Friday, October 24, 2008

Conversion & Aliyah Seth Farber

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.[...]


  1. All of the not fully accepted rabbis should band together and form their own organization. They can call it "Torah-True Orthodox Judaism". Within a few years the State of Israel will accept them and their conversions. This movement could easily become an overwhelming majority in the orthodox world.

  2. We are trying to recover from the chaos of conversion of the last several decades. Unfortunately there were some orthodox rabbis in the US who were quick to accept candidates for conversion, even if they were not fully committed to observance and even if they were not emotionally stable and able to make a commitment for a lifelong change of religion. Consequently, the chief rabbinate is temporarily cutting down the number of accepted batei Din until they can fully evaluate the otehrs and make sure they are running things properly. There have been far too many cases of people converting to Judaism and switching to another religion a short time later. Lauren Winner has written a book about this experience "Twice Converted" she had an orthodox conversion and subsequently became an Anglican Christian minister. A famous talk radio host Dr Laura Slesinger proudly talked on air about being Shomer Shabbat after her conversion to Judaism and subsequently became an evangelical christian. There are good reasons to be careful!

  3. "A famous talk radio host Dr Laura Slesinger proudly talked on air about being Shomer Shabbat after her conversion to Judaism and subsequently became an evangelical christian. There are good reasons to be careful!"

    Actually I would say that Dr. Laura would still be halachically Jewish. The fact is that she was shomer mitzvot for many years. This can probably be confirmed by the people from the community that she associated with.

    We do not dispute the validity of conversions of people who lapsed out of Judaism years after their conversion. The question arises when it is found that person in question was not really being observant in the first place.

    Granted that such candidates should be vetted carefully because such an outcome is bad for the person and bad for Klal Yisrael. That is a partial halachic and an enormous practical reason that we have to be sensitive to gerim. This is because many Gerim can be very insecure by nature within our environment and it is easy for them to lapse out of it. This is what happened to Dr. Laura. Although it was not completely our fault. It's just that we did not gush enthusiastically over her radio show like Born Again Christians did. We are dealing with a woman who did not have control of her ego.

  4. Recipients and PublicityApril 1, 2009 at 12:28 PM

    Seth Farber of ITIM inserts himself into a conversion controversy involving a dispute between the Israeli Chief Rabbinate and the ministry on the Interior.

    Farber attacks the Israeli Interior Ministry for doing its job when it asks for greater proof if conversion was done according to Halacha.

    Modern Orthodoxy's Farber of ITIM with Freund of Shavei Israel and Haredi Tropper of EJF fan out in a broad proselytization front justifying their agenda based on distortions of Halacha in order to win over converts.

    "Interior Ministry: Beit Din confirmation of US convert not enough

    Apr. 1, 2009
    Ruth Eglash,


    An American-born convert to Judaism who has been officially accepted as Jewish by Israel's Chief Rabbinate is struggling to obtain recognition from the Interior Ministry so he can make aliya, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

    Lukas (Lev) Morgan O'Neil, who was adopted and converted to Judaism as a baby and who grew up in an Orthodox Jewish household in Orange County, California, has been caught in the midst of a bureaucratic quagmire over the past year, as Interior Ministry officials have consistently refused to accept his application to immigrate, asking for more and more documented proof of his Jewishness.

    "I came here because I wanted to do the army, but for the past year have been stuck in this nightmare situation," O'Neil told the Post Monday. "It makes me very angry, because everyone I know has moved on and I am still in the same position."

    According to the 21-year-old, his brother - who was also adopted and converted to Judaism as a baby - was able to make aliya four years ago with no problems at all.

    "I have given them every kind of documentation possible, but they still want more proof from me that I am a Jew," said O'Neil, who appeared two months ago before the Tel Aviv Rabbinic Court to have his Judaism verified, even bringing his childhood rabbi with him to vouch for his Jewish roots.

    In a letter, the court confirms the authenticity of O'Neil's childhood conversion, which took place three months after he was born.

    However, after processing the letter from the rabbinic court, the Interior Ministry informed O'Neil last week that he still needed to provide additional proof of his Jewish connection for his aliya application to proceed.

    Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Hadad confirmed this, saying that while the ministry recognized O'Neil's conversion, he was still required to prepare a personal statement describing Jewish upbringing and verifying his Judaism.

    "He was asked several days ago to provide the ministry with additional documents, but sadly, instead, has decided to take his story to the media," she wrote in a statement.

    According to Hadad, complications in O'Neil's immigration process stem from his failure to provide the ministry with paperwork pertaining to his adoption and due to the fact that he opted to base his aliya application on his Jewish conversion.

    "It's a much more complicated process," claimed Hadad.

    While O'Neil denied to the Post that he had ever been asked to present legal documents about his adoption to the Interior Ministry, Rabbi Seth Farber, founder and director of Itim - an organization that assists many Jewish converts in navigating Israel's bureaucracy - said that O'Neil's experience was symptomatic of the Interior Ministry's new approach to international converts.

    "Over the last four years or so, the ministry has been taking an increasingly negative approach to Jewish converts who arrive here from overseas," stated Farber, who was called upon two weeks ago to help O'Neil fight for his right to immigrate under the Law of Return. "This is a classic example of Israeli bureaucracy trumping any reason or sensible Jewish law."

    Farber added that with O'Neil meeting all possible criteria needed to make aliya, it was almost as though "the Interior Ministry has decided it has more authority to decide who is a Jew than the rabbinate."

    "At a time when we should be reaching out to Diaspora Jewry, the Interior Ministry is turning people off," he continued, adding that "as a rabbi, I am personally offended by the ministry's policies toward converts. They are the most vulnerable of all Jews because they do not have a support network to help them."

    In addition, Farber said that the ministry's request for O'Neil to prepare a personal statement was "totally illegal."

    "The Law of Return does not require any potential immigrant to do this," he pointed out. "In no other case has a convert been asked to justify his Judaism in this way. The Interior Ministry is engaging in outrageous behavior."

    Hadad, however, said it was standard ministry practice to ask those applying for aliya to provide additional documents."


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