Rabbi Amar must confront Orthodox marriage registrars

By Seth Farber, February 4, 2010
Rabbi Amar: battling rabbinical courts

Rabbi Amar: battling rabbinical courts

Rabbi Shlomo Amar’s signature on a document limiting the power of rabbinical courts in Israel to annul conversions is a significant step in stemming the momentum of conversion annulments in Israel. But it fails to address the wider issues of non-recognition of conversions, particularly by Israeli marriage registrars — and, in that sense, falls short of expectations.

Rabbi Amar has long advocated reorganising conversions internationally. However, at home, he has suffered major setbacks, as strictly Orthodox radicals in the rabbinical courts have engaged in specious tactics to undermine Israel’s conversion system.

In at least three cases of divorce involving a convert, regional rabbinical court judges declared that the divorce was only done as a precautionary measure, given the questionable Jewish status of the convert. The new procedures seek to stem this tide, which essentially gave local rabbinic court judges free rein in determining personal statuses, even when not asked to arbitrate that issue.

Rather than allowing the judges to rule, the new protocols insist that only a special bench — determined by the President of the Rabbinical Court (at present, Rabbi Amar) and with the involvement of the attorney general — can rule on conversion annulments. This puts in a series of checks and balances that was long overdue, and eliminates zealous judges from acting in a partisan manner.

However, the major crisis for most converts in Israel lies elsewhere, in the dismissal of their conversions in an informal way by marriage registrars. At present, more than 10 marriage registrars in Israel refuse to register converts who were converted through the Israeli rabbinate special conversion courts. In their minds, the standards of the conversion courts are unacceptable. This is a travesty.

If standards for conversion need to be improved, the rabbinate should take responsibility for this. But not on the backs of those whom they have already converted.

Leading rabbinical authorities continue to allow marriage registrars to maltreat converts almost every day — treating them like second-class citizens or worse.

While Rabbi Amar deserves credit for standing up against his rabbinical court colleagues, he still needs to be encouraged to do more, and defend legitimate converts from the attacks of those rabbis who refuse to recognise them.

Seth Farber is director of ITIM: The Jewish Life Information Centre

Last updated: 2:26pm, November 8 2010