Reform Conversions Back Before the High Court

Test case revolves around Colombian-born father of Israeli children who underwent Reform conversion in Israel.

Yair Ettinger
Yair Ettinger
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A Judaism conversion class at the Beit Daniel Reform synagogue in Tel Aviv, February 2014.
A conversion to Judaism class at the Beit Daniel Reform synagogue in Tel AvivCredit: Nir Keidar
Yair Ettinger
Yair Ettinger

After a break of seven years, the High Court of Justice is Sunday scheduled to begin hearing a petition by Israel’s Reform Judaism movement demanding that religious conversions performed by its rabbis in Israel be recognized for the purposes of the Law of Return.

While Reform conversions have been granted partial recognition, including for the purposes of the Interior Ministry’s Population Registry, and groups that perform them are now eligible for government funding, the movement, through its Religious Action Center, is demanding that the state grant citizenship to all graduates of the movement’s conversion program, with all the rights and benefits enjoyed by all Jewish new immigrants. In addition, the movement is also demanding the recognition of its converts for the purposes of adopting non-Jewish infants in Israel.

Deliberations over the original petition were suspended in order to allow for talks between the government and the Reform movement over recognition of Reform converts and, to a lesser extent, over the interpretation of previous High Court rulings on the issue.

The IRAC moved to renew deliberations on its petition after what its representatives say was the break-down of the talks.

The petition revolves around the case of a Colombian-born man who entered Israel on a tourist visa in the late 1990s, underwent a Reform conversion and married his Israeli girlfriend. The couple, who have two children, have since separated, as a result of which the Interior Ministry refused to extend his resident visa and informed him that he could face deportation.

The IRAC argues that under a previous High Court ruling the man should have been registered as Jewish and as a citizen during the period of his marriage, on the strength of his Reform conversion alone.

Since 1989 the state has recognized non-Orthodox conversions performed abroad for the purposes of the Law of Return, and a 2002 ruling granted partial recognition to Conservative (called Masorti in Israel) and Reform conversions carried out in Israel. In 2005 the High Court ruled that so-called “pop-over conversions,” performed overseas by a Conservative or Reform religious court after the candidate studied Judaism in Israel in a non-Orthodox framework, must be recognized.

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