Fearing court will accept Reform, Conservative converts, gov't seeks delay

“Worried that the decision by the High Court will confirm that there is more than one way to be a Jew.”

December 18, 2018 19:27
3 minute read.
Female rabbi being ordained

Female rabbi being ordained 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/POOL New)


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The government has requested again that the High Court of Justice refrain for six months from ruling on a critical case regrading progressive Jewish conversion, due the complexity of the issue and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needing to “clarify” the issue further.

The case before the court was brought by the Reform and Masorti (Conservative) movements more than a decade ago, demanding the state give citizenship through the Law of Return to several converts who converted under their auspices.

Both denominations agreed to join the government’s request for a delay to any ruling, after the converts affected were given A5 visas entitling them to state medical insurance and welfare benefits and the government committed to not advancing legislation on the issue during the six-month delay.

The Reform and Masorti movements aspire to the recognition that would be conferred on their converts should the High Court rule in their favor, but appear concerned about provoking the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties in the current government into advancing legislation that would circumvent the High Court ruling and do heavy damage to the rights their converts currently enjoy.

While the case has practical implications for a small number of converts, it carries symbolic and ideological significance for the progressive Jewish denominations in Israel as eligibility for the Law of Return for their converts would constitute state recognition for the legitimacy of Jewish pluralism in Israel.

A crisis in relations broke out in June 2017 when a bill sponsored by haredi parties Shas and United Torah Judaism that would give the Chief Rabbinate a monopoly over conversion in Israel was approved by the cabinet for passage to the Knesset.

Shas and UTJ advanced the legislation because of the impending ruling by the High Court on the conversion, which is widely expected to rule in favor of the progressive Jewish denominations.
An agreement was reached whereby the Reform and Masorti movements would request the High Court not issue a ruling and the haredi parties would not advance their legislation, while the government would find a mutually agreeable long-term solution.

Former justice minister Moshe Nissim was charged with drafting a resolution to the highly emotive and intractable problem, but his proposals gave too much authority to the Chief Rabbinate for the liking of the progressive movements and too much leeway to the progressive movements for the haredi parties.

Moderate National Religious rabbis also rejected the proposals since it would severely injure an independent Orthodox conversion program that was established in 2015.

Nissim’s proposals are dead on arrival for all intents and purposes, and it seems unlikely that Netanyahu and the current government will be able to find a compromise on this most sensitive and ideological of issues given the instability of the current coalition, as well as the current combustible nature of relations between the prime minister and the North American Jewish leadership.

Director of the Masorti Movement Dr. Yizhar Hess,said Interior Minister and Shas chairman Aryeh Deri could have resolved the social status of the converts who are party to the High Court petition a long time ago, but that he is “worried that the decision by the High Court will confirm that there is more than one way to be a Jew.”

MK Elazar Stern of Yesh Atid, who is Orthodox, lambasted the prime minister, once again, over the request for a delay, saying he has “given over the keys for entrance to the Jewish people into the hands of people some of whom oppose the existence of Israel as a democratic state and some of whom won’t even agree to be part of its government,” in reference to the haredi political parties.

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