Israel's Chief Rabbi Calls Rahel Del Conte Jewish, but Israel Does Not

Rahel del Conte, a convert to Judaism who was born in Italy, does not know enough Hebrew to describe her disappointment that Israel has rejected her time after time and refuses to recognize her Judaism. For now, she transmits her feelings mainly through the sighs between her words.

If she wanted, Conte could have been accepted into any other Jewish community in the world: Her conversion ceremony in 2006 was before an Orthodox religious court, and even Israel's Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar approved it. But that did not help her get Israeli citizenship. Those responsible for this absurdity are Interior Ministry officials, who refuse to recognize her conversion, register her as Jewish on her identity card and grant her immigrant status. The officials say that del Conte did not meet one of the ministry's criteria for those undergoing conversion abroad: remaining for a year in the community in which the conversion was carried out.

Itim, the Jewish Life Information Center, which represents various conversion candidates in their dealings with the establishment, petitioned the High Court of Justice on Monday to order the Interior Ministry to show cause why del Conte should not be given new immigrant status immediately. The petition noted that according to a 2005 High Court ruling, conversions that take place in recognized Jewish communities abroad must be recognized, even if the convert studied in Israel and then went abroad for the conversion.

Rabbi Seth Farber, Itim's director, said that he is handling other cases like that of del Conte. He described one man who lived in Israel for years, then coverted in his home country in 1991. But when he applied for Israeli citizenship last year, he was rejected, because he had not fulfilled the "time abroad" criterion.

"The Interior Ministry thumbs its nose at the High Court's rulings," Farber said. "These were Orthodox conversions.