New front against Chief Rabbinate over conversions: Dozens of Orthodox rabbis from the United States sent a letter to Interior Minister Eli Yishai on Monday, demanding that he recognize the conversions performed by them and allow the converts to immigrate to Israel.
According to the rabbis, the Interior Ministry consults with the Israeli Chief Rabbinate when determining which conversions performed abroad would be recognized under the Law of Return, and usually disqualifies those whose Jewishness is not recognized for the purpose of marriage.
The rabbis who signed the letter are affiliated with the modern Orthodox stream. They accuse the Chief Rabbinate of only approving conversions of several rabbis from North American Orthodox communities, while ignoring many other rabbinical courts converting people according to Jewish Law as well.
"Those Orthodox rabbinical leaders in the United States who are content with such an arrangement represent only one slice of the North American Orthodox Jewish community, and do not represent us or our constituencies,” they wrote.
“As rabbis and as Zionists, we call upon you to clarify the situation and rectify the injustice being done to our converts, ourselves and the Jewish people."
In the letter – copies of which were also sent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky – the rabbis wrote that they represent well-established communities, synagogues and Hillel centers.
They said they had no doubt that the conversions performed by their courts and communities meet all the criteria required by the Interior Ministry to make a convert eligible for aliyah under the Law of Return.
“We are concerned that some of the conversions performed under our auspices are being questioned vis-à-vis aliyah eligibility. We find this unacceptable, and turn to you in an effort to insure that those individuals whom we convert will automatically be eligible for aliyah as they have been in the past.”
The letter was signed by rabbis belonging to the Rabbinical Council of America, the International Rabbinic Fellowship, Orthodox Union and Yeshiva University, who have all been authorized as rabbis from the official Orthodox institutions in North America.
ITIM –The Jewish Life Information Center, which is leading the battle, says Interior Ministry regulations state that the conversion must be examined according to criteria defining a "recognized community", but that the ministry would rather have the Chief Rabbinate look into the matter.
ITIM Director Rabbi Dr. Shaul Farber warned of a rift among the Jewish people, saying: "In the situation created people who have undergone a conversion process in Reform or Conservative communities are eligible for aliyah, while those who underwent an Orthodox conversion – their conversion is not recognized."
He said this was a dramatic change in the status-quo, which is like "a slap in the face of Orthodox communities in the US."
Farber, who expressed his amazement over the fact that the Interior Ministry was consulting the Rabbinate on issues related to immigration, called for an urgent discussion at the Knesset's Immigration and Absorption Committee.
"The Law of Return is meant to provide an answer to all those entering the Jewish people, but today the Interior Ministry rules that most Orthodox rabbis in the world are not authorized to bring people beneath the wings of the Divine Presence. This policy is injustice being done to our converts, and it's ironic that the interior minister, a religious person, is letting this happen."