Andrew Sacks
Andrew Sacks
Rabbi Andy Sacks Directs the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel
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South Park’s Cartman converted to Judaism, but can he move to Israel?

The crudely drawn procedures for aliyah are so replete with baffling bureaucratic delays and reliant on emissaries' whims that it's downright cartoonish
An adult Eric Cartman (Trey Parker) is now a rabbi on "South Park: Post COVID." (Screenshot via Paramount Plus via JTA)
An adult Eric Cartman (Trey Parker) is now a rabbi on "South Park: Post COVID." (Screenshot via Paramount Plus via JTA)

In “South Park: Post-Covid,” a special episode of the irreverent TV cartoon that aired on Thanksgiving, Eric Cartman has converted to Judaism. He is a tallit-wearing Orthodox rabbi who studied Talmud, married a woman named Yentel, and named his children Moishe, Menorah, and Hakham.

Will Cartman take the next step and apply to make aliyah to Israel? The Law of Return, the law which established who has the right to claim citizenship in Israel, states, “Every Jew has the right to come to this country as an oleh.” For the purposes of this law, “Jew” is defined as “a person who was born of a Jewish mother or has converted to Judaism and who is not a member of another religion.” So Cartman should be approved for aliyah, right? Not so fast.

For the moment, let us assume that Cartman can produce a document indicating he has no serious criminal record. Let us also assume he went through the conversion process with rabbis who were affiliated with one of the major streams of Judaism and has a certificate of conversion. Now what?

Cartman may apply through a representative of the Jewish Agency (a shaliach aliyah). He will be asked to present letters from the converting rabbi describing the preparation and study that led up to his conversion. In addition, he will be asked to provide a letter stating that he has continued to be affiliated with a synagogue. Cartman will then have to undergo an interview with a representative of the Jewish Agency’s Aliyah Department.

But Cartman should not pack up for his big move quite so quickly. The Jewish Agency may not act as quickly as he would hope. They may ask, in the name of Israel’s Interior Ministry, for additional documents. They may then go back and again ask for yet additional documents that had not initially been requested.

If Cartman converted through an Orthodox Beit Din, he may have a problem obtaining approval. There are surprisingly few Orthodox rabbis in North America who are acceptable to the Interior Ministry. This owes to an agreement made over a decade ago between Israel’s Chief Rabbinate and the RCA (Rabbinical Council of America), the mainstream Modern Orthodox rabbinic association.

When a candidate for aliyah has undergone conversion through the Conservative/Masorti movement, the Masorti Rabbinical Assembly in Israel is asked if we stand behind the conversion. This occurs when there may be a question in the mind of the shaliach. The same applies to those who convert through the Reform movement. The Reform movement will be asked if they stand behind the conversion.

With regard to an Orthodox convert wishing to make aliyah, even if the process had been sincere, and the converting rabbis are respected, approval of the converting Beit Din must come from the official Chief Rabbinate. Many, perhaps most, Orthodox rabbis in North America are not acceptable to the Chief Rabbinate.

Should it be that Cartman had been converted by rabbis who were not affiliated with any of the major rabbinic organizations and who daven (pray) at a synagogue that is not affiliated with a major association of synagogues, his right to make aliyah will likely be challenged. This can take months and even years.

Should Cartman seek to understand the cause of the delay in processing his aliyah application, chances are that he would contact his shaliach or officials at the Jewish Agency. If that shaliach bothers to reply, Cartman is likely to be told that there is nothing to be done as his file is under consideration in the Interior Ministry.

He may be told that there are issues that are being investigated. Which issues? That information is often not supplied to the applicant. At other times, the information provided by the authorities is just inaccurate. The sincerity of the conversion may even be questioned by bureaucrats within the Interior Ministry.

It certainly should be the role of the Aliyah Department (which has some very devoted and hardworking people) to advocate on behalf of Diaspora Jews who have applied for aliyah and who have seemingly met all of the demands spelled out in the Interior Ministry’s criteria for aliyah. But sadly, in far too many cases this does not happen. Rather than pressure the Interior Ministry to act in keeping with the criteria for aliyah by a convert to Judaism (which, oddly, have never officially been published), the Jewish Agency, and/or the Interior Ministry, will allow the applicant to twist in the wind without providing full information as to what issues may be causing the delay. Or they may simply say that the matter is out of their hands.

Efforts to make the system a bit more user-friendly have gone nowhere. The Interior Ministry, obligated under their own criteria to provide an answer to the applicant within sixty days, rarely does so. Efficiency improvements promised by high-ranking Jewish Agency officials have gone nowhere.

Cartman has one advantage: he is a Caucasian from North America. Converts from less affluent countries, in particular applicants of color, will often find the aliyah application process nothing short of hellish. Too often the only way to obtain a just result requires turning to the courts. But this process is costly and lengthy.

It seems that officials at the Jewish Agency are reluctant to challenge the Interior Ministry’s actions. They appear uninterested in rocking the boat. Perhaps they fear losing their aliyah mandate to Nefesh B’Nefesh, which years ago largely supplanted the Jewish Agency’s role in encouraging and assisting North American aliyah. Perhaps they are stuck in a way of thinking created by the decades of ministry control by the Haredi Shas political party.

Cartman is just a TV caricature, but given the severe deficiencies at both the Interior Ministry and the Jewish Agency, the aliyah process can all too often be just as cartoonish.

About the Author
Rabbi Andrew Sacks is the director of the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel and the Religious Affairs Bureau.
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