A FIRST: Israeli Judge Recognizes Geirus By Private Bais Din As “Jewish”

7
Convert 'Katya' and her daughter sit before the independent Giyur K'halacha conversion court.

In a groundbreaking decision, the Jerusalem Municipal Court on Thursday ruled that someone who converted in Israel outside the auspices of the state rabbinate can be recognized as Jewish.

The conversion was done in the “Giyur K’halacha” Orthodox private beis din. In a decision being publicized on Thursday, 4 Tishrei 5779, Judge Aaron Farkash wrote that “having considered the arguments of the request (…) I am responding positively and declaring that given the individual went through a conversion, she should be registered as Jewish in the population registry.”

The decision was rendered following more than a year of Israel’s government attempting to derail it. In May 2017, the cabinet proposed a bit that would derail private conversions and in November 2017, Prime Minister Netanyahu appointed former Justice Minister Moshe Nissim to lead a committee that would make recommendations regarding the future of conversion in Israel.

Following months of delays, the Nissim commission was frozen, and in late August, the State attorney’s office acknowledged that “given the midpoint we have reached regarding the Nissim report,” it no longer objects to the court rendering a decision regarding the Giyur K’halacha convert.

Shas party chairman Minister of the Interior Aryeh Deri was quick to respond to the historic ruling.

Deri stated, “The ruling does not restate anything and does not constitute a material recognition of conversion”.

Seeing the ruling a bit differently than Deri is Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern, who commented, “The important and expected decision of the District Court strengthens the Jewish identity of the State of Israel and reduces assimilation…. I call upon the coalition parties, first and foremost Bayit Yehudi, to pass the conversion bill that I passed on first reading.”

Ironically, due to a 2002 High Court of Justice ruling, a person converting by a Reform or Conservative beis din is recognized by the State of Israel, but a religious beis din, including one headed by HaGaon HaRav Karelitz Shlita of Bnei Brak is not. So, if the latter confirms the conversion, the person is recognized as being Jewish by Jews worldwide, but the State of Israel does not and will not grant such a person citizenship. If the same person is converted by a Reform rabbi abroad, the conversion is recognized.

The chareidi parties fear if frum private Ger is recognized in Israel, it will open the door for recognition of Reform and Conservative Jewry in Israel as well, so they prefer to have the law recognize conversions by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel exclusively.

Rabbi Seth Farber, Director of ITIM who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Giyur K’halacha convert was enthusiastic about the result. “The court’s decision not only gives legitimacy and standing to the Giyur K’halacha beis din but also open the door to thousands of young families who wish to fully join the Jewish people and have rights in Israel like other Jews”.

Giyur K’halacha was founded three years ago and has now grown to more than 55 Rabbis. The president of Giyur K’halacha is one of the senior rabbis of the religious Zionist movement, Rabbi Nachum Rabinovich, and the individual convert was converted in a court under the auspices of Rabbi Yehuda Gilad of the Maale Gilboa Yeshiva, in the summer of 2016.

The first filing for recognition in the court was in March 2017 by ITIM lawyers Elad Caplan, Reut Kleinberger, and Ester Biswar. Since its founding Giyur K’halacha has converted more than 600 individuals, almost all children, and tens more are scheduled for conversion in the coming weeks. Giyur K’halacha has received 7500 calls since its founding majority of which were passed on to the national conversion system.

“The court’s decision paves the way for thousands who seek State recognition to turn to Giyur K’halacha. Since the State refuses to convert children without their mother’s converting, Giyur K’halacha has an enormous responsibility to help unify the Jewish people,” said Rabbi Farber. “It is the only Orthodox court that converts children in Israel without insisting the families be 100% observant.”

In March 2016, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled – in a nine-judge bench – that private orthodox conversions could be recognized under the law of Return. Soon after that, Minister of Interior Aryeh Deri floated a conversion law that would have given the Israeli Rabbinate an absolute monopoly on conversion in Israel – a move that caused a major uproar in the religious Zionist camp and the Jewish world. Subsequently, the Nissim commission was appointed.

Rabbi Farber summarized the decision by saying: “This is a Rosh Hashanah victory for immigrants, the State of Israel, and the Jewish people.”

(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)




7 COMMENTS

  1. That, in fact, is the halacha. There is no requirement that geirus involves any government approval. It requires only acceptance of 613 mitsvos (and mikva and bris). The desire of the government to include acceptance of and support of the state of Israel is contrary to halacha.

  2. There are strong practical arguments for Giyur in Israel to be under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate, but Rav Nachum Rabinovitch, Shlita, is a known Talmid Chacham and should not be discounted. If he is standing behind this Giyur, then it should be presumed to have met Halachic standards.

    One request – please keep the comments/discussions on this topic respectful.

    an Israeli Yid

  3. Sorry “Rabbi” Farber but this is not a Rosh Hashono it is a Tisha B’Av in a NON-& ANTI Jewish State that calls itself Jewish and can destroy the very fabric of the Jewish Nation.
    Katya, her daughter and any other candidates must know very clearly that they are not recognised as Jewish by the Jewish community and will encounter great difficulties throughout their journey in many ways.
    Any money they paid to their “Rabbi” was taken fraudulently!

