State sponsored Giyur allows non-Jewish foreign citizens to convert into Judaism. The converts are also considered Jewish in terms of the Law of Return and therefore are eligible to immigrate to Israel. This form of immigration is open to non-Jewish citizens and residents of Israel (who are not Palestinians or East Jerusalem residents). However, those who are neither citizens nor residents of Israel may apply for a state sponsored conversion. Foreigners must file an application with the Exceptions Committee claiming special circumstances that justify state conversion.

State Giyur is automatically recognized as valid by the Israeli authorities, contrary to other forms of conversion to Judaism. Conversion by reform or conservative communities abroad is often not recognized by the immigration authorities (Misrad Hapnim) for the purpose of obtaining status in Israel. Even conversion by a recognized orthodox community or by a Rabbi from the recognized list is required to undergo an evaluation and is not automatic.

The article has been translated into English courtesy of Tomedes Translation.

State sponsored Giyur – mainly for Israeli citizens and permanent residents

State sponsored Giyur for non-residents of IsraelAnyone seeking to undergo state conversion is subject to the Discussion Rules Regarding Conversion Applications, 2006. According to these rules, only Israeli citizens and permanent residents (with a license for permanent residency in Israel) may start conversion proceedings. Foreign citizens who wish to live in Israel and seek to commence conversion proceedings may file an application with the Exceptions Committee for Foreign Citizens. This committee consists of the representatives of the Ministry of Interior, the legal department at the Prime Minister’s Office, and a representative of the Israeli Chief Rabbi who is in charge of this area.

An applicant is required to open a conversion file by means of an on-line form, enclose a photocopy of an I.D./passport and send it to the regional conversion court in his/her region. They should also make a phone call to ensure that the file has been opened.

Non-residents and non-citizens are required to file an application with the Exceptions Committee

Applicants who are not Israeli citizens or who are not permanent residents in Israel are subject to Rule D of the Discussion Rules. Said rule provides as follows:

  1. “A foreign citizen” is defined here as a person who is not an Israeli citizen or has no a license for permanent residency in Israel.
  2. No conversion proceedings will be commenced for foreign citizens, they will not be referred to conversion studies and will not be converted by the court, other than in special circumstances and in the manner detailed below.
  3. Under special circumstances and after a written request is filed for commencing conversion proceedings for a foreign citizen, the application will be examined by the Exceptions Committee, the members of which will be the representative of the Conversion Authority who is appointed with the consent of the Chief Rabbi and who will serve as chairman of the committee, a representative of the legal department of the Ministry of Interior, and a representative of the legal department at the Prime Minister’s Office.
  4. The Exceptions Committee will discuss the application and inform of its decision in writing to the Conversion Authority and to the applicant; the committee will contact the law enforcement authorities for obtaining information with respect of the applicability of Section 2(B) of the Law of Return, 1950. If the applicant’s request is rejected, the applicant may request the committee to reconsider its decision, in view of new reasons or facts, which were not previously in its possession.
  5. If such application for commencing conversion proceedings for a foreign citizen has been approved, the conversion application will be handled as any other application.

Prevention of abuse of state sponsored Giyur

Conversion to Judaism is not meant to be abused for the purpose of obtaining financial benefits or status in Israel. There are prerequisites for filing an application with the committee meant to prevent such abuse. Thus, for example, the committee does not accept applications from anyone who is or was an undocumented immigrant in Israel, an infiltrator to Israel, resident of Palestinian Autonomy, a foreign worker (Status B/1) or has a temporary residency license (A/5) of less than one year.

The application approval procedure for anyone who meets the prerequisites includes an interview with a conversion rabbinical judge or with the district conversion coordinator who examines the applicant’s honesty. The applicant must attend this interview with all the required documents. They receive an answer whether they can commence conversion proceedings within three months.

Criticism of the Exceptions Committee’s conduct

Criticism has been voiced towards the harsh conditions the Exceptions Committee imposes. Many proposed to cancel it, transfer it’s authority to the Population Authority or alter its composition. During the State Comptroller’s Committee of February 2017, claims were voiced against the State Conversion Authority and the Exceptions Committee. Criticism mentioned foot-dragging in decision making by the Exceptions Committee, refusal of applications without due explanation, lack of transparency, and failure to disclose protocols.

Head of the legal and public department at the ITIM non-profit organization, Adv. Elad Kaplan, criticized the conduct of the committee vis-à-vis Israeli couples who are already in the midst of the gradual proceeding for receiving citizenship. Sometimes couples are required to live together for more than 5 years before they are able to start studying towards their conversion.

Adv. Kaplan also argued against the competency and/or authority of the chairman of the Exceptions Committee, who is neither a rabbinical judge nor a judge, to decide whether an application is for a purely spiritual purpose. Kaplan proposed to appoint on the committee officials who are qualified to serve as judges or rabbinical judges. Another claim voiced against the Exceptions Committee is that it includes two legal consultants and a Dayan-Rabbi and that “it is in poor taste that that all three members of the committee are partial, subject to pressures and subordinated to ministers.”

What are the chances for an approval for a non-resident or non-citizen?

According to Rabbi Yitzhak Peretz, Head of the Conversion Authority at the Prime Minister’s Office, out of 798 conversions applications, 492 were accepted, out of which 101 met the prerequisites, 25 were directed for further discussion, 147 were approved for Judaism studies, 140 were approved for end of process, 62 were approved, and 163 were rejected by the committee.

Adv. Avraham Catalan, the legal consultant of the Conversion Authority, claims that “in many cases conversion applicants know nothing of Judaism and are therefore requested to learn beforehand. There is a concern that conversion applicants really only want Israeli citizenship and therefore the Supreme Court determined that it is the Exceptions Committee’s right to verify the applicant’s honesty.”

To conclude, in its current format and before regulation of conversion by legislation has been completed, the Exceptions Committee makes it difficult for those seeking to convert. In case of a negative reply, an appeal is available by a letter to the manager of the Conversion Exceptions Committee.

Contact an Israeli specialist immigration attorney

The law offices of Cohen, Decker, Pex & Brosh specialize in possibilities of immigration and aliyah to Israel. We have vast experience working vis-à-vis the Ministry of Interior. We have solved all sorts of problems relating to conversion recognition and the right to immigrate to Israel. If you wish to contact us with respect to state sponsored Giyur or any other issue relating to immigration to Israel, please schedule an appointment in our office in Jerusalem or Petach Tikva.

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