Friday, December 24, 2010

Convert Questions: Converts and Aliyah

A common question for many converts is whether they can make aliyah to Israel. In short, yes, a convert from any movement can make aliyah to Israel under the Law of Return. This means the convert can get expedited citizenship and be labeled as a "Jew" on their ID card. (I'm still very confused by the labeling of people by religion as an ethnicity on the ID cards. Any Israelis care to explain that one to me??)

However, things get trickier. The problem is that the convert-related regulations and policies aren't being made public, so over the last couple of years, converts have had to collect anecdotes and try to figure out what the rules are behind the scenes. (The Jewish Life Information Center has been the most successful at this collection process.) Even worse, whatever policies exist seem to be applied in a haphazard fashion, based on the person doing the enforcing.

For one (and I welcome any further explanation!), converts are required to remain in the community of their conversion for one year after the mikvah. This is a requirement of the Ministry of the Interior, NOT the Rabbinate. Thus, the Rabbinate may be fully willing to recognize you as a valid convert and Jew, but the state bureaucracy may deny you citizenship under the Law of Return for failure to prove yourself to be a Jew!

(1) Your rabbi will be required to write a letter detailing your conversion process and your involvement in the community after the conversion. What's more uncertain is that supposedly now your conversion must have taken a minimum number of hours (350 it seems), which must be supported and detailed by your rabbi in his/her letter. I guess if it didn't take that many hours, you're banned from ever making aliyah?? Further, I know that some female rabbis have male counterparts actually be the converting rabbi and letter writer simply to avoid making the convert's life any more difficult. A sadly practical move.

(2) You'll also have to write a letter about your conversion process, and it sounds like a long one. You'll need to discuss why you decided to convert, your conversion process, and your involvement in the Jewish community since conversion.

(3) As you might imagine, you will need to provide a valid copy of your conversion certificate.

What worries me? The "one year in the same community after conversion" requirement. I haven't seen anything written about this, but what happens if someone does move to a new community within that one year period, and then decides to make aliyah 10 years later? Are they permanently banned from making aliyah because of a decision made with no consideration of aliyah? Worse, this requirement was ruled an unconstitutional limit on the Law of Return by the Israeli Supreme Court (in either 2006 or 2007, if memory serves), but the Ministry of the Interior reinstated the policy secretly less than a year later. About a year ago, they admitted publicly that the policy was back in place because of work by organizations on converts' behalf. I am unaware of any new legal challenges to it. Both as a convert and as someone studying the law, the chutzpah (audacity) of a government agency to violate the law makes me more than a little angry!

Speaking of the law, the problem with non-orthodox converts is when family law comes into play. Marriage is what gets all the attention, but this would involve anything status-related. Status can involve anything family-related, such as marriage, divorce, child custody/support, inheritance, or even if there are special laws for torts (injuries) between family members. Israel's status-related court system is a religious court. There are four parallel court systems: Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Druze (if you don't know the Druze, look them up, they're very interesting!). Americans and Europeans with conversions not recognized by the Jewish courts will be thrown into the Christian courts even though they are not Christian. Similar converts from Muslim-heavy nations will likewise be placed in the Muslim courts (and maybe also converts with Muslim-area heritage who happen to live in America or Europe). You would also not be allowed to be buried in Jewish cemeteries, as far as I understand.

Note that even some orthodox converts may be questioned! Nowadays, it seems all converts are questioned, regardless of converting beit din. Though it may change at any time, there is now a list of "presumptively valid" converting batei din. Of course, once you have citizenship, these issues should no longer affect you.

Now for my 2 cents from my personal experience. I had originally planned to make aliyah upon law school graduation, which would have been well over a year after my conservative conversion. This was the plan while I was completing my conservative conversion, though of course plans changed when I began to consider an orthodox conversion! Now my plan is very different, and a bit undefined at the moment. However, the point is that my Jewish Agency shaliach stopped returning my emails as soon as I began asking questions about how my conservative conversion would affect aliyah. We had communicated several times before that, and then email after email went unanswered. As you might imagine, now I'm more than a little gun-shy about dealing with Israeli bureaucracy, and it is already the source of pain and frustration for me. Sadly, I don't think this is an isolated case.


  1. Seth Farber runs an organization called "Itim," I believe, that helps people having these kinds of issues. Good luck!

  2. The Jewish Life Information Center is ITIM :) And yes, they have helped many people with these kinds of issues!

  3. there has been no mention of religion or nationality on ID cards since 2005.

  4. Thank you, Anonymous! That's helpful to know!

  5. just a technical point. The Israeli ID no longer lists a person's religion.
    The change was because the Min of Interior under Shas (Orthodox) control (a few yrs back) felt uncomfortable listing reform/conservative converts as Jews in the ID. The solution was to list no one.

  6. I am a convert and I successfully made aliyah and got married here. I made aliyah with Nefesh b Nefesh. I didn't live in the community where I received my conversion afterwards and it never came up. I just needed to provide a letter from the community I was currently in and a letter from the Beit Din confirming my conversion was done through them and what it entailed.

    So long as your Beit Din is on "the list" it is fine.

