Photo: Israel Bardugo
Photo: Gali Tibbon
Maksim and Alina were due to exchange their wedding vows in 10 weeks, but instead of being busy preparing for the joyful event, they have been going through a nightmare – Their marriage was not approved by the Chief Rabbinate clerks in Ashkelon, where the couple resides.
"You do not keep mitzvoth, and therefore we cannot marry you," was the Rabbinate's explanation.
Maksim and Alina are not alone. Dozens of couples are victims of the religious councils and chief city rabbis' objection to the mass conversions that followed the conclusions put forth by the Ne'eman Committee on the conversion law.
Education Corps responsible for classes, IDF supplies instructors, and one can complete conversion process during military service. Ariana Melamed believes issue of soldiers' conversion is not military's business, unless one is referring to Saudi Arabian or Iranian military
The committee was established some seven years ago in order to find a solution to the hundreds of thousands of immigrants that are not defined as Jews.
Following the committee's recommendations, thousands of immigrants went through an expedited conversion process, many of them during their military service, with the intent to bring them closer to Judaism and the Israeli society.
Although the conversion was done in an Orthodox manner, the haredim did not see eye to eye with the committee's decision.
Back in 2008, High Rabbinical Court judge Avraham Sherman retroactively annulled thousands of conversions executed by the state's conversion administration.
Don't observe mitzvoth? register elsewhereMaksim and Alina met 17 years ago when they were second grade students at the same school. They were just friends for a long time, until four years ago their relationship turned romantic and love blossomed.
A year ago the couple decided to tie the knot. Because Alina's mother is not Jewish, and because of her strong bond to Israel and Judaism, Alina decided to go through the conversion process during her military service.
Following a year of Jewish studies and strict Halachic guidance, Alina was recognized as a Jew by the State of Israel, finally clearing the path for proper Jewish wedlock.
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Two weeks ago, after setting the wedding date, Maksim and Alina went to the Rabbinate in their hometown to open a file with a marriage registrar.
To their surprise, Ashkelon's chief Rabbi Haim Bloy told the couple he will not approve their marriage, and suggested that they get registered in a different city.
"The rabbi explained that because Maksim only observes some of the mitzvot, we will have to register in a different city," said Alina, explaining that "meanwhile I met with a different rabbi that agreed to register me, but not in my city, because in Ashkelon 'they don't register converts for marriage'."
The couple decided to fight the decision, and presented all the paperwork proving they were indeed Jewish. However last week they were informed by the secretary of the local religious council that "the rabbi investigated and found out that you do not observe mitzvoth, so you are better off registering some place else."
Some three months ago a special convention hosting dozens of cities' chief rabbis took place in Jerusalem. Sources from organizations who assist converts claim that during the convention rabbis were enticed not to approve marriages of converts who do not observe the Torah and Mitzvot.
In the passing weeks since the conventions, many couples found themselves facing the same problem as Maksim and Alina, especially those trying to register with the Ashkelon and Rishon LeZion religious councils, despite such restrictions being forbidden by law.
"Although they offered us help registering someplace else – something that is forbidden by the regulations – we decided not to give up and register in Ashkelon, without any shady business," said Alina.
"It hurts. A person converts out of his own free will; wants to get married in his country which he served, and then has to face such a phenomenon," said Maksim.
"The country pays money for these conversions and recognizes them, while the rabbis abuse the power given to them," he added.
Rabbi Shaul Farber, director of the Jewish Life Information Center (ITIM), said on Thursday that "it is not plausible that marriage registrars who are employed by the country and are getting paid by the Chief Rabbinate will make up their own mind whether to recognize documents issued by their employers."
"Registrars who distrust the Chief Rabbinate must resign from their positions. If they don't do it themselves, the state should do it," Farber added.
Following this recent phenomenon, ITIM institution opened a hotline that will guide converts and help them bypass the rabbis. The hotline number is 1-700-500-507.
Ashkelon's Chief Rabbi Haim Bloy reponded by saying: "I am a haredi rabbi who follows the ruling of haredim halachic leaders. They ruled that only those who received the burden of the Torah upon themselves will not be questioned.
"90% of converts in the IDF or elsewhere do not observe the mitzvoth after their conversion. I am not a man of conflict. If the Chief Rabbinate demands that I open marriage files for them, I will consider it," he said.
The Rishon LeZion religious council said in response: "Everytime we are faced with this issue we do our best to resolve it before the convert is wed. These days we are contemplating how to solve the problem of those rabbis that do not accept conversions of official rabbinical courts."
Yehuda Shochet contributed to this report