Israel’s Sephardi chief rabbi denigrates Reform conversions: ‘It isn’t Jewish’

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Israel’s Sephardi chief rabbi denigrates Reform conversions: ‘It isn’t Jewish’

Comments by Yitzhak Yosef published in Israeli media come after landmark Israeli supreme court decision last week

Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef
Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef

One of Israel’s chief rabbis said Reform and Conservative Jews “have nothing” and that Reform conversions are not Jewish.

The comments, made by the Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef and published by Israeli media, come after Israel’s Supreme Court recognised Reform and Conservative conversions that take place in Israel in a decision last week. The decision was celebrated by non-Orthodox groups but derided by Charedi Israelis, who do not recognise non-Orthodox conversions as valid.

“What is Reform conversion? It isn’t Jewish,” Yosef said, in a video published by Kikar Hashabbat.

The court ruling enables those who convert to Judaism under Reform or Conservative auspices in Israel to become citizens under Israel’s Law of Return, which allows any Jew who wishes to live in the country to become a citizen. While the decision became a lightning rod in a long-standing debate over the Orthodox rabbinate’s control over matters of religion in Israel, the scope of the decision is relatively narrow as it deals exclusively with conversions taking place in Israel. The majority of Reform and Conservative conversions performed outside of Israel have been recognised for decades, though converts often have to jump through bureaucratic hoops to prove their status.

Yosef also said he would not require a woman seeking a divorce from a man who converted with the Reform movement to obtain a religious divorce.

“If a Reform convert comes to me after marrying a Jewish woman, I’ll send her away without a divorce. She doesn’t need a divorce, the marriage is invalid. Her husband is not a convert,” he said.

Yosef’s comments in response to the Supreme Court ruling were not his first to denigrate the Reform movement. In response to calls for Israel’s chief rabbinate to open its examinations for rabbinic ordination to women last summer, Yosef compared the women seeking to take the exams to the Reform movement, which he said “falsified the Torah.” Yosef has also called immigrants to Israel from the former Soviet Union “Communist, religion-hating” gentiles.

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