Sunday, 7 August 2005

MRS HELEN SAGAL

The following statement was issued on Friday 05 August 2005 by Professor Geoffrey Alderman:

"A month ago the Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, publicly declared that he was unable to accept the validity of Mrs Helen Sagal's conversion effected by the official rabbinical authorities in Israel some fifteen years ago.

Prior to his delivery of this judgment I has applied, on Mrs Sagal's behalf, to the London Beth Din [over which Sir Jonathan presides] for the delivery to us of copies of every document in its possession relating to her case. This application was made on 20 June 2005 under the provisions of the Data Protection Act, 1998. Accordingly, that Act gave the Clerk to the Beth Din, Mr David Frei, 40 days to comply with this application.

On Saturday 30 July, some 41 days after the application, I received a package of materials from Mr Frei. These include notes handwritten by various Dayanim [Judges] relating to the case, and give a unique insight into the motives that led the Beth Din to advise Sir Jonathan to reject the validity of Mrs Sagal's conversion. They also include hitherto unpublished correspondence, in Hebrew, between the religious authorities in London and Jerusalem.

I am sorry to say that this material confirms my original suspicion that the Beth Din was determined to find a reason for rejecting the validity of Mrs Sagal's conversion. It also casts doubt on the claim made by Sir Jonathan that the religious authorities in Israel had somehow transferred to his Beth Din in London the authority to determine Mrs Sagal's Jewish status, perhaps with a view to revoking it. Especially revealing is a letter in Hebrew, marked "Not for Publication," from Dayan Menachem Gelley, of the Beth Din, to the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Amar (14 April 2005), asking that the authority to determine Mrs Sagal's Jewish status be transferred to the London Beth Din. No such sanction was in fact ever given.

Mrs Sagal holds both British and Israeli citizenship. In Israel her status as a Jewess remains unimpaired.


Having obtained provisional but authoritative legal advice, I can now announce that Mrs Sagal is actively considering instituting legal proceedings, either against Sir Jonathan for alleged defamation [inasmuch as he has denied, in public and in writing, that she is Jewish], and/or against him and/or his Beth Din (or certain members of the Beth Din) is respect of the alleged denial to her of her human rights.

I should add that the successful use in this case of rights conferred under the Data Protection Act is, I am told, the first occasion on which the Act has been invoked against a Beth Din in this country. I am also pleased to report that, subsequently, the Act has been invoked - also against the London Beth Din - in relation to a second, similar case in which I am advising."

[Note for Editors: Mrs Sagal, who lives with her Israeli husband and family in North London, was converted to Orthodox Judaism by the official ecclesiastical authorities in Israel in 1990. Last December, in connection with the application Mr & Mrs Sagal had made for their eldest son, Guy, to be admitted to the Jews' Free School, Kenton, the Office of the Chief Rabbi in London declined to accept the validity of this conversion.]