High Court Rules Converts to Judaism Can Stay in Israel

23 February 2017

Israel’s High Court has ruled that two converts to Judaism from Peru can stay in the country in a case brought by the NIF-grantee the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC).

As a result of the court ruling, the Israeli government has agreed to revise the criteria for recognizing conversions performed in “emerging” Jewish communities, the Haaretz newspaper reported.

IRAC’s Legal Aid Center for Olim (LECO) had petitioned the court as part of the ongoing “who is a Jew” struggle that aims to ensure that Reform and Conservative converts to Judaism are allowed to immigrate to the country.

LECO represents hundreds of converts each year as part of its goal to ensure that all Israeli immigrants are granted equal rights irrespective of race, sexual orientation or national origin.

The two converts, Eva and Sadina, discovered in recent years that they are the fourth generation descendants of a Jewish merchant who moved to Peru from his native Morocco more than a century ago searching for work in the rubber industry.

The sisters decided to convert to Judaism together with about 250 other Peruvians with similar ancestry. The group studied Judaism in classes sponsored by Israel’s Conservative Movement. Eva and Sadina began practicing Judaism and completed their conversion by passing an examination by three Conservative rabbis and immersing in a ritual bath. As they emerged from the water, everyone blessed them, saying, “You are our sisters.”

About a year later, when the sisters wanted to join their families living in Be’ersheva, Israel denied them citizenship, allowing them into the country only on tourist visas.

Israel’s Interior Ministry – ruled by the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party — declared their conversion was unacceptable since it was performed in their hometown of Pucallpa and not in in Iquitos, which has an established Jewish community.

In the petition to the Supreme Court, LECO‘s attorney Nicole Maor argued that conversion should be based on the integrity of the conversion process and not on geography.

The court earlier this month granted Eva and Sadina temporary legal status while the Interior Ministry works with the Reform and Conservative movements to adopt new criteria for the recognition of conversions performed outside of Israel. They are expected to obtain permanent residency within six months.

Should that happen, Be’ersheva’s Conservative synagogue is planning to celebrate their citizenship with the same words that welcomed them into Judaism years ago, “You are our sisters.”

Photo via Flickr