Landmark ruling paves way for Israel to recognise non-Orthodox conversion

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Landmark ruling paves way for Israel to recognise non-Orthodox conversion

Monday's High Court decision could allow converts through the Reform and Conservative streams to apply for Israeli citizenship

Michael Daventry is foreign editor of Jewish News

Supreme Court president Esther Hayut (left), pictured at her appointment in October 2017 (Credit: Israeli Government Press Office)
Supreme Court president Esther Hayut (left), pictured at her appointment in October 2017 (Credit: Israeli Government Press Office)

People who choose non-Orthodox streams of conversion to Judaism inside Israel must be allowed to obtain citizenship, a top Israeli court has decided.

Monday’s landmark ruling requires the Interior Ministry to formally recognise conversions by other movements, such as Reform or Conservative, that are performed within the country.

Israeli authorities previously only accepted non-Orthodox conversions under the Law of Return only if they had been performed abroad.

The ruling is politically divisive in Israel, where it was welcomed by progressive and left-wing factions and denounced by right-wing and Strictly Orthodox movements.

The court case was based on two petitions submitted in 2005 by 12 converts whose citizenship applications had been refused by the authorities.

There have been repeated delays in a ruling because successive Israeli governments have requested time to pass a law recognising non-Orthodox conversions.

But no government has ever successfully produced one.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid, who leads the centrist Yesh Atid, said Israel “must fully equalise the rights of all streams of Judaism — Orthodox, Reform and Conservative”.

But Naftali Bennett, leader of the right-wing Yamina, said the ruling was an intervention in government decisions.

Israel’s recognition of conversion “will be determined by the democratically elected representatives of the people, and not by jurists,” he wrote on Twitter.

The ruling was also criticised by Israel’s Sephardi chief rabbi Yitzhak Yosef and his Askenazi counterpart, David Lau, who said: “Those who converted through Reform conversions and the like are not Jewish. No High Court decision will change that fact.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office declined to comment on the ruling, the Times of Israel reported.

Monday’s ruling was approved by eight of the nine justices sitting on the High Court, with the one dissenting judge — Noam Solberg — arguing the authorities should be allowed more time to pass legislation.

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