Rabbinate to debate conversion solution

Chief Rabbi Amar proposes compromise ahead of High Court discussion.

rabbi amar torah 311 (photo credit: AP)
rabbi amar torah 311
(photo credit: AP)
The Council of the Chief Rabbinate is convening on Monday to debate a proposal that could solve the problem of marriage registrars who refuse to recognize state-certified converts and allow them to marry, ahead of a High Court of Justice sitting on the topic.
According to the State Attorney Office’s preliminary response to the High Court, issued on behalf of the rabbinate on Sunday, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar will propose to turn the entire State of Israel into one zone, as far as marriage registration is concerned.
This way, converts won’t be bound to undergo the process of registration with their city rabbis – who also function as marriage registrars and might be stringent and prone to annul conversions – but will be able to choose from a variety of registrars nationwide.
In March, a petition was filed by Alina and Maxim Sardiyokov, a convert to Judaism and her husband; ITIM – The Jewish Life Information Center; and three other public petitioners, including Maj.-Gen. (res.) Elazar Stern, former commander of the IDF’s Manpower Directorate. The petitioners took the rabbinate and four city rabbis to court for repeatedly refusing to grant marriage licenses to Israelis who converted to Judaism in Orthodox religious courts recognized by the state.
The rabbis named in the petition besides the Chief Rabbinate are Rabbi Haim Blau of Ashkelon, Rabbi Simcha Hacohen Kook of Rehovot, Rabbi Yehuda Dov Volpe of Rishon Lezion and Rabbi Yosef Sheinin of Ashdod.
The petition illuminated the rabbinate’s predicament of containing zealous representatives who do not accept the validity of some conversions approved by that same body’s official organs. The rabbinate held various meetings in the interim in an attempt to reach a formula that would suffice for the court to not intervene in a halachic matter, while not arousing the wrath of the more stringent elements in the rabbinate and the country’s rabbinical establishment.
The High Court is not eager to impose a ruling on the rabbinate, as the justices are aware that any decision reached and ratified by them wouldn’t hold water with the religious establishment, thus condemning the individual petitioners to a life of nonrecognition by the rabbinate.
In a discussion in June on a petition against city rabbis who annulled conversions, the court announced that it would bind the issue with that of the rabbis who don’t recognize conversions for marriage, and discuss the matters together.
It is ahead of that discussion, set to take place early next month, that the rabbinate hopes to reach an arrangement that would appease the petitioners and the court.
While the proposed solution isn’t likely to satisfy the Ashkenazi Lithuanian haredi rabbinic stream, headed by Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the principle of turning the country into one zone for marriage registration is similar to MK David Rotem’s proposal to do so for conversion courts, as it appears in his conversion bill.
This element was objected to by United Torah Judaism, but the haredi Ashkenazi party ultimately supported the bill in the Knesset Law Committee vote.
Meanwhile, Rabbi Seth Farber, head of one of the petitioners, ITIM, was also dissatisfied with Amar’s solution.
“Our court case provides the Chief Rabbinate the great opportunity to once and for all stand behind their own conversions,” he said on Sunday. “Instead, it appears that the rabbinate is trying to avoid confronting conversion annulment in a significant way, by seeking to circumvent those marriage registrars who refuse to register converts.
“In effect, this response empowers those fundamentalist rabbis who refuse to recognize the conversions of the state, and ultimately discriminates against converts who have made great sacrifices to join the Jewish people,” Farber said.
“I know Rabbi Amar seeks to avoid offending the ultra-Orthodox, but in this case, appeasing the zealots at the expense of the converts goes against the thrust of the halachic mandate to protect converts,” Farber added.