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Orthodox Convert Nixed On Aliyah
Conversion by NY rabbi rejected by Chief Rabbinate in defiance of earlier agreement on immigration.
Israel Correspondent
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Jerusalem — In an apparent about-face on a deal hammered out earlier this year among Israel’s Interior Ministry, the Jewish Agency and the Chief Rabbinate, an Orthodox convert whose conversion took place in New York was threatened with expulsion from Israel, The Jewish Week has learned.
The deal stipulated that the Interior Ministry would no longer consult with the Chief Rabbinate on the civil matter of immigration but instead would consult with the Jewish Agency. But documents obtained by The Jewish Week reveal that it was the Chief Rabbinate that rejected the woman convert, saying she isn’t Jewish.

The convert, “Sivan” (her chosen Hebrew name), had requested permanent residency after the Interior Ministry refused to issue her another tourist visa (she has lived in Israel at various times) received the expulsion order on Nov. 16, two days after her Nov. 14 expulsion date.

She’s still in Israel, “living day to day,” the young woman said. After discussing the problem with her converting rabbi, she contacted ITIM, an organization that helps converts and others navigate government bureaucracy. Her case is still pending.

“I come home and open my computer every day with dread, looking for an e-mail saying a decision has been made. I don’t have much hope at this point that I’ll receive the answer I’m hoping for,” Sivan said.

Even worse, she said, was the Interior Ministry’s threat to never issue her another visa “since I’ve spent so much time here in the past, and the only way to continue living here would be permanent residency,” Sivan said. “I’m faced with the possibility of not even being able to visit.”

The ministry’s decision to expel an Orthodox convert from Israel proves “the treatment of Orthodox converts has reached new lows,” said Rabbi Seth Farber, ITIM’s director, who has handled two such cases in the past couple of months. 

Documents obtained by The Jewish Week reveal that the Interior Ministry asked the Chief Rabbinate to decide whether Sivan’s conversion — performed by a well-known Orthodox rabbi of an Orthodox synagogue in Manhattan  — met the criteria for aliyah.

This despite the fact that the Chief Rabbinate has no jurisdiction over immigration, which is a civil matter. According to Israeli government protocols signed by the Interior Ministry earlier this year, the ministry must consult with the Jewish Agency on whether the converting rabbis in question are recognized authorities, and whether the convert is considered Jewish by his or her own community in the diaspora. 

Interior Ministry letters confirm that it was the Rabbinate that nixed Sivan’s application. 

During the past month, Rabbi Farber said, ITIM has asked for clarifications on two cases from the ministry — one of them Sivan’s, the other for a convert from California — to determine whether consultations with the Rabbinate are ministry policy or a “bureaucratic blunder.” 

“Either way, I’m at a loss for words,” Rabbi Farber said. “This shows the ever-widening gap between Israel’s Interior Ministry and the world Jewish community.”

In response, the organization received two letters from regional Interior Ministry officials stating they had refused official status to the American converts “because the Chief Rabbinate does not recognize the convert’s Jewishness.”

That’s especially galling, Rabbi Farber said, given that back in February ITIM sued the Interior Ministry over this very behavior, after nearly 20 Orthodox converts from the diaspora complained they had been denied the right to make aliyah.

Following the lawsuit, the ministry submitted a document to the Knesset outlining the new rules, “and we thought they were implementing them,” Rabbi Farber said. “The Interior Ministry isn’t supposed to be consulting the Rabbinate.”

Haviv Rettig Gur, spokesman for the Jewish Agency, said the ministry’s reliance on the Rabbinate “was a violation of the agreement with the Ministry of the Interior. We checked and can confirm that the rabbis who conducted the conversion are recognized for the purposes of aliyah. This conversion is completely acceptable.”

Gur said that Jewish Agency Chairman of the Executive Natan Sharansky “will be communicating” with Interior Minister Eli Yishai “to determine why the agreement reached between us many months ago wasn’t upheld.”

The Interior Ministry did not respond by press time Tuesday, but said it would have a comment on Wednesday.

[A spokesperson for Interior Ministry's Population and immigration Authority told The Jewish Week Wednesday, "The Authority is committed to the process that was detailed in the letter sent by the director of the authority to MK Danny Danon," a reference to the deal it signed off on earlier this year.]

Rabbi Farber called it “ironic” that diaspora Reform and Conservative converts generally experience few problems related to aliyah because they are vetted by the heads of the Reform and Conservative leadership in Israel.

“The Orthodox world is much more diffuse,” and there is no single Orthodox authority, he said. “But the Jewish Agency knows these communities and has the tools to determine whether someone is Jewish.”

