, and distance them from Judaism.”
Rabbi Seth Farber, director of the ITIM religious services advisory organization, said he acknowledged that there is a debate within Jewish law whether a conversion can be annulled if a conversion candidate deceived the rabbinical court at the time of conversion.
He said, however, that it was “inconceivable that a relationship with a person in a conversion process, who unfortunately did not complete the procedure, can cast a shadow on the conversion of a woman who has been Jewish for nearly a decade. The fact that Rabbi Edri is questioning her conversion 10 years after it took place, even in the circumstances in which the woman keeps kosher and the conversion has obviously had an impact on her life, is unacceptable. This decision seems to be very shortsighted, and could cast a shadow on all other people converted in this system.”