My petition against the Chief Rabbinate

In my fight to stop the discrimination against converts, I am turning to the High Court of Justice

ministry of religious services 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
ministry of religious services 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
On Monday morning, I will begin a new stage in my rabbinic career. I will appear in the High Court of Justice as a plaintiff who is petitioning it against the Chief Rabbinate. Over the past four months, since ITIM filed its petition against the rabbinate and on behalf of Orthodox converts who cannot register for marriage in their municipalities, hundreds of people have asked me why I needed to go to such an extreme and sue in a secular court.
The response of the rabbinate to our filing – published just last Monday – reinforces my conviction that we are doing the right thing.
Jewish life here has been hijacked by fundamentalists and, unfortunately, their ideologies have permeated into the corridors of reason.
For almost two years, a set of zealot city rabbis has unilaterally refused to register for marriage converts who converted through the national conversion authority. After receiving close to 40 complaints about individual rabbis, ITIM turned to the Chief Rabbinate, and asked – both respectfully and quietly – that alternative marriage registrars be appointed in those cities where the chief rabbi snubbed the national conversions. In April, I spent a full day at the Chief Rabbinate trying to come up with a solution that would stop the discrimination against converts.
The rabbinate was unwilling to offer any meaningful solution.
My understanding is that the chief rabbi is uncomfortable with those marriage registrars who refuse to register converts, but prefers not to confront them directly by sanctioning them for their behavior.
Unfortunately, this action continues to intimidate converts – by not allowing them equal access to marriage registrars. This week, the chief rabbi offered a potential solution: He is willing to appoint special registrars for converts, thus, theoretically, allowing them easy access to marriage registration.
This is completely unsatisfactory.
Jewish tradition is exceptionally clear: The vulnerability of converts mandates us to treat them as equals. If it is forbidden to remind a convert of his or her past, shouldn’t it be forbidden to make them (proverbially speaking) register for marriage on the back of the bus? The solution suggested by the chief rabbi puts the onus on the convert, as if he did something wrong, rather than on those marriage registrars who, in my mind, are blatantly violating principles of Halacha. If a marriage registrar took a bus on Shabbat, I can’t imagine it would take more than a few hours to have him replaced. But when he persecutes a convert, he is rewarded.
In the end, the Rabbinate has demonstrated that it cannot confront the fundamentalists on this issue.
With no other choice, I will turn to the court on Monday, to try and bring reason back to religion.
The writer is founder and director of ITIM, the Jewish Life Information Center. He is the rabbi of Kehillat Netivot in Ra’anana and the author of An American Orthodox Dreamer: Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and Boston’s Maimonides School.