Last Updated on Monday, 30 April 2012 06:31 Written by Yair Ettinger / Haaretz Monday, 30 April 2012 06:24
Rabbi Haim Druckman receiving the Israel Prize. Photo by: Emil Salman
Israel - The High Court of Justice has affirmed the validity of thousands of conversions called into question by the Rabbinical Court of Appeals in 2008, but refused to discuss the rabbinical courts’ authority to annul conversions in general.
Nevertheless, the justices leveled harsh criticism at the rabbinical courts’ conduct.
“The Rabbinical Court of Appeals rode roughshod over basic procedural rules and the principles of natural justice,” wrote former Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch in the verdict. “It demonstrated contempt for the special conversion courts, and above all, it hurt and did a shocking injustice to the petitioners and their children.”
The petition was filed by two Israeli women whose conversions were retroactively overturned by the rabbinical courts in 2007 and 2008, 15 years after the conversions had been recognized by the state. As a result, they and their children were retroactively declared non-Jewish.
In both cases, the rabbinical courts annulled the conversions while discussing the women’s divorce proceedings, and their decisions were later upheld by the Rabbinical Court of Appeals.
The court of appeals did not make do with upholding the lower court verdicts: In its 2008 ruling on the first woman’s case, a panel headed by Rabbi Avraham Sherman said that thousands of other conversions authorized by a network of special conversion courts then headed by Rabbi Haim Druckman should also be overturned. While Sherman’s statement was not legally binding, it caused many converts to worry that their conversions, too, would be retroactively annulled.
But the High Court did overturn Sherman’s 2008 ruling denouncing all conversions by the special conversion courts, as well as the initial ruling by the Ashdod Rabbinical Court that Sherman’s decision had upheld. This was a vindication not only for the affected converts, but for Druckman - whose good week continued with receiving the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement.
While Sherman’s ruling was ostensibly based on Jewish law, it was also part of a broader power struggle between the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox ) community, represented by Sherman, and the religious Zionist community, represented by Druckman. The government originally set up the special courts headed by Druckman to circumvent the rabbinical courts’ monopoly on conversions, because the Haredi-controlled rabbinical courts had adopted stringent requirements that were seen as deterring potential converts.
The petitioners' attorney, Aviad Hacohen, welcomed the High Court ruling even though it failed to satisfy all the petitioners' demands. "The court's harsh statements speak for themselves," he said, adding that he hoped "their content would be internalized" by the rabbinical courts.