Rabbi's wrath

Ethiopian victim of rabbi's road rage has conversion revoked.

MK Shlomo Molla 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
MK Shlomo Molla 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The wrath of the rabbis seems to be chasing N., an Ethiopian immigrant who converted to Judaism in 2003. In recent weeks N. received a letter from the State Conversion Authority, which operates under the aegis of the Chief Rabbinate, informing her that her conversion and Jewish status had been revoked. At the end of June, the Jerusalem District Court handed down what the Ethiopian community considers to be a disappointingly light sentence to a young, well-connected rabbi who ran down N. with his car in a hit and run attack in January 2006. The letter announcing the annulment of N.'s conversion was publicized by MK Shlomo Molla (Kadima), who said he was contacted by the Ethiopian woman. Molla said the reason for the annulment was N's "un-Orthodox lifestyle," and that N. insisted on remaining anonymous and refused to speak to the press. Sources within the Conversion Authority, who were not familiar with the details of N.'s case, said a conversion is annulled after the fact only when information that was not known by the rabbinical conversion court at the time of the conversion is received. The most common reason for annulling a conversion, said the source, is the discovery, after cross-referencing data supplied by Interior Ministry with information from the Conversion Authority, that the convert was married to a non-Jew at the time of the conversion. "There is no way that any conversion court would convert someone if the judges knew that the prospective convert was married to a gentile," said a conversion court judge who works with Ethiopian converts. "Therefore, if it turns out later that this is the case, we say that there never was a conversion to begin with." The same Ethiopian woman who had her Jewishness revoked, was the victim of a hit and run attack perpetrated by a yeshiva student aspiring to become a rabbinical judge. At the time, N. was working as a cashier in a parking lot in Jerusalem. The haredi driver attempted to leave the parking lot without paying. N. blocked the car's exit with her body. But the driver proceeded, lifting the woman onto the hood of the car and carrying her 15 meters before knocking her to the ground. The woman lost consciousness from the impact and sustained head injuries. The driver attempted to deny the incident until he was confronted with video from a security camera installed at the scene of the hit and run. The yeshiva student, who brought to court recommendations from Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar and Shas spiritual mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, asked Jerusalem District Court Judge Moshe Drori to be lenient, claiming that an excessively stringent ruling that said his offense constituted moral turpitude would block him from being appointed as a judge in the rabbinical courts, which is a public office. In a controversial decision which is being appealed to the Supreme Court by the state prosecution and might have ruined Drori's chances of getting himself appointed to the High Court of Justice, Drori ruled that since the young driver's apology had been accepted by the Ethiopian woman, there was no need to determine that the driver's offense constituted moral turpitude. Much of the 321-page decision was devoted to arguing for the importance of implementing Halacha - including laws governing the process of repentance - in the civil court system. Drori argued that by sincerely apologizing and paying NIS 10,000 in damages to N., the driver had repented his sin. Drori also obligated the haredi man, a father of three, to perform 150 hours of public service that did not interfere with his teaching at a yeshiva. As a result of the ruling, the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews strongly lobbied against Drori's candidacy as a Supreme Court justice. "A judge who appears to be racially biased needs to be double-checked before he is even considered as a candidate to be a justice on the Supreme Court," said Avi Masfin, spokesman for the association. Masfin said the Ethiopian community was particularly angered by a quote from Drori's decision in which he wrote, "At first [N.] was hesitant, held back by the feeling that she was treated like a dog by the defendant and was therefore not worthy of standing before the court. "But when she saw that the judge listened to her respectfully, the lawyers took her seriously and the defendant was repentant, there was a real improvement in her self-image." Molla did not rule out the possibility that there was a connection between the court battle against the young rabbi and the annulment of N.'s conversion. "Perhaps someone in the Rabbinate is angry with N. and wants revenge," the MK said.