JERUSALEM — Raised without religion in Maryland, Shannon sought to make a new life for herself as a Jew in Israel.
In a rigorous conversion process, she studied religious law for a year, took a Hebrew name and changed her wardrobe to long skirts and sleeves as dictated by Orthodox Jewish custom. Finally, a panel of rabbis pronounced her Jewish.
But five years later, she and some 40,000 like her have suddenly had their conversions annulled by Israel’s Rabbinical High Court. The court says the rabbi who heads a government authority set up to oversee conversions is too liberal in approving them.
The issue, now headed to Israel’s Supreme Court, has exposed an intensifying power struggle inside Israel’s religious establishment over the age-old question of "who is a Jew." It also threatens to deepen the wedge between Israel and American Jews, who largely follow more liberal schools of Judaism.
While 34-year-old Shannon’s Israeli citizenship isn’t in jeopardy, the ruling diminishes her religious rights. Many rabbis will no longer oversee basic Jewish rituals for her, such as getting married or receiving a Jewish burial. If she has children, they might not be considered Jewish.
"I’m very worried. I probably will not be able to get married in Israel," she said. "God forbid, if I die, will I be allowed a Jewish burial?"
Shannon was the woman’s given name in the small Maryland farm town where she grew up. She asked to withhold her surname and Hebrew first name for fear of antagonizing the rabbis who hold her fate in their hands. Other converts interviewed by The Associated Press made the same request.