On conversion and the Israeli rabbinate

On conversion and the Israeli rabbinate

While Shammai Engelmayer’s Jan. 23 column excoriates the new Orthodox rabbinical extremism in Israel that increasingly invalidates proper Orthodox conversions, it should be noted that Conservative conversions do find acceptance in Israel. According to the Law of Return, Conservative conversions carried out in the diaspora are accepted in Israel and the bearers are registered as Jews by the Ministry of the Interior.

Orthodox conversions are, however, brought before the official Orthodox rabbinate in Israel – which, as we have seen, frequently discovers new reasons to disqualify these conversions. With regard to Orthodox conversions the Interior Ministry defers to the government rabbinate.

Years ago, a woman who had studied with me opted for an Orthodox conversion because she wanted to be married in Israel by an Orthodox rabbi. She was converted by a chasidishe bet din. When she brought the document to the Jewish Agency to arrange for her acceptance and marriage in Israel, its representative told her that the Israeli rabbinate would never accept the work of that court. She became hysterical and mentioned that she had studied with me, whereupon she was told that a conversion supervised by me would be accepted. Thus she came back to plead with me to reconvert her. I had made it a principle to accept any conversion carried out in accordance with halacha, as all Conservative conversions are. Thus I would not reconvert someone whose conversion adhered to the requirements of Jewish law. Nevertheless in this case I made an exception and reconverted her according to halacha. She had a civil wedding in the United States and then, in Israel, a Masorti (Conservative) rabbi officiated at her marriage.

Frequently, Orthodox laymen and Orthodox rabbis tell prospective proselytes that only Orthodox conversions are valid, omitting the fact that there are Orthodox rabbis who quietly accept Conservative conversions. Second, a Conservative conversion is not likely to be rendered null and void by another Conservative rabbi 20 years into the future.