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)