The woman converted to Judaism in the past in one of the world's most prestigious ultra-Orthodox courts, and has already been recognized as Jewish by the Chief Rabbinate.
The Interior Ministry is insisting that the two repeat the conversion process, arguing that the woman chose to turn to a private court rather than to the national conversion system. The boy will be forced to undergo a "hatafat dam" process (to have a drop of blood extracted from the penis at the point where the foreskin was attached) and the woman will be required to immerse in a ritual bath in front of male judges – all for bureaucratic reasons.
On Tuesday, the High Court of Justice was to discuss a petition filed by the Itim association, which is helping the family in its battle for recognition. The family's representatives, attorneys Prof. Aviad Hacohen and Elad Kaplan, point to an absurd situation in which one of the State's arms, the Chief Rabbinate, confirms the conversion under its exclusive authority, while the other arm, the Interior Ministry, rejects the conversion without any authority.
Ministry rejects conversion after marriage
The woman, A., a Peruvian national, says she became attached to the Jewish religion "without any ulterior motive" in 2006, and began learning about it with the help of an Israeli residing in Peru at the time, who is today her husband. Due to the absence of suitable Orthodox institutions in her country, she arrived in Israel in order to convert to Judaism.
Because "of foot-dragging, bureaucratic complications and inappropriate treatment to the point of humiliation," which she says she experienced in the national conversion system, A. turned to the Orthodox Lithuanian court of prominent Rabbi Nissim Karelitz in the city of Bnei Brak. In early 2011, she completed the conversion process, a year later she was recognized as Jewish by the Netanya Rabbinate, and two months later she got married according to Jewish law.
Based on the marriage certificate from the Rabbinate, the Interior Ministry registered the couple as married. Absurdly, it won't recognize A. as Jewish, although there is no dispute over the halachic validity of her conversion process. About two years ago, the couple had a son who was circumcised – but the ministry refuses to recognize him as Jewish either.
"Over the years, many proselytes who underwent a similar process to that of the petitioners were registered in the census registration as 'Jewish,' after it was clarified that the conversion process was sincere and real," attorneys Hacohen and Kaplan wrote in their High Court petition. "Only in the past few years, difficulties have been created for these sincere proselytes."
'The ministry exceeded its authority'
According to the petitioners' representatives, they are being discriminated against compared to other converts from Israel's state courts and recognized private courts abroad, whose conversions are approved, and from Israel's private courts, whose conversions were approved in the past. The lawyers noted that the ministry had never published any criteria on the matter.
The petitioners accused the Interior Ministry of exceeding its authority, as "the Jewish Halacha determines who is a 'proselyte by conviction,' and when a rabbinical court or a rabbi register a marriage, being authorized by the State to decide on the matter, the Interior Ministry cannot undermine the decision or ponder it."
For these reasons, the petitioners argued, the ministry violated human dignity, religious choice and the right to marriage, family life and parenthood, "in a way which will stain their offspring forever and mark them as 'non-Jews.'"
State says woman failed to disclose facts
The State, in its response to the High Court, accused A. of lack of integrity, stating that she "failed to disclose factual details" in her petition and did not mention the fact that before petitioning the court she had been summoned several times to a state court in order to complete the conversion, but chose not to show up or to send her representative instead.
"Theoretically, the petitioner could have received her request… as long as she had reported to the special conversion court," the State claimed. "In other words, in addition to the fact that the petitioner failed to include factual details in her petition, she also chose not to use a procedure available to her."
The woman's representatives responded that in all her attempts to solve the problem with the state court, she was suffered "despicable treatment to the point of real humiliation." According to the lawyers, the petitioner's file "got lost" twice and the conversion approval was postponed repeatedly for 20 months, while the entire conversion process took about 10 months.
"Only when all hope was lost and the petitioner could no longer endure the entanglement and humiliation she suffered at the conversion court, she was forced to turn to Rabbi Karelitz's court," they wrote.
Attorneys Hacohen and Kaplan further noted that the State, in its response to the court, was belittling the meaning of the demand to "complete the conversion," which they said was "a significant mental, emotional, faithful, intellectual, familial, social and cultural process, rather than an ordinary bureaucratic procedure."
According to the lawyers, two courts have determined that A. was Jewish for all intents and purposes, and now she is required to have her son undergo a "hatafat dam" process in vain, "with all the trauma and physical and mental damage involved," while violating the dignity of the child and his parents.
They further noted that the demand for a repeated conversion likely conceals a demand for a renewed marriage.