Aliya criteria of Orthodox converts comes under fire

Interior Ministry refuses to explain means used; religious rights advocacy group: Orthodox converts suffering because of ministry’s "unconscionable decisions."

Amnon Ben-Ami 370 (photo credit: Courtesy Population and Immigration Authority)
Amnon Ben-Ami 370
(photo credit: Courtesy Population and Immigration Authority)
The Interior Ministry is refusing to explain the means by which it determines whether or not Orthodox converts who converted abroad are eligible to make aliya.
In March, The Jerusalem Post reported on the case of Lidiah Bikus, an Orthodox convert who converted in Kiev, Ukraine, and who is seeking to immigrate to Israel.
As well as addressing the specifics of the case, the ministry said in its response to the Post’s inquiries that, more broadly, any requests made at present by converts to make aliya that are brought to the ministry, are examined “in accordance with the draft criteria... and in accordance with the letter between MK Danny Danon and the director of the Population and Conversion Authority Amnon Ben-Ami.”
The letter referenced deals with a separate but related issue, agreeing that the ministry consult with the Jewish Agency regarding the eligibility of Orthodox converts for aliya, instead of the Chief Rabbinate.
The ministry has refused repeated requests to provide the Post with a copy of the draft criteria. A spokeswoman said in response to a further request that “we are not accustomed to make available internal documents which have not been finalized.”
Bikus’ conversion has been recognized by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Rabbinical Court of Bnei Brak, directed by Rabbi Shmuel Karlitz, and Bikus supplied documentation proving this.
However, the ministry says that Bikus has not provided other required documentation in accordance with “internal procedures” and has encountered numerous bureaucratic hurdles from the Interior Ministry for over a year.
In 2005, the Supreme Court specifically outlawed the Interior Ministry’s use of a condition it stipulated for Orthodox converts making aliya from abroad, which said that such converts remain with the same community in which they converted for 9-12 months before being eligible for aliya.
The Supreme Court also demanded that the government produce new criteria for determining whether converts are eligible for aliya, but these have still not been issued.
In January 2011, the government agreed to set up a framework for negotiations between the Interior Ministry, the Jewish Agency and the Conservative and Reform movements to produce a clear set of criteria to approve or deny the application for immigrant status by someone who converted outside of Israel.
To date, there has only been one meeting between the relevant parties, which took place at the beginning of 2011.
ITIM, a religious rights advocacy group that has been assisting Bikus in her aliya efforts, believes that the Interior Ministry is still using the criteria that the Supreme Court outlawed in 2005.
ITIM director Rabbi Seth Farber – who is also an Orthodox rabbi of a synagogue in Ra’anana – told the Post that too many orthodox converts are suffering because of the “unconscionable decisions” of the Interior Ministry.
“ITIM plans to reach out to the Knesset to investigate the outrageous behavior of the Interior Ministry and we also plan to ask the government to publish the criteria they are working with, in accordance with the Freedom of Information law,” Farber said. “This will be a first step in approaching the Supreme Court once again over this matter.”
“If the government acknowledges that it is operating based on a draft, and it won’t publish that draft, then what are Orthodox converts supposed to do?” Interior Minister Eli Yishai refused a request by the Post to comment.
According to a 1988 Supreme Court decision, the criteria determining the aliya eligibility of converts are that the community and rabbi through which they converted must be recognized as legitimate, and that in turn, the community and rabbi recognize the convert as a Jew and a community member in good standing.
For Conservative and Reform converts, the verification process is simplified by the centralized community bodies for each religious stream, which can easily confirm whether someone has converted through their offices.
The lack of a central umbrella body for all Orthodox communities makes this verification much harder for Orthodox converts.