Tough Life for Converts

The Interior Ministry refuses to accept that Israel must recognize Conservative, Reform and Orthodox conversion equally, says attorney Rabbi Uri Regev.

"The Interior Ministry, without exception, refuses to accept the fact that the State of Israel must recognize Conservative, Reform and Orthodox conversion equally," says attorney Rabbi Uri Regev, director of the Hiddush organization that promotes religious freedom and diversity.

"After the court ruled in a pluralistic way on conversion matters, the attorney general's office and the Interior Ministry thought about how to make it more difficult for converts. They decided that even though according to the halakha (Jewish law ) a convert becomes a Jew the moment the process is completed, they will require the convert to also immerse himself first for an entire year in the Jewish community. But there is no legal basis for this requirement: It does not appear in the law. Robbie is entitled to Israeli citizenship by virtue of her conversion. The refusal to comply with her request does not adhere to the mandates of the law and the court ruling.

"And there's another level of absurdity here: When they ask someone like Robbie to prove which Jewish community she lives in here, she has nothing to say. The Israeli folk dancing that they do, the neighborhood, the holidays they celebrate: This is their Jewish framework. Ben-Naim actually asked the clerks at the Interior Ministry, 'What do you mean by a Jewish community in Israel?' and they couldn't answer him.

"The implications of this are very serious. It's a boomerang, because saying that the basis for recognition of someone's Judaism is belonging to a Jewish community in the sense of a synagogue is cutting off the potential absorption of immigrants from the former Soviet Union by means of conversion. It is in our national interest to bring these immigrants here and offer them accessible conversion, but it's clear that after the conversion they aren't necessarily going to become synagogue members.

"The irony is that at a certain point, Ben-Naim will be driven to leave the country: The 'beautiful Israeli' who contributes to scientific research and served as a pilot in the air force will leave the country because the state and its emissaries who've taken over the Interior Ministry want to keep him and his wife apart."

Sabin Haddad, spokesperson for the Population Administration of the Interior Ministry, provided this response: "Mrs. Roberta Ben-Naim submitted a request for immigrant status on May 10, 2009, shortly after her entry into Israel. The examination as to the center of Mr. Arieh Ben-Naim's life indicates that between 2005-2010 he spent a total of one year and five months in Israel. Since both the applicant and her Israeli spouse did not establish the center of their lives in Israel, it was not clear whether their intention was to remain in Israel, as required by section 2 (b ) of the Law of Return: 'An immigrant visa shall be given to any Jew who expresses the desire to settle in Israel.'

"In the past year, the couple has resided in Israel and in order to expedite the handling of her application, Mrs. Ben-Naim was requested to provide additional documents. It should be noted that, throughout the handling of their application, Mr. Ben-Naim and his spouse have received and continue to receive courteous, professional and efficient service, as does everyone who comes into the office. However, every request to present a vital document evoked hostile and negative responses from Mr. Ben-Naim. As soon as he presents all the necessary documents, we will be happy to finish processing the application."