Change of religion and nationality in Israeli registries
How do I change my religion and nationality status?
A change of religion and nationality in the Population and Immigration registry in Israel is one of the most important (and also legally complicated) decisions that an Israeli resident can make. In Israel every citizen and resident is listed as a member of a certain religion in official records. We are an Israeli law firm specializing in legal aid to immigrants to Israel and also administrative law regarding the Ministry of Interior (Misrad Hapnim). In addition, the firm specializes in legal appeals with the Ministry of the Interior and the Population registry. This article by Joshua Pex, an Israeli lawyer, will explain how an application for change of religion in Israel works, and why a change of religion is such an important issue.
Change of religion in the Israeli Population Registry
In Israel, a person cannot change the details of religion and nationality (even if the current registry clause is a mistake or empty of content) in his records, without providing sufficient proof that he had in fact converted to a different religion. The person must submit an application to the Population Authority and provide official documents from the public institution of the religion to which he has converted, confirming his conversion was officially accepted. Furthermore, said person may need to prove that he is abiding by the laws, customs, and modes of worship of his new religion.
Why change your registered religion to begin with?
As of 2018, there are about seven and a half billion people in the world. They have many different kinds of beliefs and ways of life. Sometimes, one can come to the conclusion that his beliefs do not match the religion to which he belongs, or into which he was born. It is possible for a person to feel connected to another religion, or to fail to identify with and believe in any form of religion. In a secular country, your religion is not necessarily listed in any official document and the state does not concern itself with the religious affiliations of its citizens. In that case, any change to one’s religious identity is primarily a private matter. In the State of Israel however, the religion to which you are registered as belonging dictates how and where you are allowed marry, divorce, be buried and more.
In other words, there are both practical and ideological reasons for a change of religion clause in the state registries. For example, a Jew living in Israel can only marry another Jew, and only at a Jewish religious ceremony. If he wishes to marry without regard to the rules of the Jewish religion, he must marry abroad (for example, in Cyprus, Paraguay or El Salvador) or change his religion clause to that of his spouse. There are Israelis who are born to a Jewish mother but do not believe in the tenets of the Jewish faith, or those who do not agree with the official tenets of Judaism as practiced in Israel, therefore may have ideological reason to change the religion and nationality clause in their registry status, but the process is not easy.
What if I want to register as devoid of religion or nationality?
There are a large number of people (mainly citizens of the former Soviet Union or family members) who immigrated to Israel despite the fact that their religion is not Jewish or who were born in Israel to a non-Jewish mother. They are officially registered as “religionless” – and as a result of the above, they cannot (for example) marry within the borders of the State of Israel. There are more than 200,000 “religionless” persons in Israel. If they wish to convert to a recognized religious denomination they can do so, as long as the process is done properly, following the appropriate procedures.
On the other hand, a person who is already registered as a member of a certain religion and wants to change these clauses in order to register as lacking a religion or nationality will encounter certain difficulties. First of all, there is no official public institution (such as the rabbinate for Jews) for secular or atheist “denominations”, which could issue an official document confirming that the applicant is entirely secular. As a result, a person who was born a Jew but who defines himself as an atheist and wishes to register as non-religious will have to bring an official document from an Israeli court confirming that he does not believe in any religion.
Belief in the Flying Spaghetti Monster
One example of an unusual request to change of religion in the Israeli registry, is the request to be recognized as a “Pastafarian”. There are few adherents to this belief in Israel. One reason is because the movement was founded in 2005, when a student at the University of Oregon decided to oppose the teaching of intelligent design in the university. The student made the following compelling argument: if respecting the religious sentiments of the Christian majority required teaching that the world and all the animals in it were created by God, then the religion to which he belongs should be respected in the same way, and the university should teach that the world was created by a flying spaghetti monster. When the university failed to respond, he published his argument on the Internet – and within a very short time it caught the attention of millions of people around the world. Within a few years, thousands of people defined themselves as believers in Pastafarianism, the religion worshiping a flying spaghetti monster.
There are those who refer to Pastafarianism as a parody on religion in general and as a sophisticated argument about the importance of separation between church and state, or between religious feelings and scientific facts in particular. In any case, Pastafarianism serves as an important tool for examining the way different countries and institutions treat religious minorities. Many believers around the world challenge the system over and over again, asking (for example) to be photographed with the traditional colander for their driver’s license image. Just as Jews can be photographed with a skullcap, and Sikhs with a turban, so the Pastafarians demand to be photographed with a spaghetti strainer on their head. After the Pastafarians insisted that it was their right, rooted in basic notions of freedom of religion, to live as they believe and to believe in what they see fit, the system had no choice but to seriously examine their claims. As a result, even with due awareness of apparent satirical intent, several countries began to officially recognize aspects of the Pastafarian religion, because there was no consistent and legal basis to refuse recognition..
An Israeli Pastafarian, mr. Michael Afanasyev – who has already been given the opportunity to pose for a passport photo with a colander on his head, is currently struggling to change his “religion and nationality” clause in the Israeli registry to “Pastafarian”. The Ministry of Religion rejected his request to change the religion clause based on the strange argument that the Pastafarians are not a recognized denomination – even though the law is clear on the subject of changes in the religion clause, and does not require that the section be recorded as one of a the religious denominations officially recognized by the Israeli state. Moreover those who are listed as “non – religious” and have a blank space in that spot on their registry are not a recognized denomination either, yet their registry is readily accepted.
Contact our law office, which has branches in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, for legal questions and assistance regarding change of religion in the registry or other applications with the Ministry of the Interior.
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