Israel Rejects Citizenship Bid of African-American Convert Married to Israeli Woman

David Ben Moshe was converted by an Orthodox rabbi in Baltimore in 2017, but his attempt to make aliyah to Israel has been rejected because he didn’t subsequently spend 9 months among local Jewish community in Maryland

David Ben Moshe with his wife Tamar on their wedding day in Israel, August 2018.
Meni Shitrit

He was deemed Jewish enough to marry in Israel, but a 30-year-old African-American was told on Sunday that his conversion is not recognized by the state and he is therefore ineligible for Israeli citizenship.

David Ben Moshe appears to have been rejected on technical grounds, according to sources familiar with the case. Under rules introduced about 10 years ago, individuals who convert outside of Israel must spend a minimum of nine months in the Jewish community in which they converted before making aliyah to Israel. Ben Moshe, who was converted in Baltimore, departed for Israel a little more than a month after he completed his conversion.

He told Haaretz that he plans to appeal the decision. “I’m very unhappy about it and especially the way that it happened – they contacted none of the people who had written letters on my behalf, but still managed to drag this thing on for nine months,” he said. 

Under Israel's Law of Return, individuals with at least one Jewish grandparent, the spouses of Jews and individuals who have undergone conversion in recognized Jewish communities can immigrate to Israel and obtain citizenship automatically.

Ben Moshe was converted two years ago by an Orthodox rabbinical court headed by Rabbi Etan Mintz of B’nai Israel congregation in Baltimore. Before converting, he had spent two-and-a-half years in prison for unlicensed dealing in firearms and drug trafficking. 

While studying at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, Ben Moshe fell in love with an Israeli woman, and the two were married last August by an Orthodox rabbi approved by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate.

His Jewish credentials were never called into question during that process, he said.

Ben Moshe submitted his application for immigrant status under the Law of Return last May. In the response he received Sunday, he was notified that his conversion “is not recognized for receiving status in Israel.”

The letter did not elaborate why it was not recognized, but recommended that he submit an application for status as the spouse of an Israeli citizen. Such status, if approved, would allow him to stay in the country, but would not confer upon him the financial and other benefits enjoyed by immigrants.

Asked for comment, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry told Haaretz: “The fact that the abovementioned individual is married to an Israeli has no bearing on his request for immigrant status.”

Ben Moshe recently received an offer to work as a fitness instructor at a gym in Jerusalem, but has been unable to accept it because he has no legal status in the country, he said.

Commenting on the case, Rabbi Seth Farber, executive director of ITIM (an organization that advocates for immigrants and converts), said: “The Interior Ministry’s criteria for what defines a conversion do not correspond with realities on the ground in the North American Jewish community.  Rather than respecting the autonomy of the local Jewish communities to determine Jewishness, the ministry uses arbitrary criteria – like the nine-month rule – which exclude genuine converts from realizing their dreams of living in Israel.”