Israel Slower To Welcome Converts

New Jews Find Legal Roadblocks on Road to Citizenship

Wedding Woes: Rabbi Seth Farber (right) presides over the wedding of a man who is a convert to Judaism. Some rabbis will not marry converts, who are also facing roadblocks on the path to Israeli citizenship.
courtesy of seth farber
Wedding Woes: Rabbi Seth Farber (right) presides over the wedding of a man who is a convert to Judaism. Some rabbis will not marry converts, who are also facing roadblocks on the path to Israeli citizenship.

By Nathan Jeffay

Published April 25, 2012, issue of May 04, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

For 64 years, Israel has been encouraging Jews, whoever and wherever they are, to immigrate as soon as possible. But today, with increasing regularity, one Jewish demographic is being told to slow down: converts to Judaism.

Over the past four months, 15 people who have converted in the Diaspora, through Diaspora rabbinates that Israel deems legitimate, have found themselves denied citizenship under the Law of Return for one simple reason: They were too keen to immigrate or, as Israelis say, using a Hebrew term, make aliyah.

Israel’s Interior Ministry has long asserted that it has the power to withhold immigration rights from converts unless they have been residents of their Diaspora community for a period of time after they convert. It has done so in defiance of a 2005 Supreme Court ruling stating that because all Jews have equal rights to aliyah, converts may immigrate as soon as they become Jewish.

Despite the ruling, the Interior Ministry did not stop claiming power to impose residency requirements, but it applied it sparingly. Now, however, it appears to be making residency demands routinely — leaving some converts in limbo. Most of the 15 applicants refused over the past four months are currently living in Israel on tourist visas. They now face the quandary that to become citizens, they must leave their new lives and return to the Diaspora.

But even this solution is problematic. Lidiah Bikus, a convert from the Belorussian town of Kishinev, asked the Interior Ministry earlier this year what, exactly, are the residency criteria she must fulfill before making aliyah. She received a response, which the Forward has reviewed, in which the Interior Ministry admitted that there are no final or publicly available criteria.

In other words, converts have no idea how long they must spend in the Diaspora before moving to Israel. In the absence of guidelines, converts who have already moved to Israel on tourist visas are confused as to whether returning to the Diaspora now and trying to fulfill the residency requirement will help them — or whether they have missed their only chance for aliyah because the needed to stay put immediately after conversion.

“It is sad that these people have gone through such a significant and difficult process of conversion to Judaism, only to find that the State of Israel, the center of Judaism today, is giving them this slap in the face,” said Seth Farber, an Orthodox rabbi who runs ITIM, a not-for-profit organization that advocates on behalf of converts.

The Interior Ministry’s residency requirement affects people who have converted through both Orthodox and non-Orthodox rabbinates, meaning that the refusees include people who are full Jews in the eyes of Israel’s Orthodox Chief Rabbinate. Normally, the Chief Rabbinate is far more selective than the state in terms of which conversions it accepts.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.