Israel’s Chief Rabbinate: Give up acting or we’ll deny your conversion

March 20

JERUSALEM — The Chief Rabbinate, which has sole authority to determine who is and isn’t Jewish in Israel, is refusing to allow an actress to convert to Judaism unless she gives up her acting career.

Alin Levy, a 24-year-old Israeli who immigrated to Israel from Ukraine with her Jewish father and Christian mother, told Israel Channel 2 news that she recently halted the learning process leading up to her Orthodox conversion after the rabbinate told her that “acting as a career does not go together with the spirit of religion.”

Levy’s dilemma has struck a chord in Israel, where some 300,000 non-Jewish immigrants, most from the former Soviet Union, live in a kind of religious limbo. Admitted to Israel under the country’s “Law of Return,” which grants citizenship to anyone with a Jewish grandparent, the immigrants are not considered Jewish by the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate.

While many would like to convert, they say they cannot abide by the rabbinate’s insistence that they maintain a strictly Orthodox lifestyle both before and after the conversion. They note that most Israeli Jews-from-birth aren’t Orthodox.

Levy, who gained fame while participating in the Israeli version of the TV reality show “Big Brother,” told the news show that she had been studying Judaism intensively and dressing more modestly.

In response to Levy’s assertions, a rabbinate official told Channel 2 “the conversion court is a religious body and its demands are in accordance with Jewish law.”

Rabbi Seth Farber, director of ITIM, an organization that helps prospective converts and others deal with the rabbinate, objected to the rabbinate’s stance.

“It is inexcusable to summarily reject someone for conversion because she is an actress,” he said. “Ms. Levy has taken significant steps toward adopting a traditional Jewish lifestyle and the rabbinical court judges who rejected her demonstrated no understanding or desire to understand her situation.”

On Wednesday (March 19), a parliamentary committee approved a long-anticipated bill that would decentralize the conversion process.

The conversion bill would allow municipal rabbis to create religious courts and conduct conversions to Judaism, transferring the power from a small group of rabbinic judges to as many as 30 local three-member rabbinic tribunals.

Should the law pass in the parliament, Chief Sephardic Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef said, the rabbinate will not recognize as Jewish those converted in the decentralized courts. The rabbinate believes these courts will be too lenient.

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