During the past year, conversion to Judaism has been the subject of much press and analysis. The crises surrounding the recognition of conversion and the annulment of conversion have rocked the Jewish world to its core. Ironically, in the past six months, it is Orthodox converts from overseas in particular that are being deliberately persecuted by the State of Israel. In the present environment, both the Interior Ministry and the rabbinate have engaged in a misinformation campaign, which has befuddled even the most acute analysts of Jewish life in Israel. This cannot be allowed to continue.
Two criteria related to conversion delegitimize even the most serious of Orthodox converts. The first - which is reasonable in its conception but not in its realization - prevents Orthodox converts from making aliya subsequent to their conversion. Since the State of Israel (as differentiated from the rabbinate) accepts conversions from all the denominations, and since conversion overseas entitles a convert to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return, the Interior Ministry lives in constant fear that foreign workers (now numbering more than 100,000) will take advantage of "quickie conversions" or "pop-over conversions" overseas and then become citizens.
TO STEM this, the ministry has maintained a policy that insists that converts reside in their sponsoring community for a full year following their conversions. Individuals like Rachel Del Conte (The Jerusalem Report, March 18), who converted Orthodox but were encouraged by their rabbinical courts or communities to move to Israel are being rejected as Jews by the state - even in cases where the Chief Rabbinate accepts them as Jews. The organization I direct, ITIM, has petitioned the High Court against the Interior Ministry, and won a temporary injunction, with a full hearing scheduled on November 26. The rejection Rachel feels is felt by dozens if not hundreds of Orthodox converts each year, who are told that they are not Jewish enough to make aliya (even if, ironically, they are Jewish enough to be married in Israel).
But a second criterion is even more deleterious to the Jewish fabric of the state. In the past two years, the Chief Rabbinate has radically downsized the list of recognized Orthodox rabbis whose conversions will be confirmed for purposes of marriage. Now, while ITIM has serious reservations regarding the sensibility of this move, there is little question that it can act unilaterally. However, what is shocking is that the Interior Ministry has determined that the Chief Rabbinate is the sole source by which Orthodox conversions can be certified for purposes of aliya. In other words, if someone converted through their local Orthodox rabbi - either recently or in the past - then if the rabbinate does not accept this conversion, neither will the state. The rabbinate's list for North America at present includes approximately 15 rabbis. You do the math.
MEN LIKE Jose Portendo (The Jerusalem Post, October 5) could have made aliya six or seven years ago without a problem. They would have met all the criteria. But the state has begun to cower before rabbinical authorities whose agenda is unclear, whose understanding of the North American Orthodox culture is minimal and whose approach is fundamentalist. Ironically, if Jose had converted to Judaism in a Reform or Conservative ceremony, the state would have consulted with the organized American Jewish community structures and approved his aliya. Only the Orthodox need suffer.
This need not be the case. At present, there are no written guidelines for how conversions are recognized by the state, and thus converts' futures are subject to the whims of Interior Ministry clerks. Consider that a Jerusalem Post reporter was told that the list of "certified Orthodox rabbis" was held by the Conversion Authority of the state. Not only does the Conversion Authority not maintain such a list, but it also, by law, is not allowed to be involved in any conversions from overseas. The state is simply persecuting Orthodox converts.[...]