A court associated with the Israeli Rabbinate has ruled that a woman who underwent a conversion was legitimately married to a Cohen, awarding her full benefits when the couple divorced.
BeHadrei Haredim reports that the Rabbinical High Court has set a new precedent by validating the marriage of a woman from the Bene Israel community of Indian Jews who was married to a Cohen despite the fact that she underwent a conversion. Cohanim are descendants of the priestly caste and are forbidden from marrying converts.
Some rabbis claim that there is doubt as to the status of the Bene Israel community, who immigrated to Israel from western India.
According to Bene Israel tradition, the community descended from a handful of Jewish shipwreck survivors on the Indian coast up to 2,000 years ago. However some Rabbis have ruled that members of this community must undergo conversion to be accepted as fully Jewish.
In this case the woman was converted in Israel by the court of Rabbi Nissim Karelitz in Bnei Brak. However, as this conversion was not done through official governmental channels, the conversion did not come to the attention of the Chief Rabbinate at the time of the wedding. After the marriage the husband, who is a Cohen, raised the question of his wife’s conversion with the Rabbinate.
The wife turned to the former Chief Rabbi, the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and explained the situation to him. Rabbi Yosef ruled that the couple could remain married.
Subsequently the couple decided to divorce, and their case was brought before the Rabbinical Court of Petah Tikva. Council for the wife, Rabbi Avargel, claimed that the position of the Chief Rabbinate since the founding of the State of Israel has been that the Bene Israel community are fully Jewish. Therefore the conversion was immaterial.
He further argued that the fact that since she is considered by the Chief Rabbinate to be fully Jewish without conversion, the fact that she underwent conversion out of doubt should not harm her position.
After much discussion, a court issued a unanimous ruling following the opinion of former Chief Rabbi Yosef, in favor of the wife and awarding her a divorce settlement.
The husband filed an appeal with the High Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem. This court agreed with the ruling of the Petach Tikva court and awarded the wife an even larger settlement.