Israel Proposes Separate Marriage Registry for State-sponsored Converts

Critics argue that the state's proposed solution perpetuates the inferior status of converts and does not provide an answer their needs.

Yair Ettinger
Yair Ettinger
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Yair Ettinger
Yair Ettinger

A special rabbinical track should be created to register marriages in which one or both spouses underwent a state-sponsored conversion, the state told the High Court of Justice yesterday. It thereby effectively said it would not force members of the official rabbinate to register such marriages, even though these rabbis receive their salaries from the state.

Wedding ceremony in Tel Aviv.Credit: Alex Levac

Some ultra-Orthodox rabbis have refused to register converts' marriages because they do not recognize the validity of the state-sponsored conversions. Yesterday's brief was filed in response to a petition by ITIM - The Jewish Life Information Center against the Chief Rabbinate and four such rabbis, from Rishon Letzion, Ashkelon, Ashdod and Rehovot.

The brief also affirmed unequivocally that the state recognizes conversions performed under the auspices of the Israel Defense Forces as valid. At a High Court hearing earlier this year, a government attorney had said the validity of such conversions was in doubt. The court then demanded that the state formulate a clear position on these conversions and submit it in writing.

The brief also urged the court to dismiss the petition on the grounds that a solution to the problem has now been found: On the advice of the Chief Rabbinate's governing council, it states, "A decision has been made to appoint four of the rabbis who serve as judges on the special rabbinical courts for [approving] conversions as marriage registrars for couples of which one or both member underwent conversion under state auspices."

All four of the selected rabbis are religious Zionists, not Haredim.

The brief defined the rabbinate's proposal as an "appropriate, reasonable and suitable solution," since on one hand, it allows converts to register their marriages, but on the other, it "doesn't force local rabbis to act in opposition to their halakhic views and the commands of their conscience."

Regarding the IDF conversions, the brief said they are "part of the State of Israel's state-sponsored conversion system," and "state agencies recognize the validity of these conversions in every regard."

ITIM's director, Rabbi Seth Farber, said he viewed the brief's unequivocal recognition of IDF conversions as an achievement.

No special line

However, he added, he considers it unacceptable that the state "is unwilling to compel marriage registrars to accept these conversions." The state's proposed solution "doesn't provide an answer to the converts' needs," he argued, and it also violates Jewish tradition, which requires that converts be treated exactly the same as born Jews, not "sent to stand in a special line."

"That's reminiscent of the special lines for blacks in the 1960s," he said, referring to the segregation era in America.

Tzohar, an organization of religious Zionist rabbis, also objected to the proposed solution. It urged the rabbinate and the state "not to perpetuate the inferior status of converts by accepting a situation in which converts who convert legally via the State of Israel's rabbinical courts, whether civilian or military, are relegated to second class. The Chief Rabbinate must view it as a supreme moral and religious obligation to do everything possible so that the convert will be like everyone else, and compel every rabbi who receives his salary from the state to recognize these conversions, which are performed under the authority of Israel's Chief Rabbinate."

The Israeli branches of the Conservative and Reform movements also denounced the proposed solution.