While Orthodox converts are obviously the ones most affected by the unprecedented scrutiny and, in an increasing number of cases, rejection of their Jewishness, the rabbis who converted them suffer too.

“I feel this is a bad reflection on him, and he’s such a great man and it’s a great synagogue, and I just don’t understand,” Sivan said of the well-known rabbi who converted her. “I’m sad for me and even more so for him. It’s humiliating.”

Sivan’s rabbi spoke on condition of anonymity.

“The State of Israel commits a travesty by allowing the Chief Rabbinate to be the deciding body regarding the Jewish status of Orthodox converts. It has taken a hostile and extreme position vis-à-vis the majority of Orthodox rabbis in the diaspora, and only chooses to recognize as Jewish those converts who subscribe to haredi [ultra-Orthodox] views espoused by the Chief Rabbinate.

“How much longer can the Jewish people and the citizens of Israel put up with an obstructionist, xenophobic and inept Chief Rabbinate?” the rabbi asked.

Given the chance, Sivan would ask the Interior Ministry one question:

“Why am I considered Jewish everywhere except Israel?”


Last Update:

02/07/2013 - 10:41
Israel’s Interior Ministry, Rabbi Farber
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Having recently read some very serious criticism of Rabbi Farber, I am concerned that your readers may reach conclusions without knowing all the facts. Who was this "well-know" Manhattan rabbi? Is he well known because he is a prominent authority, or is he well known because he is notorious for bending the rules? Why is he afraid of letting his name be known if everything he did is above board? It is not difficult to put a spin on a story so that it will give the impression the writer wants to give. I would like to hear the rabbinate's side of the story in more detail before jumping to conclusions.

Up to 200 years ago the way to convert was based on the talmud in masechet sanhedrin: If someone wants to convert - you ask a few questions - but not too many - then you dunk them and before they put their head in the water you tell them a few shabat rules and kosher laws and ask "are you still sure" if they say yes - you dunk (for males there is also the brit) only *then* would start learning how to be a jew while being jewish. another misunderstood point is : you do not need a rabbi to convert - any 2 jews according to talmud can witness the dunk and that suffices. What happened in germany after the emancipation were mass conversions by jewish guys who wanted not jewish women, and then lived in a non-religious (enough) lifestyle, so the vaad arba aratsot put in the stipulation to *first* study and "connect". However - the law (halacha) still holds and there is no basis for the requirement.

No good deed goes unpunished. May this woman have the strength to realize that if Hashem called her to do an orthodox conversion, orthodoxy's supposed representatives are mere obstacles on her path. Don't give up; there are bigots everywhere.

I think a lot of the Ashkenazim Haredim are mostly wanting to be in control and/or maintain control out of fear. If they have the control, then their own backgrounds won't be investigated, or at least it will be harder to get through them to the information. The majority of their roots go back to converts (the Khazar Kingdom), and not to one of the original tribes. In my eyes, it doesn't make them any less Jewish, but it is a part of their history that bothers them to the core. This paranoia manifests itself in the fundamentalist control they try to enforce on converts of today.

“How much longer can the Jewish people and the citizens of Israel put up with an obstructionist, xenophobic and inept Chief Rabbinate?” Well, it's not put up with... in fact, it's not even thought about, because for those people in Israel that are not religious it is of no concern. It just is not news... I'm sorry but no one gives a crap about the dilemma of converts when they are way too busy struggling just too keep their heads above water and make ends meet. The struggles and cries of the convert are just hollow echos in the winds of the canyon... unknown stories that will forever be unknown.

Re. whether it was an RCA beit din conversion or an independent beit din conversion--it's quite possible that the conversion took place before the RCA-controlled conversion system was put into place (in the past few years). She then would have converted the way Orthodox conversion always used to work in the US (and I assume elsewhere in the Diaspora)--by Orthodox rabbis who know the converts in their home communities, who see them regularly at shul, etc.

happens quite often, and not just to converts.

Would the Conservative movement in the US accept a person with an Orthodox conversion as being Jewish? If so, perhaps they would certify Sivan as being Jewish which, I understand, would have to be accepted by the Interior Ministry.

There are enough issues with Israel losing support of the diaspora, without this mishugas. The Rabbinate is thinking with a goyishe kep, and looking more like the Taliban every day.

This article would be more interesting if it told what the issues are which are causing the Israeli rabbinate to object to Sivan's aliyah.

