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Conversion 311.(Photo by: Ariel Jerozolimski)
North American rabbis demand Yishai 'rectify injustice'
By JONAH MANDEL
02/21/2011
Appeal comes in wake of Interior Ministry decision to accept converts of only 10 regional rabbinical courts for granting Israeli citizenship.
Nearly 100 orthodox North American rabbis signed a letter demanding of Interior Minister Eli Yishai to “rectify the injustice being done to our converts, ourselves and the Jewish people” and “insure that those individuals whom we convert will automatically be eligible for aliyah as they have been in the past.”

The appeal, scheduled to be delivered to Yishai on Tuesday morning, comes in the wake of the ministry's policy to accept primarily the converts of ten regional courts established a few years ago by the Rabbinic Council of America for the purpose of granting Israeli citizenship. This directly follows the Chief Rabbinate's policy of only recognizing the Judaism of converts from those courts (the RCA established eleven, but the rabbinate only recognizes ten of them), and creates a reality in which an orthodox convert from abroad could face more difficulties from the Interior Ministry in making aliyah than a convert from a Reform or Conservative community.

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“We are concerned that some of the conversions performed under our auspices are being questioned vis-à-vis aliyah eligibility,” the rabbis, belonging to the RCA, International Rabbinic Fellowship, Orthodox Union and Yeshiva University write Yishai. “We find this unacceptable, and turn to you in an effort to insure that those individuals whom we convert will automatically be eligible for aliyah as they have been in the past.”

“Recent reports that the Interior Ministry is consulting with the Israeli Chief Rabbinate are disturbing. Those Orthodox rabbinical leaders in the United States who are content with such an arrangement represent only one slice of the North American Orthodox Jewish community, and do not represent us or our constituencies,” the rabbis wrote of the RCA regional conversion court system. At least one of the rabbis signed on the document is a member of one of the RCA's regional courts.

“As rabbis and as Zionists, we call upon you to clarify the situation and rectify the injustice being done to our converts, ourselves and the Jewish people,” they concluded.

The letter was initiated by head of ITIM Rabbi Seth Farber, whose Jewish life information center is encountering more and more cases in which not only the rabbinate won't recognize conversions by established orthodox communities from abroad, but the Interior Ministry won't grant such a convert citizenship under the Law of Return.

“I began this initiative out of a sense of the unity of the Jewish people,” he told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. “Unfortunately, those entrusted with determining who is a Jew are often unaware of the complexities of diaspora Jewish life. This could cause a major rift between Jewish communities around the world and in Israel,” he warned. “It is bad for Israel and bad for the Jewish unity. At this time, we need understanding and sensitivity, not dismissiveness and divisiveness. These policies are anti-halachic as they persecute the vulnerable,” he added.

Among those on the letter include Rabbi Barry Gelman of the United Orthodox Synagogues of Houston, Rabbi Yosef Blau of Yeshiva University, and Rabbi Adam Mintz of the Manhattan Kehilat Rayim Ahuvim, who has been a member of the RCA for some 25 years, and been conducting conversions for 20 years.

“The recently initiated regional conversion courts were created because they establish the standards for conversions,” he told the Post. “That was done in spirit of making conversion process uniform and halachic.”

“But to say that there is one standard displays no understanding of the subjective quality of conversions,” each bearing unique characteristics dealing with a different subject. “The Chief Rabbinate is saying that to come to Israel you have to have a certain standard. But if someone is accepted as a member of the RCA, the RCA should accept their conversions,” he added.
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