Wednesday, 6 July 2005

MRS HELEN SAGAL

Statement by Professor Geoffrey Alderman

The following statement was issued on Wednesday 06 July 2005 by Professor Geoffrey Alderman following a meeting that took place between Mr and Mrs Sagal and the Chief Rabbi to further explore the refusal of the Office of the Chief Rabbi to recognise Mrs Sagal's conversion effected in Israel some fifteen years ago.

"On Tuesday evening, 05 July 2005 I accompanied Mrs Helen Sgal and her husband, Israeli-born Mr Raoul Sagal, to a meeting with the Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks. The Chief Rabbi was accompanied by one of his Dayanim (Judges), Rabbi Ivan Binstock, and the Executive Director of his Office, Mrs Syma Weinberg. The meeting, which had been requested by the Chief Rabbi, took place in Mrs Weinberg's private residence, and lasted approximately 90 minutes.

At the meeting Sir Jonathan made a statement intended to justify the view that he and his Beth Din {Ecclesiastical Court] had taken, that the validity of Mrs Sagal's conversion effected in Israel could not be accepted. He offered to personally oversee a fresh conversion process involving Mrs Sagal, her two sons and her as yet unborn child (whose birth is imminent), with the aim of establishing Mrs Sagal's Jewish status "beyond doubt."

Sir Jonathan acknowledged that his Office had authorised the ritual circumcision of Mr & Mrs Sagal's elder son, Guy, without bothering to inquire into the circumstances of Mrs Sagal's conversion.

The Chief Rabbi admitted that there had been serious deficiencies in the way his Office had handled the Sagal case, for which he apologised, and announced that one of his officials had been formally reprimanded. I welcomed this admission and offered my services, free, to put in place fresh administrative procedures that would ensure that the requirements of natural justice and English law were complied with in future such cases.

As to the matter of substance, I pointed out that irrespective of any view the Chief Rabbi personally might hold of the manner in which Mrs Sagal's conversion had been effected in Israel, the fact was that that conversion had not been revoked. I asked for an undertaking that if Mrs Sagal were to agree to a re-conversion in England, the Chief Rabbi would meanwhile give his certification to the Jews' Free School for the purpose of permitting her elder son, Guy, to enter this school in September. I regret that this undertaking was not forthcoming.

Mr Sagal and I both observed that the evident effect of the decision not to recognise, in England, Mrs Sagal's conversion in Israel must be to call into question hundreds - perhaps thousands - of Israeli conversions and to cause anguish to many Israeli families.

Whilst I am grateful - and said so - for the ongoing personal involvement of the Chief Rabbi in this case, I am very disappointed with the outcome thus far. We are in fact no further forward now than we were six months ago. I have therefore advised Mr & Mrs Sagal to seek immediate redress in the English courts.

[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 elder 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.]
l must be to call into question hundreds - perhaps thousands - of Israeli conversions and to cause anguish to many Israeli families.

Whilst I am grateful - and said so - for the ongoing personal involvement of the Chief Rabbi in this case, I am very disappointed with the outcome thus far. We are in fact no further forward now than we were six months ago. I have therefore advised Mr & Mrs Sagal to seek immediate redress in the English courts.

[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 elder 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.]

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