Israeli group files lawsuit asking Interior Ministry to recognize converts

JERUSALEM (JTA) — An Israeli group that advocates for religious services in the country has filed a lawsuit with the Supreme Court demanding that the Interior Ministry recognize all Orthodox conversions performed in Israel.

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The Jewish Advocacy Center for ITIM: the Jewish Life Information Center, petitioned the Supreme Court Wednesday demanding that the Interior Ministry recognize all Orthodox conversions performed in Israel, and specifically those performed in private Orthodox rabbinical courts.

The petition calls on the government to create a conversion process that is fair and accessible.

“Interior Ministry officials are now determining ‘who is a Jew,’  against the decisions of Israel’s rabbinical courts,” said Rabbi Seth Farber, founder and director of ITIM, in a statement.

Since 2004, the State of Israel’s conversion programs have been under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s office, but according to some estimates close to 10 percent of Orthodox conversions take place independent of the State system. During the past four years, the State has implemented policies that reject converts out of hand,  because of their personal status as tourists, students or spouses of Israelis.

The petition was filed on behalf of converts to Judaism who completed the conversion process headed by two major Orthodox rabbis who are well-respected throughout the world: Rabbi Nissim Karelitz and Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz. Though the conversions were certified by the rabbinical court, the Interior Ministry refused to recognize the conversions, which ITIM argues exceeds its authority. 

In May, 2011, Israel’s Chief Rabbinate agreed to recognize all official Jewish conversions undertaken in the country, which are all Orthodox.

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