  4. Even if the Beis Din is one of Baal ha-battim (quite possible in many times and places, especially when transportation was harder and Jews often lived in remote areas), if the convert clearly intended to be a kosher Yid, and subsequently lived a frum life, no one would question the validity of the conversion.

    The deciding factor is not whether the people on the Beis Din are civil servants, but whether the convert is sincere, aware of what being Jewish is, and whether the correct rituals are followed.

  5. akuperma,anIY,
    Supporting anarchy?

    Just as one cannot compare the situations Jews faced in Galut to the State of Israel today, one cannot compare the individualized approach to each potential ger, that characterized the European/North African communities to the large groups of olim from certain countries that seek “conversion” today.

    If they could ,
    who is going to be out?

    No issue creates more tension, and in some case temptation for rabbis, than that of conversion. In Modern Orthodox congregations outside of Israel, for instance, the rabbi may find himself in a very difficult situation when a congregant insists that he convert a non-Jew, whom the congregant’s son or daughter wants to marry. The tension increases exponentially if that particular congregant happens to be one of the rabbi’s biggest supporters.
    .

  6. Rabbi Yitzchak Adlerstein, 19/07/16

    Listening to the buzz about the conversion kerfuffle last week, one would think that breaking the back of the Israeli rabbinate will becalm the angst of past converts unsure of their status, ensure equitable conversion procedures for the future, stabilize Turkey, and bring friendship and cordiality between #BlackLivesMatter and the Police Benevolent League.
    Sorry to have to throw cold water on all this optimism. In fact, few things will work against the interests of potential converts as opening the doors to private providers. Going “out of network” raises the price for medical care. In the case of conversion, the price will be paid in the suffering of the offspring of converts a generation later.
    Many readers have by now thoroughly familiarized themselves with Rabbi Dov Fischer’s excellent treatment of the subject. They realize that someone in Israel cynically calculated that the ignorance of the public would allow him to use the Ivanka Trump connection to strike a body blow at the Rabbinate. They now understand that Ms. Trump converted through a “network” beis din – a GPS court in Manhattan. Its validity was therefore never in doubt.
    The conversion that was questioned by the Petach Tikvah rabbinate was an “out of network” conversion. We don’t know why R. Lookstein treated this candidate differently than the ones (like Ivanka’s) that he referred to the GPS Rabbinic Court, a beis din. Neither, apparently, did the Petach Tikvah beis din. Their hesitancy to accept any private conversion was well-founded, and not directed at Rabbi Lookstein personally.
    Rabbi Fischer alluded to, but did not flesh out, one element that could use some explanation. As a long-time member of a standing (or should that be sitting?) conversion court, I will try to fill in the detail – first with an analogy, and then with some reflections born of personal experience.
    We have two models of conversion before us: individual provider vs. community protocol. Neither is perfect. Both have had their failures and can be corruptly manipulated. My contention is that there is safety in numbers. The community protocol idea is less fraught and highly preferable.
    When we find ourselves in an unfamiliar city, what do we look for in a restaurant or a hechsher? The name of any ploni almoni rabbi, or a trusted larger organization? There used to be people who would piously intone that they would eat anything that had a rabbi’s imprint of the label. If it turned out that it was not factually kosher, that would be the certifying rabbi’s problem, not that of the consumer. I will assume that our readers have enough sophistication and yiras shomayim to reject that thinking. They trust communal hashgacha more than individual not just because they don’t recognize the name of the sole provider. They know a bit about the track records of the different options.
    The kosher meat trade of early 20th century America made New York look more like Tombstone, Arizona. Trying to set a community standard of kashrus brought the early demise of Rav Yaakov Yosef, and ended the attempt to provide New York with a Chief Rabbi. (When one of his competitors for the kashrus turf was asked who awarded him the distinction of being chief rabbi rather than R. Yaakov Yosef, he replied, “The sign painter.”) The industry was riddled with deception, fraud and incompetence. The emergence of the OU as a supervisorial agency was a banner achievement not just for the organization, but for Orthodox Jewry.
    National supervision addressed two problems: corruption and maverick standards. The first was a function of how people were paid. A mashgiach paid by the company he supervised often had a hard time removing his name from an establishment when he found a problem, since it meant that he wouldn’t be bringing home a salary that week.
    One of the signal accomplishments of the OU was placing an organizational buffer between client and mashgiach. A rabbinic supervisor can blow the whistle on an establishment without fear of reprisal. This alone is a huge advantage in keeping things honest.
    The second problem relates to the ability of people to find novel approaches to the arcane details of halakha. These individualistic interpretations were sometimes the product of ingenious creativity, and sometimes an outgrowth of rank ignorance and incompetence. In both cases, consumers who would not rely on similar arguments in their own kitchens were ill-served by such reasoning. Community-wide vaadim and national organizations ensured that standards were seen as defensible by a larger consensus.
    Whatever problems plagued kosher supervision bedevil conversion – but the stakes are much higher, and the consequences more poignant. Sole provider conversions were often (and continue to be) cash cows. Private batei din can name their own prices, and frequently attach hefty surcharges
    There are good doctors and bad doctors. Anyone who blindly accepts any medical degree as valid takes his life into his own hands. Rabbis are no different.
