'When did the Robe cling to the body?'
Rabbinic court cast doubt on X’s conversion and she was summoned again and again to hearings regarding her Jewishness. In an affidavit submitted to the High Court of Justice she describes how each time the rabbinic judges were switched, and what intimate questions were asked
There’s good news and bad news.
The good news is that the two women who petitioned the High Court of Justice through the Center for Women’s Justice to challenge the rabbinic court decision which put, into question their conversion and the Jewishness of their children were sent back to the rabbinic court where their conversions were reviewed and ultimately vindicated. They are again considered Jewish and great happiness abides in their dwelling places.
The bad news is that the High Court of Justice may now see their job as done and will refuse to continue with the proceeding originally initiated. And if the High Court of Justice indeed ends the proceeding – there will be no determination with respect to the question of principle of whether a rabbinic court is allowed to review and nullify conversions that have been acknowledged by the Chief Rabbinate. Unhappily, it may be that the bad news is worse than the good news is good.
If the High Court of Justice does not have its say in the matter, the current situation will continue. The marriage registrars will continue to refuse to register converts who don’t look religious, or all converts, for marriage; the rabbinic courts will continue to nullify conversions; people who went through conversion years ago will continue to be swept into the list (kept by the rabbinic courts and given sanction of the State) of those ineligible to marry; converts will continue to be tormented and their families will continue to suffer. Some of the people currently seeking to convert will vote with their feet and give up the idea. Who wants to be tormented?
If the current situation continues, it is worthwhile to make clear what will happen to converts who come to the rabbinate or to the rabbinic court. At this link you can read X’s story and the story of the three days of interrogation that she underwent in the regional rabbinic court after the High Court of Justice asked the court to review the matter (The document was submitted to the High Court of Justice as a letter from T and was signed as an affidavit - identifying details have been deleted.)
From the affidavit it is clear that after X was interrogated in September 2009 regarding her Jewishness, she was asked to come to the rabbinic court again in October of that year, facing different rabbinic judges. “It was obvious that the new rabbinic judges not only didn’t know me, they weren’t familiar with the file and hadn’t even looked at it before the hearing (one of the rabbinic judges even told us this),” she describes, “… in spite of the fact that at first I was angry that the interrogation was repetitious and I demonstrated some opposition, the rabbis explained to me that they had to hear everything from the beginning.”
In a third hearing, before yet another set of rabbinic judges, X was again asked about the observance of mitzvot in her home: How did she eat hot food on Shabbat? How long after her conversion did she observe the rules of kashrut? etc.
A short time after she left the rabbinic court, the rabbinic judges asked that X come back in order to clarify an issue that she had raised regarding the unease she felt when she had immersed in the mikveh, in front of the rabbinic judges, while wearing a robe. “Even though the rabbinic judges emphasized that they did not believe that something immodest had occurred, they asked her to clarify ‘at what stage during the ritual immersion for conversion (17 years earlier) did the robe clung to her body and did she feel immodest,’ the affidavit relates.
And of course, it should be remembered that X arrived back at the rabbinic court only after she had filed a petition with the High Court of Justice – and the rabbinic court knew that the justices were watching over it. It can be presumed that if and when the rabbinic court acts without the oversight of the High Court of Justice, the situation will be even worse. Don’t say you didn’t know. Read and know: this is how converts who want to marry – or divorce – according to Jewish law are interrogated.
Rivkah Lubitch is a rabbinic court pleader who works at The Center for Women’s Justice
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