Michael Mostovski was born in the former Soviet Union to a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother. He underwent a conversion to Judaism through an independent Orthodox religious court in Israel last month. The court is unrecognized by the Israeli chief rabbinate, which means that for the State of Israel, nothing has changed in the status of Mostovski, his wife Masha — also born to a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother — and their three daughters, who were all also converted in the Efrat beit din.
Joining the Mostovskis earlier this month were another four children and five adult converts who underwent an independent conversion through the Efrat bais din under the auspices of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin. To date, some 80 converts have elected to become members of the Jewish People through these new independent courts, which are brought together through a coordinating body calling itself “Giyur Kahalacha” (conversion according to halacha).
Founded by Modern Orthodox rabbis — Efrat’s Riskin, Rabbi Nachum Rabinovitch from Ma’ale Adumim, Rabbi Haim Amsalem, Otniel’s Rabbi Re’em HaCohen, Rabbi Shaul (Seth) Farber and head of the Tzohar rabbinical movement Rabbi David Stav — the Giyur Kahalacha movement has a goal of making 1,000 converts, a large number of them children, in its first year of operations; it went live in August.
The Giyur Kahalacha movement opens up a number of deeper questions. Among them: Who will marry — and perform the marriage ceremonies of — this new mass of non-officially recognized Jews?
Allowing a small glimpse of one possible path in the movement’s long-term strategy, Ish-Shalom hypothesized that if Riskin and Stav, for example, who are also officially recognized regional rabbis of the Israeli rabbinate, were to register such a convert couple for Jewish marriage, then they would have to be recognized by the State of Israel.
“Part of the process [of registering a couple] requires determining if the couple is Jewish. I have the right to make this determination,” said Riskin, who added that until about 13 years ago, he also had the rabbinate’s authority to perform conversions as a local rabbi.
The focus of Giyur Kahalacha is on FSU immigrants and their children. But when asked by The Times of Israel, Riskin said he would include in this model of expedited conversions Reform and Conservative Jews who were raised Jewish and made aliyah to Israel, but are not considered halachic Jews by the chief rabbinate.
Currently in Israel there is a trend among many liberal-minded Orthodox couples to bypass the rabbinate and marry in illegal, unauthorized wedding ceremonies.
On the question of marriage between two of the Giyur Kahalacha converts, one knowledgeable religious rights activist told The Times of Israel that it would likely not be illegal to perform the wedding because neither would be recognized as Jewish by the rabbinate, and therefore not eligible for a state marriage.
Stav flew to the US last week to explain the Giyur Kahalacha initiative and garner support for it.
Read more at Times of Israel.