The Knesset Immigration and Absorption Committee held a pitched debate following the refusal of the chief rabbis of several cities and marriage registrars to list the marriage of non-Jews who underwent fictitious conversions. Knesset members who took part in the meeting, the legal advisor for the Chief Rabbinate and a Justice Ministry representative announced that they would work to dismiss the rabbis and registrars and file charges against them.
The meeting was precipitated by the refusal of Rabbi Yosef Chaim Blau, the chief rabbi of Ashkelon, to allow a couple to marry when he discovered that the woman had been "converted" while in the IDF.
Committee Chairman MK Leah Shemtov said 80,000 immigrants 18 and under who are not halachically Jewish currently live in Israel. "We must bring about a situation that ensures when they convert the conversion will be recognized by the chief rabbis of every city in the country. Not recognizing conversions is a ticking time bomb that will soon blow up in all of our faces, and it is wholly unacceptable for chief rabbis and government clerks to disregard the law and take matters into their own hands."
MK Robert Tiviaev (Kadima) said, "This is about recognition of an Orthodox conversion performed in the army. Anybody who does not recognize it ought to resign from his post." MKs Nitzan Horovitz (Meretz) and Chaim Amsellem (Shas) voiced similar sentiments.
During the meeting, figures were presented indicating chief rabbis and registrars in dozens of cities do not register "converts" for marriage if they learn the so-called convert had no intention of keeping Torah and mitzvas, and immediately after the "conversion" continued to desecrate Shabbos, eat treif meat, etc.
"I am ashamed when I listen to the sagas these converts undergo," Atty. Shimon Ulman, legal advisor to the Chief Rabbinate, told the Committee. "The anarchy in this area cannot continue. I'll turn to the local authorities that have to press charges against chief rabbis who refuse to register for marriage converts with conversion certificates. This is a criminal procedure." He said Atty. Harel Goldberg of the Justice Ministry's Department of Legislative Consulting is collaborating with him.
Rabbi Blau argued that these rabbis are in fact upholding the law, which prohibits them from marrying Jews to non-Jews. "Unfortunately [conversion candidates] deceive and lie to the rabbis involved in conversion, promising vigorously to keep Torah and mitzvas. But the moment they come to the rabbis and marriage registrars it becomes completely obvious they had no intention of keeping Torah and mitzvas, and that right after the `conversion' ceremony they continued to desecrate Shabbos, eat non-kosher food and transgress other serious prohibitions."
He went on to explain that if a secular court plainly sees things that did not appear before the previous court, it annuls the prior decision without hesitation. Rabbi Blau said rabbis and marriage registrars have a responsibility to look into these matters thoroughly "and if chas vesholom I were to marry a Jew to a non-Jew, then they would have to try me on criminal charges.
"We have a sacred obligation to check every case on an individual basis and to make every effort to determine whether deceit was involved in the previous proceeding. The moment we have evidence to that effect, we are clearly prohibited by halacha — and by law as well — to marry them."
In 5744 (1984) HaRav Shach, HaRav Auerbach and ylct"a HaRav Eliashiv wrote, "We hereby warn all marriage registrars that halacha requires them to check anyone who presents a conversion certificate to ascertain whether a proper conversion actually took place. And there is a serious prohibition against accepting converts without being convinced that they really did intend to accept the yoke of Torah and mitzvas."
According to Vaad Haolami LeInyonei Giyur, "Just as government authorities are required to prevent fraud and deception, so too authorized rabbinical authorities are required to check conversion certificates to ensure they meet halachic requirements. If they find a conversion certificate was issued after a conversion candidate falsely declared he is prepared to accept Torah and mitzvas as required by halacha, the law stipulates that the conversion must be annulled ex post facto and the authorized authorities must enforce it just like any other fraudulent act. Therefore a committee of prominent dayonim should be formed to annul any conversion found to have been performed through deception."