Israel’s Chief Rabbinate agrees to recognize all Orthodox conversions


JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s Chief Rabbinate has agreed to recognize all official Jewish conversions undertaken in the country, which are all Orthodox, JTA has learned.

ITIM, the Jewish Life Information Center, and the Chief Rabbinate have reached an agreement under which the rabbinate will recognize all conversions conferred under the auspices of official Israeli conversion programs, including the military. The agreement was made available to JTA.

The Chief Rabbinate recognizes only Orthodox conversions, not those of the Reform or Masorti/Conservative movements.

ITIIM had filed a lawsuit against the rabbinate in the Israeli Supreme Court in May 2010 after the rabbinate refused to recognize the conversions of some couples who had come to register for marriage.

Under the agreement, local rabbis are obligated to open a marriage file for any convert that comes before them. If a local rabbi does not feel he can open the file, he can send the paperwork to a national office, which must return the paperwork to the original office within two weeks. The file then must appear on the local office’s letterhead.

The Chief Rabbinate had offered to open a separate registration bureau for converts in three cities, which ITIM turned down as discriminatory.

"I am a little skeptical whether the local rabbis will follow as directed because they have already demonstrated that they have no respect for the Chief Rabbinate," Rabbi Seth Farber, founder and director of ITIM, told JTA.

Farber said ITIM is set to respond positively to the state’s offer on May 8 — the deadline for the organization to respond. He said the organization will not withdraw the complaint, only freeze it, giving the Chief Rabbinate one month to implement the new system and six months to see how it works. If it is not successful, the group can unfreeze the complaint.

"We see in the state’s response a victory for the converts and the justification of the righteousness of this struggle," Farber said. "From now on, converts can again feel like an integral part of the Jewish people and not feel inferior. We must continue to be vigilant to ensure that such incidents do not repeat themselves in the future and that the state’s policy decisions are actually implemented." 

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