    for “expedited service.” (A few months ago, the Israeli government opened a criminal case against a former Chief Rabbi. Among other goodies was a claim that a Russian tycoon wanted a quick conversion for his love interest, and said rabbi turned to an American colleague who flew to Russia and turned her into a loyal halachic Jewess in two weeks. According to the charge sheet, they split the $400,000. A few years ago we read of a high-profile divorce, where each spouse tried charging the cost of a conversion to the other.
    While my local GPS court charges a few hundred dollars as an administrative fee, that conversion cost multiples of five figures. There is a plethora of less dramatic stories, all of them sharing a common denominator of avarice getting in the way of good judgment. These just don’t happen with a GPS court where no one has a pecuniary interest in accepting or rejecting a candidate.)
    The maverick standards problem was even more common. For decades, no one reined in rabbis who simply were sloppy or didn’t care about securing evidence of intent to keep mitzvot, which the vast majority of Torah scholars, talmidei chachamim, feel is a sine qua non of conversion.
    After decades of sub-par conversions in the US, the Rabbinate in Israel finally stirred itself into action. (It might be that they did so peremptorily and clumsily, but that goes beyond the scope of this essay.) They moved antipodally from their earlier position, and challenged all US conversion, other than that of people they felt they knew well. The creation of the GPS system meant the creation of agreed-upon standards and protocols that satisfied the Rabbinate, and were livable to all the Modern Orthodox batei din. The only ones who were not happy were the sole providers. Some were unhappy for very legitimate reasons, because there was absolutely nothing wrong with their practices. Others had less noble reasons to complain.
    While kashrus can remain a matter of personal choice, conversion by definition can not. A convert wants to know that he/she will be fully accepted in a different city or country. Claiming that we should all learn to get along with each other’s standards is naïve and tilting at windmills. The word is out on the “street” that much Orthodox giyur in the past – and increasingly in the present – was problematic. Many, many have gone too far in their questioning. But no one has a quick fix for that.
    The bottom line is that people don’t relish the prospect of their future daughter-in-law’s Jewishness being questioned. The children of converts of thirty years ago are running, not walking, to more “accepted” batei din for what they see as an upgrade – a so-called giyur le-chumrah that removes any cloud of suspicion.
    The beis din which I serve has a general policy not to perform such conversions, except when explicitly requested by a community rav. If we were to abandon this policy and do stringent conversion, giyur le-chumrah as a sideline under a different name, we could easily enrich ourselves. We don’t, because every such conversion is, to a certain extent, a casting of aspersions on a rabbi who is no longer alive to defend his standards or decisions.
    That does not quiet the malaise of large numbers of people who wonder whether their mother’s conversion was really valid according to the largest number of halakhic figures. Telling them not to worry doesn’t work. They do have legitimate concerns. Sometimes, those concerns can be dealt with through thorough research. Sometimes they cannot. Had a GPS system been available decades ago, much suffering would have been avoided. Yes, there are problems with institutionalized systems. I contend that they are less severe, and less prevalent.
    For decades, all of us in the Orthodox world railed against Conservative rabbis who converted people and told them that their conversions were every bit as acceptable as Orthodox ones. They lied, and those conversions were roundly rejected, so often producing heartache and suffering in the next generation. Ironically, some of us now invite the same tragedy by insisting that every rabbi has the right to determine his own policies and convert whom he wants. This leads to nothing less than chaos.
    There are good doctors and bad doctors. Anyone who .. accepts any medical degree as valid takes his life into his own hands. Rabbis are no different. In a perfect world, there would be time to examine the bona fides of every converting rabbi. But the world is not perfect. Rumors will spread – usually by well-meaning, rather than vicious, people – about “problem” rabbis with atypical standards. Their converts, geirim, will run into problems. Community-wide conversion courts eliminate those problems.
    Moreover, to pretend that all halakhic positions are created equal is illusory. They aren’t. And like it or not, the Modern Orthodox community has shrunk to somewhere between one-quarter to one-third of the total Orthodox population. You can differ with the haredi world, but you cannot discount its effect on halakhic decision-making. The halakha of the future will tilt right.
    A conversion candidate who uses the services of private providers with reputations for ignorance, sloppiness, or ideological eccentricity is playing Russian roulette with more bullets than empty chambers. Rabbis who refer candidates to such courts do not act in the best interests of those candidates. The proven best way to protect those interests is community-wide batei din like the GPS network.
    Private providers are inconvenienced by the shift to such a system, just as private mashgichim resent attempts to bring kashrus under a community banner. Such inconvenience should be recognized to be the price we pay to protect the interests of geirim, and to prevent the splintering of our community into groups that will not marry each other.

  7. When the bes din of a country creates a standard, they have the ability to change the hallachik reality within that region. The rabbanut operates under the auspices of nearly all rabbanim in th country, including the most chareidi leaders. Giyur standards are very high.

    When the rabbanut agrees to accept a private bes din, you can rest assured that the standards are very high.

    Please be very careful when commenting. It’s the aseres yimay teshuva.