Interior Ministry sued over Orthodox conversion recognition

The ITIM institute petitioned the High Court of Justice against the Ministry's refusal to grant citizenship to Orthodox converts who converted abroad.

Eli Yishai 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Eli Yishai 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The ITIM institute petitioned the High Court of Justice Thursday against the Ministry of Interior’s refusal to grant citizenship to Orthodox converts who converted abroad. The lawsuit, submitted by the Jewish Life Information Center on behalf of Canadian convert Thomas Dohlan, called on the court to order the ministry to explain its decision to refuse him citizenship under the Law of Return and prevent the ministry from taking action to expel him from the country.
ITIM’s lawyers, Dr. Aviad Hakohen and Yeshayahu Avraham, argued in the petition that the Ministry of Interior’s refusal to grant Dohlan and others like him citizenship because of the Rabbinic Council’s failure to recognize Orthodox conversions performed abroad was illegal and discriminatory.
RELATED:The Human Spirit: Conversion without tears ‘National religious rabbis have annulled conversions' In February, the Interior Ministry rejected Dohlan’s request to make aliya since “according to the Chief Rabbinate, this is a conversion that is not recognized,” despite his Orthodox conversion being conducted by a court composed of two rabbis from the International Rabbinic Fellowship and one from the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA).
The Chief Rabbinate in 2008 decided that it would only accept Orthodox conversions conducted in the US by the RCA in 10 regional rabbinic courts across North America.
Non-Orthodox conversions from abroad by established courts, while not recognized by the rabbinate, are accepted by the Interior Ministry for citizenship in Israel.
Two months ago, the Chief Rabbinate, Interior Ministry and State Attorney’s Office declared at the end of a special Knesset Aliya Committee hearing that they would draw up new procedures to determine the validity of Orthodox conversions as regards aliya, and set themselves a 45-day deadline to that end. No such procedures were set, while Dohlan and other such converts remain in their Orthodox limbo.
“With one hand the state – the Jewish state – calls on all Jews, including true converts, to immigrate to Israel; and with the other hand it, through the Interior Ministry, rejects them, overburdens them and humiliates them and harms their basic human rights of equality,” reads the petition.
According to the petition, Dohlan completed his conversion process in a recognized Orthodox Beit Din in Montreal, and the Rabbinic Council has no right to question the validity of such a conversion or to instruct the Interior Ministry not to grant him citizenship based on the Council’s refusal to recognize it. The petition states that such failure to recognize conversions not only infringes on Orthodox converts’ rights but also discriminates against them, since converts from other streams of Judaism do not require the Rabbinic Council’s recognition.
“In their arbitrary custom, the respondents injure the petitioner’s dignity, questioning the integrity of his conversion and his Judaism; limit his ability to work and deny him the various rights granted to immigrants to Israel; discriminate against him relative to others who converted in non-Orthodox communities abroad – Reform and Conservative communities recognized by the ministry without requiring the ‘liaison’ or ‘recognition’ of the Chief Rabbinic Council,” the petition read, adding that, “recognition of a conversion is not among the authorities granted to the Rabbinic Council and that its intervention in the matter was an alleged deviation of its authorities.”
The petition continues to argue that the Interior Ministry has no right to question a conversion performed by a recognized community abroad, that the ministry never published regulations regarding the validity of conversions, and that the ministry even lacks the tools to make an educated decision regarding the “kosherness” of such a conversion.
Hakohen noted in a statement that “the petition shows the harsh discrimination the Interior Ministry applies to converts who wish to join the Jewish people, while harming their dignity, freedom and ability to have a normal life. It makes it even worse that the policy is in contrast to Jewish and democratic values, and allegedly holds former court decisions in contempt.”
“Unfortunately, the only way to protect converts is through the High Court of Justice,” said ITIM founder and head Rabbi Seth Farber. “This is how the issue of military conversions was resolved in our previous petition, and what we hope to see this time.”
It was the ITIM petition against recalcitrant marriage registrars that recently forced the Chief Rabbinate to declare IDF conversions kosher.
“Since Dohlan’s case, over a dozen similar cases of converts who are being refused Interior Ministry recognition have reached ITIM – this simply cannot go on any further. On Independence Day Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called on every Jew in the world to make aliya, while in practice the Interior Ministry is preventing it,” Farber added.