Several weeks ago, the High Court of Justice convened its first hearing in the matter of rulings of the Rabbinic Courts that cast doubt on the Jewishness of two petitioners and their children. It seems that the Supreme Court Judges is want to understand how the Rabbinic Courts can question the validity of conversions carried out by another State Court. The legal advisor of the Rabbinic Court, Attorney Rabbi Shimon Ya'acobi, suggested that the specific cases at hand could be resolved. But the judges seemed to feel their role was to get at the heart of the matter. Otherwise, as Judge Rubinstein pointed out, many similar cases are likely to find their way into the system.
The Court asked Ya'acobi to take a stand. While trying to persuade the court that it could not interfere in religious matters that are in the sole domain of the Rabbinic Courts, Ya’acobi expounded on the situation at hand and explained: In the first years of the State, the question was "Who is a Jew?", later the question became "Who is a convert?", and now the question is "Who is an Orthodox convert?".
Ya'acobi's words clearly reflect the haredi position, as well as that of some Rabbinic Judges, regarding the conversions carried out by Rabbi Chaim Druckman, and generally by the Conversions Courts run by Zionist Rabbis. In their opinion—these are not Orthodox conversions.
This statement is most peculiar, not only because of the high regard that the Orthodox community has for Rabbi Druckman, but also because the chief rabbi is the final signatory on all conversion certificates issued by Rabbi Druckman as well as all the other courts specializing in conversions. In other words, it is the chief rabbi’s stamp of approval that determines that these conversions are halachically valid. Therefore, it would appear that some rabbinic judges reject the authority of the chief rabbi to decide what is a kosher court. The Dayanim and the chief legal counsel of the rabbinic courts are undermining the chief rabbi of Israel. This is the crux of the matter.
Obviously the haredim will attempt to establish their own rules regarding the conversion process. Why not? They have their own kashrut system, their own communities and their own education systems. Why should they accept the conversions of the religious mainstream of the State? And in fact, I have no objection to the haredim establishing their own courts, and refusing to take anyone into their midst who hasn't undergone a conversion that they deem proper. The problem is that they aren’t willing to step aside to do so. They’re right. Why should they set up their own court, if they can do the same thing under the auspices of the State of Israel? From their perspective, it’s much more efficient.
And what does the State have to say about all this?The representative of the Attorney General, Einat Golomb, who filed her legal opinion prior to the hearing, embarrassingly attempted to avoid expressing a clear opinion on the topic. She stated that the matter was “complicated,” and that there was no point in getting into it since the ruling under discussion should soon be dismissed because of gross procedural flaws in the particular cases before the court. Chief Justice Beinish, however, pushed her into a corner and insisted that the government submit an official opinion paper on the fundamental issue of revoking conversions.
"What exactly is the issue here? What is so “complicated” about it?" asks Attorney Susan Weiss, who represents both petitioners. "The State has to get its house in order and ensure that the Beit Din honors conversion certificates that have been signed by the chief rabbi, and endorsed with the official stamp of the Chief Rabbinate. It just can’t be that the right hand denies what the left hand does. We live in a state committed to the rule of law, not in a community where each rabbinic judge or rabbi sets the individual standards for himself and his constituents.”
Leaving the court, one of the petitioners asked: "So what about me? Am I Jewish or not?" It was hard to respond her question and I saw that Susan got a bit teary-eyed while answering. "I think that you're Jewish. I assume that almost all of the State of Israel thinks that you're Jewish. Many Rabbis think that you're Jewish and would allow you to marry in accordance with the laws of Moses and Israel. But we haven't yet gotten the final word on this matter."
Rivkah Lubitch is a rabbinical advocate, working at The Center for Women’s Justice
Translated by Judit Blumenfrucht