An Historic Milestone: Israel Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Recognizing Reform and Conservative Conversions

The World Union congratulates its partners, the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism (IMPJ), who, together with its legal advocacy center, the Israel Religious Action Center(IRAC), have secured a landmark ruling by Israel’s Supreme Court to recognize non-Orthodox conversions carried out in Israel for the purposes of Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return.

This decision, which was 15 years in the making, represents an historic milestone for the IMPJ and incredible achievement for our movement.

Below is a translation of the IMPJ and IRAC’s official statement on the subject.
The Reform Movement welcomes the Supreme Court Decision to Recognize Reform and Conservative Conversions Performed in Israel on the basis of the Law of Return

In a Supreme Court decision issued today (Monday), the Supreme Court ruled to recognize conversions by the Reform and Conservative Movements, performed in Israel based on the Law of Return. The converts will receive an oleh (immigrant) status and Israeli citizenship. The decision was made by a vote of eight judges against one.

This is a major victory for the Israel Reform and Progressive Movement after a 15-year battle and 10 petitions. Judge Esther Hayut, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court said that: “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

What this means: Israel’s Supreme Court recognizes conversions officiated and certified by the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel on the basis of the Law of Return.  These converts will receive Israeli citizenship when until now they were unable to.  Anat Hoffman, Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC): “The Supreme Court stood in solidarity with these men and women who chose to be Jewish, and once again ruled that the State of Israel is a homeland for all Jews, and that the ultra-Orthodox monopoly may not control conversion in Israel.”

The Israel Reform and Progressive Movement sees conversion as a basic national and religious act. We welcome the Supreme Court decision. This ruling not only protects the rights of those who genuinely choose to join the Jewish people, but also the constitutional status of the Law of Return and the fundamental values of the State of Israel as a homeland for all Jewish people.

Today’s ruling is the latest step in our struggle on behalf of dozens of converts who have been waiting over 15 years for the State of Israel to recognize their Judaism.

This ruling does not change Israel’s status quo on issues of religion and state, but rather protects conversion from the control of the Orthodox rabbinic establishment. Attempts to change the status quo have come from Israel’s Chief Rabbinate and its Knesset representatives, who have drafted and are trying to pass a new piece of legislation – “The Conversion Act”. This law if passed will allow racist immigration policies, blacklists, intrusion into people’s private lives, and a value system that is not relevant for most Israeli citizens.

The procrastination in handing down a ruling on the part of Israel’s judicial system emphasized the growing rift between Israeli and Diaspora Jewry. Reform and Conservative leadership have always been open to negotiation and compromise, while the State of Israel continues to dismiss the Reform movement. This treatment has not gone unnoticed by Diaspora Jewry: narrow political interests led to the Israeli government to prevent egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall, and to institutionalize discrimination against Reform and Conservative synagogues in Israel. This ruling gives a chance to narrow the rift.

Background on Reform Conversion:

The Israel Reform Movement runs an egalitarian, welcoming, and pluralistic rabbinic court for conversion. To prevent the misuse of conversion in order to gain legal residency in Israel, the Reform Movement does not convert tourists, migrant workers, illegal residents, or those who lack legal status in Israel.

The Israel Reform Movement requires converts to undergo an intensive year of study before turning to the rabbinic court. Converts commit to a Jewish lifestyle, to undergoing circumcision (men) and to immersing themselves in the mikveh. The Reform and Conservative movements convert approximately 300 people every year.

Anat Hoffman, IRAC Executive Director: “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 fulfills Israel’s Declaration of Independence and values.”