Court: Non-governmental conversions valid for Law of Return
The High Court of Justice held that conversions performed in 'recognized Jewish communities' outside of the state's official rabbinate are acceptable as relates to the Law of Return; both chief rabbis protest, saying the court 'will not decide who is a Jew.'
Several converts filed the petition after the state refused to recognize their conversion, and the Masorti (conservative) and Reform movements joined them.
In an expanded sitting of nine justices headed by Chief Justice Miriam Naor, the court gave its decision on Thursday. The court emphasized that its ruling was only regarding recognizing conversions for the Law of Return: "This is not a religious question, but rather a civil-public one. (…) We are not determining anything in these proceedings on the question of recognizing the conversion that the petitioners underwent in other contexts."
This precedent-setting judgment is groundbreaking, and the liberal Jewish movements seem intent to interpret it as granting validity to their conversions. However, the High Court of Justice emphasized that its ruling addressed conversions that took place in a recognized Orthodox community.
In the 70-page judgment, the justices wrote, "The concept of conversion in the Law of Return must be interpreted as a conversion that took place in a recognized Jewish community in accordance with the standards contained therein. This community must have a shared, founded and permanent Jewish identity.
Naor wrote in her judgment, "Notwithstanding the above, I do not see reason to enumerate, for the circumstances before us, the details of those Jewish communities that must be seen as 'recognized Jewish communities.'" The court's Chief Justice addressed the details of the petitioners' Orthodox communities, which are located in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak.
Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, the court's Naor's deputy, wrote in his dissenting opinion that it would be preferable to wait 18 months before implementing the verdict to allow the state time to legislate a law to set out how to recognize converts and converters, but the majority did not implement this suggestion.
Naor wrote, "I do not see any justification to interpret the Law of Return in a way that will cause discrimination between those who converted in Israel and those who converted abroad. For this reason, too, we must grant preference to the interpretation according to which conversion for the purpose of the Law of Return is a conversion conducted in a recognized Jewish community (…) be it performed in Israel or abroad."
Both of the men at the head of the governmental organization that lost its monopoly on conversions recognized for the Law of Return condemned the decision. Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, deeming the judgment "scandalous," said, "It is inconceivable that the 'pirate' conversion industry that is not regulated by any governmental body will be recognized as official."
Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau stated, "The Supreme Court and its justices will not decide who is a Jew; only the torah of Israel will."