Declaring bride's conversion treif, Rishon Lezion rabbi nixes marriage
Matthew Wagner • THE JERUSALEM POST
Rishon Lezion Chief Rabbi Yehuda David Wolpe refused to issue a marriage license for a couple living in his city because the bride's conversion - performed under the auspices of the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate of Israel - was deemed to be unkosher.
This is the second time in less than a month that Wolpe has refused to honor a marriage after the wedding took place.
In the latest case, the woman, who immigrated to Israel under the Law of Return but who was not Jewish according to Orthodox Jewish criteria, converted to Judaism two years ago.
The conversion was performed by the State Conversion Authority under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate. However, Wolpe reached the conclusion that the woman was not sincere about embracing Judaism.
Therefore, he refused to issue a marriage license three weeks after the woman was married in a ceremony performed by an Orthodox rabbi in accordance with Jewish law.
The head of the State Conversion Authority, Rabbi Haim Druckman, has come under fire from the haredi rabbinical establishment for taking an allegedly overly lenient stand on conversions.
Rabbi Avraham Sherman, a judge on the High Rabbinic Court, has called into question Druckman's conversions.
City rabbis in Ashdod, Petah Tikva, Ma'aleh Adumim, Beersheba and Rehovot have refused to automatically recognize Druckman's conversions.
In a telephone interview with The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, Wolpe said he did not automatically disqualify Druckman's conversions.
"Each case is dealt with individually," said Wolpe, who refused to comment on any specific cases in which he ruled that a conversion was not kosher, out of respect for the individuals' privacy.
Rabbi Shaul Farber, the head of ITIM, an organization that helps Israelis navigate bureaucratic difficulties created by the Chief Rabbinate, said Wolpe was obligated to recognize the woman's conversion.
"Too many people are being forced to suffer because the Chief Rabbinate is not enforcing its authority with city rabbis," said Farber, who is trying to help the woman whose conversion was rejected by Wolpe.
"By its inaction the Chief Rabbinate is allowing the Torah prohibition not to insult the convert to be transgressed," Farber said.
He said that Rishon Lezion's large immigrant population probably has a higher than average proportion of converts and that Wolpe's stringent conversion policy is likely to cause friction there.
Wolpe, who receives his authority from the Chief Rabbinate, is technically obligated to honor conversions performed by the Chief Rabbinate, in accordance with a decision reached by the Chief Rabbinate's governing body several years ago.
However, the decision has not been enforced.
Instead, converts who live in cities in which the chief rabbi refuses to automatically recognize their conversions must go to a more lenient city rabbi to register their marriages.
Although this is illegal, the Chief Rabbinate has turned a blind eye.
Just two weeks ago, Wolpe refused to provide a marriage license for a couple who was married in Rishon Lezion.
In that case the husband, an immigrant from the former Soviet Union, was converted as an IDF soldier in a program called Nativ.
Over the past several years since Nativ established an intensive course in Judaism designed to prepare non-Jewish immigrants for conversion, about 10,000 people have attended the course and some 3,700 conversions have been performed.
Maj.-Gen. (res.) Elazar Stern, a former head of the IDF's Human Resources Directorate, who was the driving force behind the creation of Nativ, said this week that rabbis like Wolpe were "disparaging the State of Israel."
"A small but growing group of haredi rabbis have hijacked the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and they have created an absurd situation in which one state institution refuses to recognize the legitimacy of another state institution," said Stern, who is chairman of the advisory board of the Genesis Philanthropic Group.
Stern said that Genesis, which was founded by Mikhail Fridman, German Khan, Petr Aven, Alex Knaster and Stan Polovets, a group of Russian bankers and businessmen, has provided millions of dollars of financial support to Nativ.
The conversion of young, particularly female, non-Jews who either immigrated or are the offspring of immigrants is seen by many Zionists as a way of preventing intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews and fostering a more cohesive Israeli society.
However, haredi rabbis see conversion as a radical religious transformation in which a non-Jew agrees to adopt a strictly Orthodox lifestyle.