State Ap­proval Not Needed for Con­verts Us­ing In­de­pen­dent Rab­bini­cal Courts

Con­verts in Is­rael un­der­go­ing Or­tho­dox con­ver­sion in in­de­pen­dent rab­bini­cal courts do not re­ceive State ap­proval to reg­is­ter as Jews

The Jewish Voice - - ISARAEL - By: Mordechai Sones

Con­verts who are cit­i­zens of the State who un­der­went Or­tho­dox con­ver­sion in in­de­pen­dent reli­gious Zion­ist rab­binic courts did not re­ceive state ap­proval to reg­is­ter as Jews in the pop­u­la­tion registry.

This de­spite Jus­tice Min­is­ter Ayelet Shaked's past prom­ises that these con­verts will be reg­is­tered as Jews and the Con­ver­sion Law and Con­ver­sion Com­mit­tee headed by Moshe Nis­sim will not deal with pri­vate Or­tho­dox con­ver­sions.

This emerges from a re­cent re­sponse by the State to a pe­ti­tion filed by Itim, the Jewish Life In­for­ma­tion Cen­ter, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that has a record of crit­i­ciz­ing the Chief Rab­binate. The Itim pe­ti­tion sought to reg­is­ter a woman con­vert­ing in the Giyur K'ha­lakha (Halakhic/Jewish Law Con­ver­sion) in­de­pen­dent con­ver­sion courts as a Jew in the pop­u­la­tion registry.

Dur­ing the hear­ing, which was heard in the Jerusalem District Court in the mat­ter of an Is­raeli res­i­dent's con­ver­sion, the State At­tor­ney's Of­fice sought on be­half of the In­te­rior Min­istry to post­pone a le­gal de­ci­sion. The pe­ti­tion al­leges her con­ver­sion should not be rec­og­nized since the en­tire con­ver­sion is­sue, in­clud­ing for Is­raeli cit­i­zens, was dis­cussed by the Con­ver­sion Com­mit­tee headed by Moshe Nis­sim.

The Con­ver­sion Law came into the head­lines last June, when In­te­rior Min­is­ter Aryeh Deri brought it to the gov­ern­ment to keep all con­ver­sion pro­ce­dures in the coun­try un­der Rab­binate con­trol only–a move that led to great up­roar and crit­i­cism.

In an at­tempt to rec­on­cile lib­eral and con­ser­va­tive el­e­ments, Prime Min­is­ter Binyamin Ne­tanyahu pro­posed a com­mit­tee headed by Moshe Nis­sim, a for­mer Jus­tice Min­is­ter, to dis­cuss the sit­u­a­tion of the con­verts and sub­mit con­clu­sions on the is­sue.

Con­ver­sion has al­ways been in the hands of the Rab­binate, and Itim's in­de­pen­dent court moves rep­re­sent an at­tempt to change this. This is a di­rec­tion to which main­stream reli­gious Zion­ist rab­bis are al­most unan­i­mously op­posed.

Pri­vate con­ver­sion courts were cre­ated by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin of Efrat and other rab­bis. Con­tro­ver­sial is­sues are in­volved, such as their con­vert­ing Rus­sian ele­men­tary school chil­dren both of whose par­ents were not Jewish. This is in Is­rael, while in the United States the Rab­bini­cal Coun­cil of Amer­ica (RCA) has an agree­ment with the Is­raeli Rab­binate to have all pri­vate con­ver­sions vet­ted

by a higher con­ver­sion court au­tho­rized by the Is­raeli Rab­binate.

De­trac­tors of in­de­pen­dent courts warn that once pri­vate courts be­come ac­cepted, any­one might go to the Supreme Court and de­mand the right to open one of their own. For­eign work­ers could thereby con­vert for the pur­pose of stay­ing in the coun­try, to cite one ex­am­ple. "It's a pan­dora's box, but the Rus­sian young­sters made Rabbi Riskin and Rab­bis Stav and Rabi­novitch feel it was im­per­a­tive to have pri­vate courts," said an Is­rael com­men­ta­tor fa­mil­iar with the is­sue.

Re­conec­tar, the move­ment to re­con­nect with de­scen­dants of Span­ish and Por­tuguese Jewish com­mu­ni­ties who were forced to con­vert to Chris­tian­ity dur­ing the In­qui­si­tion, also known as Bnei Anousim, last year wel­comed Nis­sim's ap­point­ment to head a com­mit­tee man­dated with pro­duc­ing rec­om­men­da­tions to solve Is­rael’s con­ver­sion is­sue.

Nis­sim is son of for­mer Chief Rabbi of Is­rael, Rav Yitzhak Nis­sim (1955-72), who was ex­tremely sym­pa­thetic to those Anousim who wanted to re­turn to Ju­daism, writ­ing many opin­ions on the sub­ject. He con­tacted the head of the Aliyah Depart­ment at the Jewish Agency ask­ing for their as­sis­tance to help those Anousim com­mit­ted to Ju­daism to re­turn.

Re­conec­tar Pres­i­dent and Direc­tor Gen­eral of the Knes­set Cau­cus for Re­con­nec­tion with De­scen­dants of Span­ish and Por­tuguese Jewish Com­mu­ni­ties Ash­ley Perry (Perez) said, “We hope he'll fol­low his fa­ther’s many rul­ings and in­clude the Anousim re­turn is­sue in his rec­om­men­da­tions.” He added, “There are mil­lions of Anousim, com­pletely com­mit­ted to Ju­daism, the Jewish Peo­ple, and Is­rael, who seek of­fi­cial recog­ni­tion. A rec­om­men­da­tion to in­clude them in fu­ture con­ver­sion guide­lines could be a game-chang­ing mo­ment for the Jewish world.”

In­de­pen­dent rab­bini­cal court; Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, cen­ter. ‘’Giyur K’ha­lakha

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