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Cruelty Under the Guise of Religion

On the eve of Israel's 60th Independence Day, the time has come to return to the values of the Declaration of Independence and liberate ourselves from the destructive bonds of religious coercion.

The decision by three rabbinic judges at the Supreme Rabbinic Court in Jerusalem, headed by Rabbi Avraham Sherman, to annul conversions conducted since 1999 by Rabbi Haim Druckman and the conversion court system comes as no surprise. The threat of the revocation has been hovering for more than half a year now, ever since the Ashdod Regional Rabbinic Court revoked the conversion of a city resident, which served as an excuse for the sweeping revocation.

The harassment of converts who, at the end of an exhausting and sometimes even very humiliating process, were granted the conversion certificate they desired - which now seems to be worth less than the paper it is printed on - has become a predictable and familiar trick. This is especially the case ever since the establishment of the conversion court system in conjunction with the Prime Minister's Office. This time the rabbinic judges' gall is utterly intolerable.

In effect, the judges ratified the ruling by the Ashdod regional court, which, when it conducted divorce proceedings for a woman who had converted to Judaism 15 years ago, dared to snoop after her and discovered, it claims, that she does not observe religious strictures and never intended to observe them. This being the case, the three judges in Jerusalem, in the wake of the judges in Ashdod, ruled that the woman is not Jewish and therefore her marriage is not valid and her children from that marriage are not Jewish. They ruled that she will be registered as ineligible for marriage or eligible only under restricted circumstances.

Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar has harshly attacked this ruling and has argued that it is nothing but criticism of a single conversion. The rabbis of the Tzohar organization, who represent the humane and sane group in the Orthodox rabbinate, have raised an outcry, and their close associate, Rabbi Druckman himself, has called this a personal attack. The chairman of the National-Union-National Religious Party, MK Zevulun Orlev, even proposed on Sunday that the Rabbinic Court's authority in matters of conversion be revoked and left in the hands of the conversion court system. But all of these reactions are a storm in the teacup of the world of rabbinic law and do not concern the general public.

In recent years, every candidate for conversion has had to become familiar with the corridors of Israel's rabbinic courts, as well as the complicated relations between the courts, Rabbi Druckman and his former deputy Rabbi Yosef Avior. Conversion candidates have had to become knowledgeable about the twists and turns of the various religious streams and the outlooks of the rival groups. They have had to accept the results of the power struggles within the conversion system itself.

The converts, for whom belonging to the Jewish people is so important that they are prepared to face unreasonable difficulties, have suffered all of this in silence. Their hardships are a mark of disgrace for the religious establishment, and more than that - for a state that allows it to run amok. No democratic country should treat its immigrants with such blatant ethnocentricity.

The affair of the annulment of the conversions strongly underlines the urgent need to separate religion from state and to restore civil sovereignty to the state system. Its first, significant step should be registering all citizens, regardless of religion, as being of "Israeli" nationality in their identity cards. On the eve of Israel's 60th Independence Day, the time has come to return to the values of the Declaration of Independence and liberate ourselves from the destructive bonds of religious coercion.