I’ve been meaning to write about the conversion bill in Israel ever since I heard Rabbi Uri Regev speak this past Monday at the Institute for Adult Jewish Studies. Rabbi Regev illustrated that the majority of Israelis do not want conversions to be regulated by the Chief Rabbinate, yet the Chief Rabbis, Rabbi David Lau and Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef will not relinquish control of it. Numerous measures have been tried, one of which was to have more liberal Orthodox city rabbis (including Rabbi Shlomo Riskin of Efrat) sit on batei din (Jewish courts) for conversion, but there has been resistance to each attempt. The problem is that numerous Israelis are not considered Jewish by the Chief Rabbinate, whether because of patrilineal descent or a prior conversion that the Rabbinate does not accept. Such individuals cannot get married in Israel, yet if they get married outside of the land and return their marriage will be accepted. In this post I want to focus on those who have converted to Judaism.
Unfortunately, converts sometimes get hit from two angles: either their conversion was invalid because it was not done by the “right rabbi” (this could be a Reform, Conservative or even Orthodox rabbi who does not have the authority invested by the Chief Rabbinate) or their conversion can be considered valid by an Orthodox rabbi in the diaspora but not by the Interior Ministry of Israel (which interestingly accepts Reform and Conservative conversions in the Diaspora).
This question of “When is a convert considered Jewish?” is often one of the most painful and difficult questions because it depends on according to whom. In reality it should not be so difficult. The Shulchan Arukh, the preeminent code of Jewish law, says that after someone accepts becoming part of the Jewish people, is taught some of the easier commandments and some of the more difficult commandments, goes before a beit din (Jewish court of 3) and immerses in a mikveh (body of natural water). At this point said individual is considered Jewish. There are NO strings attached to this whatsoever! It is time that the Chief Rabbinate and the Interior Ministry both get into agreement on this basic principle so that our converts, who have made great sacrifices to become Jews, do not suffer further pain and humiliation.
For the latest article on the conversion bill from The Jewish Week, please see the below: