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!
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • 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.