Proposal to alter law of return attempt to halt losses in court

Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar's far-reaching proposal to amend the Law of Return is based on the highly reasonable assumption that unless something is done immediately, the High Court of Justice will, in the coming months, recognize Progressive (Reform) and Conservative conversions carried out in Israel, granting immediate citizenship on the basis of the law. Amar has suggested amending the Law of Return so that it will no longer recognize converts to Judaism as Jews eligible for instant citizenship and the material benefits that go with it. Since the amendment would not discriminate among Orthodox, Conservative and Reform conversions, Amar hopes it will withstand the scrutiny of the High Court. Amar also suggested that the Chief Rabbinate Law be changed to give the rabbinical courts responsibility for conversions. This, Amar hopes, will prevent any non-Orthodox convert from being recognized as Jewish. Currently, there are special conversion courts under the jurisdiction of the Prime Minister's Office. In making these proposals, Amar is trying both to prevent anticipated gains by the non-Orthodox movements and to roll back the clock on the advances they have made over the past two decades. These advances in the status of the non-Orthodox religious streams have come in the wake of a seemingly inexorable series of High Court decisions incrementally expanding their prerogatives. They include High Court decisions ordering the Interior Ministry to: register as Jews in accordance with the Law of Return immigrants who converted to Judaism in their countries of origin; to register in the Population Registry Israeli citizens or residents who converted to Judaism in Reform or Conservative ceremonies either here or abroad; and to register as Jews in accordance with the Law of Return non-residents living legally in Israel who studied Judaism in Reform or Conservative courses in Israel and converted in "overnight conversions" abroad. In the petitions that led to these rulings, one argument by the state after another was rejected by the court and could not be used again. At first, the state argued that the Interior Ministry official could not register a non-Orthodox convert and grant him rights according to the Law of Return because he was not converted according to religious law. Afterward, it argued that according to the British Mandatory Religious Community Order, the chief rabbi was head of the Jewish community in the Land of Israel and therefore he determined the terms for conversion. It then argued that legal non-residents who convert to Judaism should not be recognized as new immigrants in accordance with the Law of Return even if they were converted by an Orthodox rabbi. After these victories, the Progressive movement moved in for the final one, submitting 12 petitions demanding that the Interior Ministry register as Jews in accordance with the Law of Return 12 non-residents living legally in Israel who had been converted to Judaism in Israel by Progressive rabbis. Seeing that the state had run out of ammunition to defeat the petitions, Amar decided there was no choice but to change the law. The Orthodox parties tried to do this in 1997 by proposing an amendment known as the "Conversion Law." The attempt was blocked by threats from the Reform and Conservative communities in the Diaspora to cut ties with Israel. If the cabinet adopts Amar's proposal, the Jewish communities abroad will not stand for it, as can already be seen.