Protests Mount Against Interior Ministry’s Stamp on Id Cards of Jewish Converts

The Interior Ministry’s order to stamp the identity cards of Jewish converts in Israel with the word “converted” next to the designation “Jewish” was issued after consultation with Attorney General Yosef Harish, the Jerusalem Post and Haaretz reported Thursday.

According to the reports, the Attorney General saw this as the only possible course for the Interior Ministry which was ordered by the Supreme Court to show cause why it refused to register as Jewish a recent American immigrant, Shoshana Miller, who was converted to Judaism by a Reform rabbi in the U.S. The Attorney General is obliged to defend government agencies in litigation.

The Ministry’s action has been fiercely denounced not only by leaders of Reform and Conservative Judaism in Israel and the U.S. but by a growing number of Orthodox rabbis. Former Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren declared flatly Wednesday that the ID card stamp was a violation of halacha because it shamed converts. “Kfar Habad,” the periodical of Habad Hasidim in Israel, called the practice a “disgrace.”

HARISH ADVISED INTERIOR MINISTRY

The Interior Ministry, headed by Rabbi Yitzhak Peretz of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, had intended to argue in court that the only valid converts were those whose conversion passed muster by a Rabbinical Court. But that would have meant circumventing the Law of Return which identifies a Jew as anyone born of a Jewish mother or converted.

Harish, like his predecessor, former Attorney General Yitzhak Zamir, opposed the idea. It was suggested instead that the ID cards of converts would designate Jewish nationality with the word “converted” in parentheses.

But the practice, disclosed Monday at a Supreme Court hearing on the Miller case, drew an avalanche of protests. The Interior Ministry was accused of trying by subterfuge to implement the “Who is a Jew” amendment to the Law of Return which has been repeatedly voted down by the Knesset.

(In New York Thursday, Kenneth Bialkin, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, warned in a statement that “The internecine struggle in Israel–now intensified by the mischievous and unacceptable order requiring the leg-ending of Jews according to the quality of their Jewish origin–does serious harm to the unity of the Jewish people and thus threatens the support that Israel enjoys from every quarter of the Jewish world.”)

(At the same time, Franklin Kreutzer, international president of the United Synagogue of America, the association of 850 Conservative congregations in the U.S. and Canada with a membership of two million, declared Thursday that “Conservative Jewry will reject this second-class and worse type branded citizenship and this action will have dire negative consequences on our attempts to increase Conservative aliya.”)

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