Ministry rejects recognized conversion
After studying in yeshivot for years and converting to Judaism in Ukraine, Matityahu Wolstein applies for immigrant status in Israel. But Interior Ministry 'unconvinced by sincerity of his conversion,' although he has been recognized as Jew by all Orthodox authorities
The Ministry says it is "unconvinced by the sincerity of the conversion," although all Orthodox authorities have recognized the man as Jewish. The refusal was likely driven by the fact that the petitioner had used a fake document when attempting to make aliyah about a decade ago, an incident which he regrets and has apologized for.
Matityahu (Mykola) Wolstein was born to a non-Jewish family in the Soviet Union in 1978. He discovered Judaism as a young man and asked to be admitted into the Chabad yeshiva in Kherson, Ukraine, using a falsified certificate confirming that his grandmother was Jewish.
After studying Judaism in Ukraine for two years, Wolstein arrived in Israel in 2003 on a tourist visa, and later received a student visa to study Torah in the Tomchei Temimim Yeshiva in the northern city of Migdal Haemek.
That year he applied for an immigrant status, using the same fake certificate, but was turned down by the Interior Ministry after the forgery was discovered.
3 years of Judaism studies
Wolstein did not give up. He returned to Ukraine and began studying at the Chabad yeshiva and Aish Hatorah Yeshiva in Kiev. After a long and exhausting study program, he converted to Judaism in 2006 at the rabbinical court in Kiev.
In 2012, Wolstein received a student visa and studied for a year at the Machon Meir Yeshiva in Jerusalem.
Wolstein at the yeshiva
During that year he applied once again for an immigrant status, this time as a Jew – a proselyte by conviction, expressing his deep and sincere regret over the falsified document he presented in 2003.
He even turned to the Rabbinical Court, which confirmed that he was Jewish, "after the court was informed that the petitioner converted according to Jewish Law in Ukraine on the 15th day of Kislev, 5767 (December 12, 2006)."
About two and a half months ago, and seven months after submitting the new request for an immigrant status, the Interior Ministry decided to turn down his application, explaining that it was "unconvinced by the sincerity of the conversion."
'I took the long and hard road'
Wolstein appealed the decision, but was rejected once again based on the falsified document from 2003: "He had asked for a status while presenting fake documents and false information, and therefore his request has been turned down," the decision read.
'If I only wanted a citizenship, perhaps I would have married someone with a status according to the Law of Return.' Wolstein
"It's been two months since the refusal," he told Ynet on Sunday. "I have gotten used to the situation, but it's difficult. I don't know what to do. I hope it will be okay. I understand that the Interior Ministry may think I am deceiving them because of that document from 10 years ago, but I don't think that's a rational thought.
"Can anyone suspect that I went back to Ukraine for a conversion for years, and studied in yeshivot for years, only to apply for an immigrant status again?"
Wolstein married a Jewish woman in Ukraine, at the local rabbinate, and the couple has a daughter. "If I had only wanted a citizenship, perhaps I would have married a woman with a status according to the Law of Return," he says.
Wolstein, whose visa expired about two weeks ago, petitioned the High Court of Justice on Sunday, claiming that "the petitioner has tied his fate with the fate of the Jewish people, while paying a heavy price, to fulfill his dream and immigrate to Israel as a Jew."
"I didn't think I would come back, but it happened," he says. "I have always dreamed about the Land of Israel, which everything depends on. I didn't take this long and hard road for nothing, and especially not in order to deceive anyone.
"I discovered that it's the only way for me in life, to be close to God. It's not easy, even dangerous. I believe that above everything, if God thinks I should come back – I will come back."
What criteria did Interior Ministry use?
The petition claims that the Interior Ministry's decision contradicts the State's stand that every Jew is entitled to immigrate to Israel.
Wolstein also wonders through his lawyer, Shlomo Asraf, whether it is possible for one authority in the State of Israel to confirm a person's conversion and for another authority to reject it.
Wolstein further claims that the Interior Ministry did inform him on the criteria it used to determine that it was unconvinced by the sincerity of the conversion. He asks why is his conversion not recognized although it was conducted in a famous and dignified Orthodox community abroad.
'Torah is his profession'
According to the documents attached to the petition, as well as testimonies that Wolstein committed to observe Torah and mitzvot, he had studied in yeshivot for about 10 years.
"The petitioner left behind the affairs of this world and engaged in 'Torah is his profession,'" the petition says. "Can the conversion of such a person with such a lifestyle be doubted?"
The petition asks the High Court to determine that the Interior Ministry's decision is "arbitrary and unreasonable, and should therefore be canceled."
Until a decision is made, and in light of the fact that Wolstein's visa has expired, he is also requesting the court to issue an interim order which will allow him to stay in Israel.
Attorney Asraf, who is representing Wolstein on behalf of the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, said Sunday that "there is a great contradiction here. The governmental regularity, law and order in the State on the one hand, while on the other hand rejecting a Jew arriving here.
"This is not a case of a non-Orthodox conversion or a problematic conversion, but a conversion that is undoubtedly kosher. For unknown reasons, and for the first time as far as we know, the Interior Ministry rejects a conversion approved by the Orthodox authority – the Rabbinate."