Sally, I suspect that the problem is that nobody knows and it is not clear that there is a reason. The problem is that there is a murky divide between the spiritual/communal aspect of the rabbinate and the bureaucratic one. A spiritual leader takes responsibility for decisions and works for the service of G-d and the good of the people. The bureaucrat collects a salary and spends most of his time covering his rear end with procedures so that he won't get caught at incompetence. Oh, yes, and drinking tea.

This worries me I was raised in a reform shull my father being Jewish and my mother was not. I have been attending a Sephardic Orthodox shull in California the Rabbi there helped me and performed my conversion because I want to make Aliyah one day.

It should worry EVERYONE. Not just converts. I am so grateful for the work that Rabbi Farber does. He is a tzaddik. People don't understand that they probably know someone who is a convert without knowing it. A friend, a family member, a parent, a grandparent. A child they have adopted or have yet to adopt. So many people hid their conversions and now continue to hide their conversions in light of this crisis.

Why did Sivan's "Well-known" rabbi perform the conversion individually, and not under the jurisdiction of an accepted body, like the RCA? While he might claim rabbinic autonomy, that doesn't wash anymore. Creating personal batei din offers too much rabbinic "latitude", whether the rabbi is well-known or not, and no matter the size of his shul. It's high time that rabbis get with the program, and stop acting alone. His refusal to operate within established norms of which he is undoubtedly aware caused this incident, no matter how outraged he claims to be.
Any why the anonymity if the rabbi did nothing wrong?

In 2005, rabbis, including RCA rabbis, where still allowed to convene their own independent batei din as long as all the rabbis part of the beis din were also RCA rabbis. Get your facts straight. The new system didn't apply until after 2006. Before that, everyone (and non-RCA rabbis still are) was doing independent batei din in their own communities usually with 3 community rabbis at the helm of the beis din.

I agree with you, though it does concern me that legitimate conversions might not be recognized. Rarely would a conversion be done without a lot of study, a very deep spiritual connection and committment. But, if the Rabbi was innocent of violating ethical rules, why require anonymity? There is only one Rabbi I would question. I won't mention his names, but he does minister to the stars, not doing their conversions, but teaching them Kaballah and counseling them, all done very publicly with a lot of media covereage. I say this not with malintent, but honest concern.

great article. wish the well-known Manhattan rabbi would speak on the record and let his name be used.. we shouldn't hide the veil in fighting bureaucratic corruption. Hope Sivan's matzav is resolved amicably, but sadly it is just another symptom to a diseased Israeli rabbinate.

The rabbi is probably not speaking up because if he does, it will put a doubt over the conversion of ANY conversion that he has performed before and after 2005. If he is as well-respected as described, that could be hundreds or thousands of people. There would be utter chaos...not that there isn't already.

it is time to seriously consider disbanding the Rabbinate and have religious organizations privately funded -- a complete separation of "synagogue and state"....with respect to everyone's belief's and traditions, e.g., 3 sections in the kotel plaza (administered by the antiquities authority by the way); men's women's and mixed, so nobody has to be forced to do anything that is counter to their own specific belief and practice. the money that goes to fund this shadow government (actually governments since there are parallel ashkenazi and sepharadi branches) could be used for many better purposes.

Was this an RCA conversion or an independent Beit Din?

Considering the details. It sounds like an RCA rabbi and an RCA beis din. RCA was required to use the new GPS format of regional beis dins until after 2006. So if it was an independent beis din of RCA rabbis, it would still have to be accepted.

According to the conversation as read above, every person who is a convert to judiasm has the right for aaliyah, and should not be doubted on her/his conversion, if god has chosen her to be a jewish, and she/he is ready to fullfill her/his duties of a jewish then why not they are given right to be here in israel, this is a place for all jewish people wether he/she is a born jewish or converted jewishd, and the Rabbi who has done the conversion has done god's will, its really sad for a person after the conversion even if they have to face so much of problems, it would be a bad impression on the other people who are thinking of going for conversion, I hope the cheif rabbinate checks on this issue seriously and help the people who have converted to judiasm.

Yet again demonstrating that the Chief-rabbinate is selective in their Torah-'observance' - i.e. anti-Torah - since Torah is a wholeness; and rejecting one mitzwah ['commandment'] is equivalent to rejecting the Torah in its whole.

Discriminating Jews - people born Jewish or whom became Jews - is a serious
transgression of Torah.

Torah requires people - non-Jews and Jews - to do their utmost to keep the several hundred mitzwot ['commandments'] of Torah non-selectively in order to receive kipur ['expiation'] [Documentation: ]. Discriminating Jews is selective Torah-'observance' and people doing this will not receive haSheims forgiveness in His loving kindness until and unless they repent from their wrong doings and start observing Torah.

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