Israel's Supreme Court issues landmark non-Orthodox conversion ruling

Bench rules country must recognise Reform and Conservative conversions to Judaism performed in Israel in citizenship applications


Justice for Israel Laws in Israeli Court

Israel’s Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling which could pave the way for non-Orthodox converts to obtain citizenship.

The verdict, the summation of a 15-year court battle, concluded that the state must recognise Reform and Conservative conversions to Judaism performed in Israel when considering citizenship applications.

Chief Justice Esther Hayut was quoted in a joint statement released by the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism (IMPJ) and the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC).

According to a translation by the World Union for Progressive Judaism, Justice Hayut said: “The purpose of the Law of Return is to encourage any Jew – whether they were born as Jews, or chose to become part of the Jewish people through conversion – to make Aliya (immigrate) to Israel.”

IRAC Executive Director Anat Hoffman was one of those who welcomed the decision, saying: “This is a historic victory and a cause for celebration. The Jewish people won and now include a number of committed converts in their number.

“The Supreme Court stood in solidarity with the men and women who chose to be Jewish, and ruled again that the State of Israel is a homeland for all Jews, and that the ultra-Orthodox monopoly may not control conversion.

“We are full of hope, that this ruling will put an end to the power struggles over what it means to be Jewish and will promise freedom and equality in the conversion process, which fulfils Israel’s Declaration of Independence and values.”

Two petitions were subject to the ruling. They were filed by 12 people in 2005 and 2006 whose citizenship applications were rejected by the Interior Ministry on the basis of non-Orthodox conversions.

Eight out of nine justices voted in favour of the decision, which affects a small number of people each year but was nonetheless seen as a symbolic victory by multiple Jewish groups.

A Union for Reform Judaism statement read: “Today, the Court has affirmed the reality that the Jewish people are stronger because of the contributions of Reform and Conservative Movements and their commitment to bringing more Jews into the Jewish People. 

“We hope this ruling establishes a precedent that will lead to further recognition of the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel."

A 1995 Supreme Court ruling had recognised non-Orthodox conversions, but only those performed outside the country.

The verdict was unwelcome by some, including Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi who told the AP: “Whoever becomes Jewish in a Reform conversion or something similar is not Jewish.

“No ruling by the Supreme Court this way or that will change this fact.”

His sentiments were echoed by Shas party leader and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who reportedly said: “I promise to fix the law to ensure that only conversions under Orthodox religious law will be recognized in the state of Israel.”

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