High Court Opens Door to Recognition of non-Orthodox Conversions in Israel

Israel's top court orders the state to explain why individuals converted by Reform and Conservative rabbis in Israel are not entitled to benefits under the Law of Return.

A Judaism conversion class at the Beit Daniel Reform synagogue in Tel Aviv, February 2014.
Nir Keidar

The High Court of Justice provided the Reform and Conservative movements on Wednesday with a ray of hope in their ongoing struggle to recognize Jews converted by their rabbis in Israel. 

Responding to a request submitted by the Israel Religious Action Center, the advocacy arm of the Reform Movement in Israel, Israel's top court ordered the state to explain why individuals who are converted by Reform and Conservative rabbis in Israel are not entitled to benefits provided by the Law of Return.

The Law of Return grants automatic citizenship and other financial incentives to Jews who immigrate to Israel.  Individuals who move to Israel and are converted by state-sanctioned Orthodox rabbinical courts, operated by the Chief Rabbinate, are entitled to benefits under the Law of Return.

Signed by Supreme Court President Miriam Naor, the order requires the state to submit its answer within 60 days.

In 2005, IRAC petitioned the High Court after 11 immigrants converted by the Reform and Conservative movements were not recognized by the Interior Ministry for the purpose of the Law of Return.  Since then, no ruling has been handed down in these cases. 

Two months ago, the High Court ruled that individuals converted by private Orthodox rabbinical courts should be eligible for benefits under the Law of Return. Following this landmark decision – considered a major blow to the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly on conversions – the Reform and Conservative movements decided to try their luck again.

After its appeal to the state went unanswered, IRAC asked the High Court to reconsider the cases of the 11 converts in lights of its latest ruling on private Orthodox conversions. Representing IRAC before the court were attorneys Orly Erez-Likhovski and Nicole Maor. 

Under a High Court ruling that dates back several years, individuals converted to Judaism in Israel by Reform and Conservative rabbis are registered as Jewish in the Population Registry, even though they are not eligible for benefits under the Law of Return.

Responding to Wednesday’s decision, Rabbi Gilad Kariv, executive director of the Reform movement in Israel, called on Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit to “take a bold but necessary step” and announce that in light of the court’s decision, the state withdraws its opposition to Reform conversions.”