Would-be converts must marry or leave partners, Knesset committee told

The practice has been called "coercive and unfair."

Tania Beider in 2018 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Tania Beider in 2018
“I am a proud Jew, my grandmother is a Holocaust survivor, I want my children to be Jewish,” a potential convert to Judaism tearfully told a Knesset committee hearing on Monday. The Immigration and Absorption Committee was meeting to address difficulties faced by people seeking to convert who are in a relationship.
Tania Beider, 26, was born in Ukraine and was brought to Israel by her parents when they immigrated and she was one year old. Her maternal grandmother is a Holocaust survivor who was hidden away by a Christian family during the Holocaust while her entire village was wiped out by the Nazis.
During the hearing, Beider spoke of how she had grown up with a strong Jewish identity and took pride in being part of the Jewish people.
Several years ago, Beider’s parents began divorce proceedings that had to be done through the rabbinical courts, even though they were married abroad. During those proceedings, an investigation was conducted into her parents’ Jewish status.
Because Beider’s maternal grandmother lost her entire family in the war and was adopted by Christians, she had no way of proving her Jewish ancestry, and subsequently lost her Jewish status.
Beider told The Jerusalem Post that she felt as if she had been “torn apart” when that official status was revoked. But because she wanted to be formally considered a part of the Jewish people in the future – along with any children she might have – she decided to undergo the state conversion course.
“I am part of the nation. I grew up here, this is the worst thing that could happen to someone. I am a proud Jew, my grandparents are Jewish, it is part of me, I live it, I want it for my children,” she said.
However, when she began the year-long conversion course, she was told that her boyfriend – who is Jewish and has no questions regarding his Jewish status – had to join the course with her and essentially become religious.
Beider decided that she did not want to force him to do this. So the two split up, although they have remained in touch.
BEIDER COMPLETED her year-long conversion course and eventually was given a hearing in the rabbinical court to gain approval for the final stages of her conversion. However, an anonymous complaint was made, saying she was still in a relationship with her boyfriend despite her protestations that they had separated.
The rabbinical court demanded that the man declare in front of it that the two were no longer together. However, when he did so, they did not believe him and stopped the conversion process in its tracks.
Following that, Beider subsequently got back together with her boyfriend.
Beider says she sought help within the Conversion Authority but that no one was willing to help her, and she eventually went to the press with her story.
During the hearing on Monday, the head of the Conversion Authority, Rabbi Yitzhak Peretz, said he was doing everything to resolve Beider’s case, and that he had arranged to meet with her on Tuesday to discuss how to move forward.
According to Rabbi Seth Farber, director of the ITIM religious services advisory and lobbying group, there are several dozen such cases every year.
Frequently, the rabbinical courts will demand that a conversion candidate who is in a relationship either break up with their partner or get married within two months of converting, requiring them to sign a declaration stating their intention to do so.
Beider says she does not know what she will do if she is given this choice, saying it would be “coercive and unfair” for the rabbinical court to force her to make such a decision at this stage. “People need to get married when they are both ready,” she said.
Farber said he understands the position of rabbinical judges who are reluctant to convert someone to Judaism if that person is in a sexual relationship outside of marriage. However, he added, if a couple is not living together, “There is no commandment to check what people are doing in their bedroom.”
He said the default position of the rabbinical courts should be to trust sincere converts who come before them. He also said that the demand for couples to get married within two months was unreasonable, both in terms of the undesirability of forcing someone to get married in general, and because many couples find it very hard to arrange a wedding in just two months.