Panel upholds canceled conversion

Ruling by Rabbi Shlomo Amar comes just in time for man to marry in Jewish ceremony.

shlomo amar 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
shlomo amar 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
In an encouraging sign for converts whose Jewishness has been questioned by the haredi-controlled rabbinic establishment, Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar ruled this week that a conversion annulled by a Haifa Rabbinic Court was perfectly kosher. Amar's ruling was handed down on Tuesday, just in time to allow the convert to wed the woman of his choice in a Jewish ceremony that was slated to take place Wednesday evening in Haifa. More than 15 years ago, S.V., the groom, was converted as a child along with his mother by a Haifa Rabbinic Court, headed by former chief Sephardi Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron. However, several months ago, when S.V. attempted to register for marriage at the Haifa Religious Council, he was rejected. The local registrar referred him to the local rabbinical court to verify his conversion. The Haifa Rabbinic Court ruled that S.V.'s conversion was invalid since he had abandoned an Orthodox lifestyle when he reached bar mitzva age. S.V. appealed to the Supreme Court against the rabbinical court decision. However, this past Monday the Supreme Court ruled that S.V. had to first exhaust his option of appealing to the Supreme Rabbinic Court before the Supreme Court could get involved. The next day, S.V. appeared before Amar and two other judges: Rabbi Ezra Bar-Shalom, the son-in-law of Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and Rabbi Zion Buaron. The panel ruled that S.V. was a full-fledged Jew. A source close to Amar said that S.V.'s father was a Moroccan Jew, like the chief rabbi, which facilitated dialogue. Amar made aliya from Casablanca in 1962, at age 14. "They are a traditional family that does its best to keep the mitzvot," said the source. The judges based their ruling on the Talmudic principle that a minor who is converted by a rabbinic court is considered Jewish when he reaches adulthood as long as he does not protest the conversion. In S.V.'s case, not only did he not protest the conversion, he even celebrated his bar mitzva and showed the rabbinic court pictures of himself wearing tefillin. S.V. also said that he and his wife-to-be planned to strengthen their adherence to kashrut, family purity laws and Shabbat. Amar's ruling came weeks after the chief rabbi took over control of all cases involving conversion that reach the Supreme Rabbinic Court. The move was aimed at bypassing Rabbi Avraham Sherman, a controversial dayan who has questioned the legitimacy of conversions performed by the Chief Rabbinate. Rabbi Nahum Eisenstein, who has close ties to Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the preeminent halachic authority of Ashkenazi haredim, said that while he was not familiar with the details of the case, he was concerned that a person who did not lead an Orthodox lifestyle was recognized as Jewish. "Rabbi Amar committed himself in writing to the position that there can be no conversion without a complete acceptance of Torah and mitzvot," said Eisenstein. "But the facts on the ground seem to show otherwise." Eisenstein said meetings had taken place over the past month with leading rabbis to discuss what steps could be taken to fight the phenomenon of legitimizing conversions that lack a full commitment to Halacha. He refused to say which options were being discussed, but he ruled out the option of maintaining a separate haredi list of "who is a Jew."•