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!
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • 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.