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Marriages and conversions not recognized for obtaining legal status for foreign partners in Israel

Michael Decker
Michael Decker

Paul Prince

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Conversions and marriages that are not legally recognized in Israel raise many legal questions. Only some of these questions are explicitly addressed in the law, and therefore obtaining legal status in such cases is riddled with uncertainty. In this article, attorney Michael Decker explains how non-Orthodox conversion to Judaism (Giyur) or an interfaith marriage ceremony within Israel affects the process of obtaining status for foreign partners of a different religion.

Our law offices in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, specialize in immigration law. Our office has extensive experience in accompanying couples through the stages of obtaining legal status for foreign partners, and representing them before all the administrative and legal courts.

Marriages and conversions not recognized for obtaining legal status for foreign partners in Israel

What does the law say about non-recognized conversion?

Based on the Law of Return, someone who has converted to Judaism may make Aliyah and be granted Israeli citizenship. However, the law does not include clear definitions on the subject. For instance, there is the question of whether someone who converts after arriving to Israel is eligible for citizenship. Likewise, the law does not state explicitly the conditions for recognizing a giyur for the purposes of marriage to an Israeli and obtaining citizenship. For various reasons, mostly political, official legislation has yet to be passed on the issue of conversion. However, in the wake of a number of appeals to the Supreme Court, chiefly the appeal filed by the Na’amat organization, it has been declared possible to register conversions that are “not-recognized” by Israeli religious authorities, such as ones performed through the Reform movement.

Recognition of conversions varies by the type of conversion and the law applied

For the purpose registering a partner as Jewish in the Population Registry, conversions done outside of Israel are granted recognition. As a prerequisite for registration, the applicant must furnish proof of the conversion in the form of a public certificate or a document that certifies that the immigrant converted in a recognized Jewish community.

Regarding immigration to Israel under the Law of Return, oleh status may be granted on the basis of a conversion done outside of Israel as long as it follows the criteria set out by the Interior Ministry’s regulations on who is eligible under the Law of Return. On the other hand, private conversion in Israel is not yet recognized for that purpose. As for marriage in the recognized Israeli Rabbinical courts, the Chief Rabbinate regulations state that conversion that does not follow regulations, including Reform and Conservative conversion, will not be recognized for marriage. Partners who converted in that manner will only be able to marry outside of Israel, or live as a common-law couple.

Can a non-recognized conversion help in obtaining legal status in Israel?

The answer is yes. In the context of obtaining legal status for married or common-law partners, the sincerity of the relationship and common life center in Israel are examined. The partners are required to present evidence for both of these. A review of court rulings shows that in many cases the courts positively note that the partners are going through or have undergone conversion procedures. It can be seen as evidence of the couple’s desire to move their center of life to Israel and the desire of the foreign partner to join the Jewish people in the State of Israel.

Non-recognized marriage in Israel

Marriage within Israel must be performed in the format recognized by the rabbinical courts. Therefore, religious or civil marriages which are not recognized by the authorities will not be registered in the Interior Ministry, if the ceremony was held in Israel. On the other hand, marriages held outside of Israel, as long as they are recognized in the countries in which they were performed, will generally be registered. Mixed couples (primarily Israelis of Jewish descent and non-Jewish foreign citizens) will usually need to marry in a foreign country in order to register their marriage in Israel, and thus to obtain legal status for the foreign spouse under the procedure applied to married couples.

Under the Population Registry Law, marriages performed in a foreign country must be registered within 30 days. Failure to register is a criminal offense that can warrant a prison sentence, according to the Marriage and Divorce Registration directive. If registration of the marriage is rejected, this rejection may be appealed by filing an internal appeal to the Interior Ministry. The appeal must be filed quickly, within 21 days. If the internal appeal is denied, it can then be appealed to the administrative court.

Contact an attorney who specializes in immigration law in Israel

The issues of non-recognized conversion and non-recognized marriage in Israel are particularly complex, and they may significantly impact the procedure of obtaining legal status for a foreign partner. If you are seeking to obtain legal status for yourself or your partner and you have questions on non-recognized conversion or marriage, we will be glad to help. You can contact us at the phone numbers or email address listed below. An attorney from our law offices, specializing in immigration to Israel and obtaining legal status for foreign partners, will give you uncompromising and professional legal advice.

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