JERUSALEM (RNS) The Chief Rabbinate, which has sole authority to determine who is and isn’t Jewish in Israel, is refusing to allow an actress to convert to Judaism unless she gives up her acting career.

Alin Levy, a 24-year-old Israeli who immigrated to Israel from Ukraine with her Jewish father and Christian mother, told Israel Channel 2 news that she recently halted the learning process leading up to her Orthodox conversion after the rabbinate told her that “acting as a career does not go together with the spirit of religion.”

Levy’s dilemma has struck a chord in Israel, where some 300,000 non-Jewish immigrants, most from the former Soviet Union, live in a kind of religious limbo. Admitted to Israel under the country’s “Law of Return,” which grants citizenship to anyone with a Jewish grandparent, the immigrants are not considered Jewish by the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate.

While many would like to convert, they say they cannot abide by the rabbinate’s insistence that they maintain a strictly Orthodox lifestyle both before and after the conversion. They note that most Israeli Jews-from-birth aren’t Orthodox.

Levy, who gained fame while participating in the Israeli version of the TV reality show “Big Brother,” told the news show that she had been studying Judaism intensively and dressing more modestly.

In response to Levy’s assertions, a rabbinate official told Channel 2 “the conversion court is a religious body and its demands are in accordance with Jewish law.”

Rabbi Seth Farber, director of ITIM, an organization that helps prospective converts and others deal with the rabbinate, objected to the rabbinate’s stance.

“It is inexcusable to summarily reject someone for conversion because she is an actress,” he said. “Ms. Levy has taken significant steps toward adopting a traditional Jewish lifestyle and the rabbinical court judges who rejected her demonstrated no understanding or desire to understand her situation.”

On Wednesday (March 19), a parliamentary committee approved a long-anticipated bill that would decentralize the conversion process.

The conversion bill would allow municipal rabbis to create religious courts and conduct conversions to Judaism, transferring the power from a small group of rabbinic judges to as many as 30 local three-member rabbinic tribunals.

Should the law pass in the parliament, Chief Sephardic Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef said, the rabbinate will not recognize as Jewish those converted in the decentralized courts. The rabbinate believes these courts will be too lenient.

YS/AMB END CHABIN

7 Comments

  1. This is the sort of inconprehensible, narrow-minded, myopic viewpoint that has driven so many of us Jews to conclude that the orthodox rabbinic hierarchy is not just out-of-touch, but irrelevant.

    • Remember that this is an Orthodox conversion which means that it actually entails a serious commitment, and has objective standards that have to be adhered to. The standards may or may not accord with your or this conversion candidate’s personal preferences but after all, no one is forcing her to undergo conversion and no one is seeking your endorsement.

      • What a weasely answer!

        Its obviously political and legal as well. The Orthodox Rabbinate has the ear of the Knesset on all matters where Jewish Law intersects with national law. They get to determine if someone is a legally recognized convert and considered Jewish under Israeli law. Undergoing the conversion can mean the difference between being able to obtain citizenship or not. So its not just personal preferences.

      • Yeshaya Halevi

        What a weaselly answer given by Willnere. This is why Israel _must_ do a different kind of conversion: Convert to the American system of directly electing Prime Ministers and Knesset members, instead of the ungodly method currently employed, which forces politicians into making unholy alliances with the so-called “religious” political parties.

        And your reply, Willnere, is typical of the haredim (ultra-Orthodox) who live in Israel but refuse to join the very armed forces that save Jews from being murdered by its Islamic neighbors.

  2. this is the reason that Israel must shut down the institution of the chief rabbinate and no longer pay for ANY religious activities – not kashrut or imams or rabbis or priests or courts – it should institute secular divorce courts and secular marriage. A crisis in religious funding may create the kind of crisis that makes serious Jewish debate closer to the 21st century and not the more like mullah lite!

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