the lot of an israeli jewish convert

Mazuz stands by Druckman conversions
Dan Izenberg, Matthew Wagner, JPost, Sep 25 2008

Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz has called on the High Court of Justice to accept a petition by a Danish-born convert to Judaism demanding that it overrule rabbinical court decisions nullifying the conversions, including hers, made by special courts headed by Rabbi Haim Druckman. The call to cancel the conversions was made by Dayan Avraham Attia, a member of the Ashdod District Rabbinical Court, and in a ruling by Dayan Avraham Sherman of the Supreme Rabbinical Court. The petition against the cancellations was filed by the Danish-born woman whose Judaism was rejected by Attia 15 years after she converted, her three children and a long list of women’s organizations, including the Center for Women’s Justice. In his response to the petition, which was filed on June 5, Mazuz argued that Attia’s decision should have been rejected because of procedural flaws and therefore the Supreme Rabbinical Court should not have heard the appeal or ruled on the matter at all. This would mean not only that the woman would still be considered a Jew, but that the ruling to nullify the Druckman conversion court decisions would also not have been made.

According to Mazuz, Attia did not give the woman a fair chance to defend herself against his ruling that her conversion was fraudulent because she had not observed halacha. The case had begun innocently, when the convert and her husband filed for an uncontested divorce. All seemed to be going well during the hearing and Attia was preparing the terms of the divorce when he asked her whether she was observant. The woman replied she was not, not realizing that this could impact on the divorce application. It did. Soon afterwards, Attia ruled the woman was not Jewish and that therefore the marriage was invalid from the start, and the couple did not need a divorce. He also ruled that the woman and her children could not marry here for the time being. According to attorney Susan Weiss, who is representing the petitioners, eight of the nine pages in Attia’s ruling contained a “crass diatribe” against the woman and Druckman. The woman and her children appealed the decision to the Supreme Rabbinical Court. The court granted the divorce, but Sherman also attacked Druckman and the conversion courts, and upheld Attia’s decision that the woman was not Jewish.

According to Mazuz, aside from the fact that Attias’s decision should have been nullified and therefore there should not have been any decision regarding the special conversion courts, there are additional reasons why the Supreme Rabbinical Court ruling nullifying their conversions should be rejected. For one, statements made by a judge in a specific case are not binding regarding other individuals, Mazuz wrote. In other words, even if the court properly ruled that the woman was not Jewish, it did not mean that all conversions by the Druckman courts are invalid. Mazuz also rejected the Supreme Rabbinical Court’s instructions to marriage registrars not to register a convert who did not appear to be observant from his external appearance. According to Mazuz, by law registrars are obliged to register any convert who has a conversion certificate from an authorized rabbinical court.

Kiryat Ono Chief Rabbi Ratzon Arussi, who was one of 10 rabbis elected on Tuesday to the Council of the Chief Rabbinate, charged that the attorney-general’s legal opinion was a blatant example of illegitimate, secular intervention in a purely religious matter. Arussi, who also has a law degree, said

I did not read the attorney-general’s opinion. However, in principle, I do not think that it is right for the secular legal system to demonstrate such activism in matters that are essentially religious in nature. The proper forum for debate and decision-making is within the Chief Rabbinate Council. We need to receive direction from the chief rabbi and the Council of the Chief Rabbinate.

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