Israeli group files lawsuit on behalf of Orthodox converts


JERUSALEM (JTA) — An Orthodox advocacy group has filed a lawsuit in Israel’s Supreme Court against the Interior Ministry, demanding that it recognize Orthodox conversions performed abroad for the purposes of aliyah.

The Jerusalem-based ITIM, the Jewish Life Information Center, in a lawsuit filed Thursday argues that individuals who underwent Orthodox conversions in recognized communities outside of Israel should be granted citizenship in Israel under the Law of Return.

The lawsuit was filed as well on behalf of Tomas Dolhan, a Canadian man who completed an Orthodox conversion in February 2010 and was denied Israeli citizenship. Dolhan, his wife and four children arrived in Israel four months ago. Dohlan’s wife is an Israeli citizen.  

In 1988, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that individuals who underwent conversions in "recognized" communities around the world would be eligible for aliyah under the Law of Return. However, the Interior Ministry consults with Israel’s Chief Rabbinate to determine which communities are “recognized.”

When a convert presents an aliyah application, the ministry relies on the leadership of the denominations to determine eligibility. The Conservative and Reform communities are centralized and vouch for their converts.

Since Orthodox Judaism does not have a centralized leadership, the ministry has determined that Israel’s chief rabbi is the leader of Orthodoxy around the world. The Chief Rabbinate now only recognizes conversions performed by about 50 Orthodox rabbis in North America; there are more than 2,000 Orthodox rabbis in North America.

Since March, 20 converts have approached ITIM who were denied Israeli citizenship because their Orthodox conversions were deemed unsatisfactory by the Chief Rabbinate, according to Rabbi Seth Farber, director of ITIM.

“An anomalous situation has been created where Orthodox converts are being discriminated against," Farber said. “Unfortunately, only by going to the Supreme Court can we protect converts.

“This situation cannot continue,” he added.

Last week, the Chief Rabbinate and ITIM reached an agreement under which the rabbinate will recognize all conversions conferred under the auspices of official Israeli conversion programs, including the military, which are all Orthodox.

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