Rabbis come to aid of converts

Religious Zionist rabbis set up a hotline to aid converts whose Jewishness might be called into question.

haim drukman 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
haim drukman 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A group of religious Zionist rabbis decided Monday to set up a hotline to aid converts whose Jewishness might be called into question. The move came after the High Rabbinical Court, in a decision that experts called unprecedented and highly controversial, retroactively annulled a woman's conversion and excoriated Rabbi Haim Druckman, the head of the National Conversion Authority. The decision could have far-reaching ramifications for hundreds of others who converted through Druckman. Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who is also president of the High Rabbinical Court, attempted to ameliorate the situation by publicly announcing that the conversions would be recognized and that Druckman was kosher. However, hundreds of converts, who have been living for years as Jews, were staggered by the High Court ruling and are now concerned that they and their offspring will not be recognized by religious institutions in Israel as Jews. Since all marriages among Jews are carried out by the Chief Rabbinate, the high court decision could prevent hundreds of converts and their children from getting married. In addition, rabbinical divorce courts, the only statutory body empowered to annul marriages, might not demand a writ of divorce in cases where a convert married a Jew. In Jewish law, the marriage of a gentile and a Jew is not formally recognized. On Monday, Tzohar rabbis decided to create a hotline and provide rabbis who could defend converts before marriage registrars and rabbinical courts. Many of the converts are either children adopted abroad who were required to undergo a conversion as part of their Israeli naturalization process, or immigrants from the former Soviet Union who came to Israel under the Law of Return but who are not Jewish according to Orthodox Jewish law. "We plan to publicize [the hotline] in the Russia-language media," said Rabbi Rafi Feuerstein, chairman of Tzohar, who stressed that his organization would not do anything against the law. "We want to send out a message to converts that they are not alone. They should also know that Rabbi Amar has promised to recognize them as full-fledged Jews," he said. "The Talmud says that the rabbinic court is the father of the convert. So we are just trying to fulfill our religious duty." Another organization that has come to the aid of converts affected by the rabbinical court decision is ITIM, a nonprofit headed by Rabbi Shaul Farber that helps converts navigate the bureaucracies of the religious establishment.