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Likud-led Israeli government agrees to bill to overturn non-Orthodox conversions

Opponents say the Orthodox monopoly on conversions narrows the scope of who can be considered Jewish

Illustrative - A women converting to Judaism at the Rabbinic Court in Jerusalem, July 21, 2003. (Photo: Flash 90)

The ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties in Israel are demanding the nascent government pass a bill that would negate rulings by the High Court approving conversions by rabbis from other Jewish movements, including Reform and Conservative. 

The ultra-Orthodox parties are requiring this commitment before they will join Israel’s government coalition. 

Israeli television reports that Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party accepted a demand from ultra-Orthodox parties to end official state recognition of conversions performed outside the Chief Rabbinate as part of ongoing coalition negotiations.

In March 2021, Israel’s High Court ruled that any established Israeli community’s rabbinate, including Reform and Conservative, could approve state-recognized conversions for the purposes of citizenship (only conversions through the Orthodox rabbinate are recognized for religious purposes). Earlier this year, the Court also began recognizing Orthodox conversions for the purpose of citizenship, which are not performed by Israel’s Orthodox Rabbinate.

At the time, the Orthodox political parties denounced all of these rulings. Now, two religious parties – the Sephardic Shas party and the Ashkenazi United Torah Judaism party – are demanding that any future coalition pass a bill that Shas submitted last year to overturn these High Court rulings. 

If passed, the “State Conversion Law” would only recognize conversions performed by the government’s Conversion Authority – which only recognizes conversions from the Chief Rabbinate, a small number of non-Rabbinate ultra-Orthodox conversion courts and a military-affiliated program that converts IDF soldiers.

The bill would not act retroactively. 

Rabbi Anna Kislanski, head of the Reform Judaism movement in Israel, complained this would put an end to progressive Judaism in Israel.

“The apparent shameful surrender by Likud to the demand of the extremist ultra-Orthodox parties to pass a law that would end recognition of Reform conversions in Israel will have only one result: In its 75th year, the State of Israel will cease to be the homeland of the entire Jewish people,” she said in a statement. 

“We call on the prime minister to continue to accept the thousands of women and men who have chosen to tie their fate to the Jewish people and to the State of Israel through respectful Reform conversion and to prevent a situation of [Israel] divorcing itself from liberal Jewry, which represents the majority of the Jewish people,” she said.

Kislanski reported that there are about 300 Reform conversions a year in Israel, although most are not for the purpose of attaining Israeli citizenship.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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