At last, a new deal on mechanism for converts to marry

After a year in court, the agreement ensures converts can register for marriage just like other Israeli Jews.

Wedding generic (photo credit: Courtesy of Jason Hutchens)
Wedding generic
(photo credit: Courtesy of Jason Hutchens)
After over a year of an impassioned court debate, the state and ITIM – The Jewish Life Information Center have agreed on a mechanism set to ensure converts are registered for marriage by city rabbis in a way that is nearly identical to the procedure other Israeli Jews go through.
Last September, the state suggested that four regional rabbis would bear the the capacity to function as marriage registrars for converts from anywhere in the country.
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The solution came in the wake of the phenomenon of some city rabbis refusing to register state-approved converts for marriage. This situation was what had prompted Alina Sardiyokov, a convert to Judaism, and her husband, Maxim, ITIM and three other public petitioners last March to file a High Court of Justice petition against the rabbinate and four city rabbis.
The Chief Rabbinate refused to censure these rabbis, whose recalcitrance was in defiance of the very rabbinate they belonged to, and its suggestion was in effect to deflect converts to more lenient rabbis who would agree to register them. Normally an Israeli Jew can register for a wedding only in the rabbinate of the bride’s or groom’s locale, or where the wedding is to take place.
In March, the rabbinate further accepted that the converts may register in the city of their residence. However, if the city rabbi, in his capacity as marriage registrar, refused to register the convert, he would be obligated to transfer the request to one of the four rabbis appointed by the Chief Rabbinate.
These rabbis, as experts on conversion, would be able to approve the request and return it to the convert’s local rabbinate.
Thus, explained the State Attorney’s Office, which represented the rabbinate in the case, there would be no “stain” on the converts, since those regional rabbis whose signature approved the paperwork conduct many marriages, not just those of converts.
The petitioners had at the time raised the concern that such a bypassing-procedure need to be identical to any normal marriage registration, and earlier this week the state announced that there would be a limit of two weeks for passing on the request from the initial registrar to the next, and another two-week limit to have the wedding certificate approved after the wedding.
“We would like to remind that a couple seeking to register for a wedding must approach its religious council at least 45 days before their ceremony. So long the couples keep the aforementioned time limits, there should be no problems for those who underwent a state-approved conversion,” the State Attorney’s Office wrote in the summary of the decision from earlier this week.
In addition, the state noted the petitioners’ right to reopen the case in seven months, if they were not satisfied by the way the procedures were being implemented.
The arrangement seemed to have satisfied the petitioners, who on Thursday declared that “the affair of recognizing military and state conversions has reached its end, at least at the legal level.”
“We see in the state’s declaration a victory for the converts, and justification for the arduous struggle we led for them,” founder and head of ITIM Rabbi Seth Farber said. “From now on, converts will again be able to feel as an inseparable part of the Jewish people, without any inferiority.”
Yet at the same time, Farber stressed that “we still must be careful that such instances do not recur. ITIM will have to be the watchdog to make sure that this arrangement is implemented.”