Want Your Adopted Child To Be Jewish? In Israel, Act Orthodox

By Orly Vilnai (Haaretz)

Published December 13, 2009.

Nira and Yaron had been trying to have a baby for eight years. They did everything - in-vitro fertilizations, egg donations, treatments in Israel and abroad. Nothing worked. The only way they would be able to have a family was by adoption. The Taf adoption agency found a baby for them after a few weeks of searches, and they were called to Belarus to adopt an abandoned 11-month-old baby boy. Their happiness knew no bounds.

When they returned to Israel, they immediately began the process of having the baby converted to Judaism. They turned to the rabbinic court in Ashkelon, the seat of the head of the conversion administration, Rabbi Yosef Avior. The rabbi told them that if they wanted to have the baby converted, they would have to become observant Jews. The couple told Avior that they live a secular lifestyle but that they observe commandments: Yaron puts on phylacteries every morning and Nira observes the basic commandments for women. Nira and Yaron pledged in writing at the meeting that they would raise little Yair in the same way. It took a while, but at the age of 17 months, Yair underwent circumcision with the approval of the conversion administration.

When Yair got older, the couple decided to adopt another child. They raised the money, 160,000 shekels, from family and friends and flew to Belarus again. When they returned to Israel with Yair’s little brother, Dan, once again they went to see Rabbi Avior. This time, he refused. “I do not recall that the older brother goes to a religious school,” he said, adding that until that happened, he would not covert the baby.

It turns out that Nira and Yaron are not alone. The rabbinate in Israel requires adopted children to go to Orthodox schools, and many parents produce false certificates to overcome this obstacle. However, Nira did not want to lie, and the parents decided to register their son in a religious school.

But Yair wept bitterly when he heard he would have to leave his school friends and move to an Orthodox school far from home. Nira went back to the rabbi and said she could not send him to an Orthodox school after all. The rabbi then said that if she did not, he would revoke Yair’s Jewish status. He maintained his refusal to convert Dan.

“The rabbis told me, ‘at home you can pray to a statue and eat pork; the child has to go to a religious school,” Nira said.

After several months, the rabbis also turned down Nira’s request to perform and supervise Dan’s circumcision ceremony. The couple therefore paid for a private procedure, at a cost of 4,000 shekels.

“This is clearly religious coercion,” Yaron says. “I am no less good a Jew than a religious person. We went to the army, we observe commandments, we work hard and we went through hell until we received these children. Why are they doing this to us? Who are they to say whether we are Jewish enough?”

His wife, Nira, says, “I asked Avior why he was doing this to me. He answered, ‘it’s not me, it’s halakha [Jewish law].’ I have girlfriends who don’t even believe in God. They’re allowed to raise children here?”

The irony in this story comes to the fore in a letter sent to adoptive parents when they return to Israel: Under letterhead reading: “Prime Minister’s Office - Conversion Administration - Special Rabbinic Tribunals for Conversion,” the letter congratulates the parents with the Talmudic maxim: “He who raises an orphan in his home is regarded as if he had actually brought him into this world.” It seems that words are one thing and actions are another.

The Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement that Yair’s Jewish status was not at all in question and therefore had not been rescinded, and the conversion of his brother had not yet started.

“The special sensitivity of the conversion of children is clear to the heads of the conversion administration, particularly in the case of adopted children. Therefore the conversion administration established a special panel in the conversion tribunal that is expert in the matter of children’s conversions. The panel acts according to the personal directives of the head of the conversion administration, Rabbi Haim Druckman,” the statement said.



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