Israel Deports Some Converted Immigrants

State Rejects Haredi Rabbis' Conversions to Judaism

By Nathan Jeffay

Published December 17, 2011, issue of December 23, 2011.
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Within the next few weeks Martina Ragachova could be deported from Israel — for being too frum.

Not Jewish Enough: Martina Ragachova is facing deportation from Israel because her conversion to Judaism has been rejected.
Not Jewish Enough: Martina Ragachova is facing deportation from Israel because her conversion to Judaism has been rejected.

Prague-born Ragachova, 37, moved to Israel a decade ago, and in 2004 converted to Judaism in the Bnei Brak rabbinic court of Nissim Karelitz, one of the world’s best-respected and most stringent Haredi rabbis. Karelitz was so moved by the genuineness of her commitment to Judaism that he knelt before her by way of congratulation.

Prior to this ultra-Orthodox conversion, Ragachova had applied to become Jewish in the modern-Orthodox state-run conversion courts. But they did not accept her application. So she took the private Haredi track.

She now has a conversion certificate that is accepted by virtually every rabbi in the world, in contrast to the state conversion she originally applied for, which is viewed with skepticism by large sections of the Orthodox community. But because she took her conversion into her own hands, Israel’s state rabbinate and Interior Ministry insist that she is not Jewish.

This means she cannot marry in Israel. When it comes to weddings performed in-country, the government recognizes only religious marriages. And for Jews, this means weddings officiated by Orthodox rabbis between individuals the government recognizes as Jews.

More immediately, it means that she could be deported because the Interior Ministry doesn’t consider her Jewish and will not grant her citizenship.

Until now, Ragachova has avoided deportation thanks to an injunction she obtained by going to court. Early next year, the Supreme Court will hear her case along with those of others in her situation.

If the court forces the state to recognize her conversion, as she is asking, the state’s monopoly on conversion will be over. If she is deported, there will be outrage in the Haredi community, which will see the ruling as an insult to one of its leading scholars.

“The conversion I passed is acceptable in every country in the world apart from Israel. It’s an absurd situation,” Ragachova told the Forward. She complained that she has been in limbo since her conversion due to her lack of citizenship. Until the court first considered her case in November, her lack of citizenship prevented her from working under the law. The temporary injunction she obtained now allows her to work during her case’s legal proceedings.

Ragachova’s case highlights a strange situation that has come about in Israel: Haredi conversion has become a relatively easy option for some who are prepared to follow an extra-stringent observant lifestyle.


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