Rabbinate revoked woman’s conversion after almost 30 years

Rabbinate revoked woman’s conversion after almost 30 years

Daughter launches legal battle to ensure her own daughter’s future after rabbis voided her mother’s conversion over her lifestyle

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative: A man stands outside the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Illustrative: A man stands outside the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Three years after the Chief Rabbinate revoked Sarit Azoulay’s mother’s 1983 conversion to Judaism and ruled that both her and her daughter were not Jewish, Azoulay has launched an appeal to protect her own newborn daughter from the impact of the decision by the state’s religious authorities, the Haaretz daily reported on Sunday.

Azoulay was born and raised as a Jew in Israel, served in the Israel Defense Forces and studied at an Israeli university. It wasn’t until 2012, when she was registering for her wedding, that she discovered that the rabbinate did not consider her — or her mother — to be Jewish.

Judges from the rabbinical court had decided to investigate the Azoulays’ level of religious observance, and ruled to revoke the conversion of Sarit Azoulay’s mother after they determined that she was not sufficiently Orthodox — the only religious stream whose conversions are recognized by the State of Israel.

The investigation into the religious practices of longtime converts is forbidden by internal rabbinical directives, Israel’s conversion law and the High Court of Justice.

“The judges heard the witnesses and then began to ask about me, who I am, what we do on Shabbat. Then the judge asked me to call my mother, in the middle of the workday,” Azoulay told the Hebrew-language Haaretz. “He asked her what the Torah portion was for that week, and of course she didn’t know. He then asked if she observed Shabbat and niddah,” the laws of ritual family impurity.

Several weeks later, Azoulay’s mother was summoned to defend her lifestyle and level of religious observance before a panel of three rabbinical judges.

The panel was headed by the court’s Jerusalem Chief Justice Rabbi Chaim Yehuda Rabinowitz, who has since been forced to resign amid swirling allegations of fraud and nepotism.

The three judges determined that the level of the family’s religious observance was insufficient and decided to revoke the conversion that had been granted almost 30 years earlier.

In 1983, Azoulay’s mother had converted in a semi-official Orthodox conversion court under the auspices of then-chief rabbi Shlomo Goren. Both parents were recognized as Jews by the state when they married, as well as several years later, when they divorced in an Orthodox court in Israel.

By default, the revocation ruling also rendered Sarit Azoulay non-Jewish, and ineligible to marry her fiancé in Israel.

Azoulay and her husband were eventually registered and married by Rabbi David Stav, the head of Tzohar, a modern Orthodox rabbinical association that seeks to circumvent the more stringent rabbinate. The couple told Haaretz that they decided to appeal the ruling on Azoulay’s mother, however, due to the potential negative impact it could have on their newborn daughter.

Together with attorneys Nitzan Caspi Shilony and Alona Toledano, Dr. Susan Weiss, of Jerusalem’s Center for Women’s Justice, presented the appeal to the rabbinical high court last week.

Weiss said the state rabbinic courts create an atmosphere where “no convert can sleep peacefully in Israel.” The women’s rights activist told Haaretz that converts can find themselves “interrogated about their lifestyle, and sometimes the conversion can be declared invalid. Now we see, added to this circle, the children of converts who were born and raised completely Jewish,” she added.

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