    1. Hey! Did you convert through Reform, Conservative or Orthodox movement? Thanks :)

    2. Also... When did you convert and how long ago you made aliyah?

  7. The Curmudgeonly Israeli Giyoret says:

    I have been in Israel for over 25 years and my לאום (nationality) is listed as "Yehudi". Of course, that was so long ago that my ID# is 26.

  8. Found this from NBN applications,
    "Letters to Accompany Conversion Certificate:
    If you converted to Judaism after your 17th birthday, in addition to your conversion certificate, please submit the following two letters:

    (1) An accompanying letter in English or Hebrew from the Rabbi with whom you studied in preparation for your conversion. The letter must appear on synagogue letterhead and describe the following: your conversion process, relevant dates, and community involvement.
    In addition, if you have children making Aliyah, the letter must indicate if they were born before or after your conversion. If your children were part of the conversion, their names must be included on your conversion certificate (or submit separate conversion certificates for each).
    (2) Please submit a letter explaining your decision to convert to Judaism and your involvement in the Jewish community since the completion of your conversion process."

    Also on the application list of missing docs, "Additional Clarification
    on Missing Components Please note that you would need to be active in the Jewish community for 1 year before you would be able to make Aliyah."

    I don't know much after that.

  9. I am going through these exact problems right now. I converted, and immediately afterwards, left to come here to Israel on a study program. I'm currently studying in University toward my Master's. Because I left so soon after, I am facing this awful issue of the year in your home community. I've since been told that it's only 9 months, and that they can work with that so long as I've been active in a Jewish community here in Israel, which is very difficult to find when you barely know the language, have a difficult time socializing, AND live far from a shul you feel comfortable in.

    I feel your pain re the lack of returned emails and phone calls. I've received that from both NBN and JAFI. It's gotten to the point where I've taken a lawyer to navigate me through this stupid, bureaucratic, unconstitutional, (I might dare even say un-Jewish) nonsense!

    While I'm sad you've gone through this too, it's nice knowing I'm not the only one. Thank you for posting your experiences (although this seems to be from a few years ago, it's still SO relevant).

  10. Hi vivian! I am going through a very similar situation. I came to israel on taglit six months after my giyur in january. I have been learning in yeshiva ever since here in jerusalem. I was also given the same info at interior ministry. I got all the paperwork in to get a student visa that says i am eligable for aliya. Shoot me an email and i will let you know how it goes. You should look into davening at the conservative yeshiva or hebrew union college if you are in jerusalem. You can text or call me at 0587063327

  11. Is there no Hebrew proficiency requirement?

    1. Not for people who qualify for citizenship under the Law of Return either through their own Jewishness or the Jewishness of a relative or spouse. Hard to believe, right? But requiring that would defeat the Israel's purpose as a safe haven for Jews and people of Jewish descent who are suffering persecution. For instance, Ethiopian Jewry would never have been airlifted out during Operation Moses or any of the dramatic rescues from Middle Eastern countries. All people who immigrate under the Law of Return qualify for 5 months of free ulpan (Hebrew classes for new immigrants) and can continue their Hebrew ulpan studies at a highly reduced rate for another 6 months or year (I don't remember which).

  12. oh, and re the 9-12 month law. There is no getting around the fact that you have to be in a religious jewish community outside of Israel for this time period after your conversion. It doesnt have to be the same community you converted in but you need letters showing you maintainted your religiousness. What you can do is apply for a work visa ...which is about as much work as aliyah and you MIGHT get it. Your only other option is to convert again in Israel ( Machon Ora or other places) which takes 10 months. Israeli converts may make aliyah directly after. Or you can marry. Best is to stay out of israel until the 9-12 months :(

    1. Hi, global center says 9 months, here the agency says one year i dont get it :S

  13. I already know that once I'm in Israel (I'm going on Taglit in November) I can be accepted to study at Machon Meir in Jerusalem (my Rabbi is writing a letter for me for MM.)

    However, does the conversion process itself here in the States have to be a certain amount of time (9 months?) to be eventually eligible for Aliyah?

    Or can I convert now, less than 9 months, and still be able to eventually make Aliyah in Israel?

    Because I'll be converting again at MM, which is 10 months anyways and fulfills the requirements to make Aliyah inside Israel, I am thinking that my American conversion doesn't really need the time requirement.

  14. Hi my name is Rebecca, I would like to ask couple of questions regarding to the previous posts.
    I was born jewish from my mother side. Anyhow when i first tried to make aliya from Hungary they said that i am missing historical papers to prove that im jewish despithe the letter from chevra kadisha that my grandmother is buried in a jewish cemetery, also planty of recommendations from Rabbis from 3 different countries where i studied in orthodox schools etc... Never mind these facts not long ago i completed giur lechumra in Jerusalem which took me about a month... ( not counting the previous 5-6 months preparing and waiting for the responses) anyway the Bet Din understood that i am probably jewish so they asked me couple of basic questions about chalachot plus sent me to the mikva without saying the bracha..
    I would like to know if all these statements that were written above would apply to me as well? Such as staying with the same community receiving letters from several rabbis etc?
    As far as i know giur lechumra is not considered as conversion rather a clerification?!
    Please help me out..
    Any kind of help would be appreciated either here or at nagy_rebecca@
    Thank you all