Plan to register converts for marriage bypasses rabbis

The state is proposing solutions for converts who wish to marry but are rejected by stringent marriage registrars, by circumventing, but not removing, such rabbis.

Wedding 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Wedding 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The state is proposing solutions for converts who wish to marry but are rejected by stringent marriage registrars, by circumventing, but not removing, such rabbis.
In an answer to the High Court of Justice, submitted on Wednesday, the State Attorney’s Office reiterated and expanded its position as initially set forth last September: that four regional rabbis appointed by the Chief Rabbinate would have the capacity to function as marriage registrars for converts from anywhere in the country.
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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.
The updated answer comes in response to the petition filed by converts last March against the rabbinate and four city rabbis who have repeatedly refused to grant marriage licenses to Israelis who converted to Judaism in Orthodox religious courts recognized by the state.
The petition was filed by Alina Sardiyokov, a convert to Judaism, and her husband Maxim; ITIM – The Jewish Life Information Center; and three other public petitioners.
In the updated solution proposed by the state, 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 have 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.
This way, the State Attorney’s Office wrote, there would be no “stain” on the converts, since those regional rabbis signed on the paperwork conduct many marriages, not just those of converts.
The petitioners had charged that forcing the converts to register with specific rabbis would mark them as second-class Jews.
In addition, the process the converts would undergo, as far as the procedures, would be no different, since they would register through their local rabbinate, the state said.
“In light of that, we think that the Chief Rabbinate need not force the [recalcitrant city rabbis] to register couples for marriage against their consciences, due to the existence of a viable solution to the problem,” the state said.
Dr. Aviad Hacohen, dean of the Sha’arei Mishpat College and one of the attorneys representing converts in the petition, lauded the fact that “the state and Chief Rabbinate finally recognized the essential need to solve the issues concerning converts, who have tied their fate to that of the Jewish people.”
Hacohen, in a statement from Wednesday night, continued, “The true test of the new proposal will be in its practical implementation, in the possibility of converts to marry like any other Israelis, without being marked as different, in a matter that is contrary to the Jewish and democratic values of the State of Israel.”
ITIM head Rabbi Seth Farber also called the state’s answer “a step in the right direction,” but was still undecided as to whether the resolution would suffice for them to withdraw their petition.
“We’re still concerned,” he said on Thursday. Given how poorly the rabbis in question behaved with converts and fulfilling the Chief Rabbinate’s directives to register state-approved converts for marriage, he said, it would be important to ensure that they indeed followed the new orders, which might also go against their consciences.
“We need to guarantee that not only are the converts protected geographically, in that they needn’t distance from their locales to register for marriage,” but that their registration procedures shouldn’t take longer than anyone else’s, he added.
“Before we accept this offer, we will have to make sure that there are enough checks and balances in place that will guarantee their full rights,” he said. “Until then, the battle is not over.”