If Jews left Egypt today, many would be barred entry

Simply put: The Interior Ministry would keep them out.

New Olim Israeli flags celebration zionist 390 (photo credit: Elle Yahalom)
New Olim Israeli flags celebration zionist 390
(photo credit: Elle Yahalom)
When someone applies for aliya today, the Interior Ministry vets their application. Only once an application is approved can the individual exercise his or her right to emigrate to Israel. Since the early 1970s, the amended Law of Return has enabled anyone converting to Judaism – not only those born Jewish – to make aliya. But over the past decade, this law has suffered an enormous setback, one that torments hundreds of Jews each year.
Beginning in 2002, the ministry initiated a secret protocol that raised the bar on who is considered a convert. Even if one went through the 10 plagues of conversion, crossed through the Red Sea and accepted the Torah, one still is not accepted as Jewish by the State of Israel... unless. Unless one can demonstrate a host of proofs that seem to change with the winds.
One client whom ITIM: Resources and Advocacy for Jewish Life is now representing applied for aliya from Israel but was told that she had to provide proof that she had been a member of the community in which she converted for a year before the conversion. When she brought that, she was told that she had to bring proof she had been a member of the community for a year following the conversion. When she brought that, she was told she had to bring a letter that she is a member of a community here. When she brought that she didn’t get an answer.
Since 2002, I have met tens of Jewish families and singles who converted to Judaism under Orthodox auspices – in many cases I got their conversions certified by the Chief Rabbi of Israel – but whom were unable to make aliya, or had their aliya delayed for months because of the protocols of the ministry.
The rabbinate may consider you Jewish, but the State of Israel doesn’t.
And if the rabbinate doesn’t consider you Jewish, then you have to prove your conversion took place in a “recognized community.” The problem is, there is no list of “recognized communities.”
In recent months, the ministry has gone even farther – because there are no checks and balances in Israel – and has extended their new criteria to students as well. No less than 10 students who are in yeshivot and seminaries in one-year programs this year contacted ITIM in the past two months after their requests for a visa extension were denied.
Why? Because even though their (or in some cases, their parents’) conversions were fully Orthodox and accepted by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, they hadn’t demonstrated that their families lived in the converting community for a year before and a year after the conversion.
At the Passover seder we emphasize how vulnerable we were as strangers. We commit ourselves to a better future. And yet, we continue to oppress those Jews who are fully committed to our people and our faith.
In one case that I was involved in, a convert, recognized by the rabbinate as Jewish, tried to come to Israel as a tourist, but was deported (and put on a plane on Shabbat), because she didn’t meet the ministry’s requirements for aliya.
What makes the ministry’s behavior even more grievous is that in 2005 the Supreme Court ruled their criteria vis a vis converts to be illegal. And yet, the ministry continues to operate using similar criteria. As one person expressed to me, in Israel, a Supreme Court decision is only a recommendation, not a mandate.
Some of these converts are already living fully Jewish lives in Israel, as tourists or spouses of Israelis. But others are struggling to get here. ITIM is now representing two families who converted abroad, and are not being issued visas to enter the State of Israel, even though they are Jewish according to every religious standard. Though the Jewish Agency certifies their conversions, the ministry – and particularly its legal desk – refuses to recognize these people, and simply buries their applications.
The layers of insensitivity and incompetence, and worst of all randomness, are disgraceful for our country and for the Jewish people. Shame on us for our silence. And shame on the clerks and their bosses who let this situation continue unchecked.
At this year’s seder, I thought about all those converts who rightfully deserve a place in Israel. And I recommitted myself to doing all I can to bring them here in the coming months. To do anything less is to reject the very message of the seder night.
The writer, a rabbi, is the director of ITIM: Resources and Advocacy for Jewish Life and the rabbi of Kehillat Netivot in Ra’anana.