Reform Movement not overjoyed by conversion class ruling

High court ruling on non-Orthodox conversion schools sheds no light on state attitudes toward conversions themselves.

conversion class 248.88 (photo credit: Hilary Leila Krieger [file])
conversion class 248.88
(photo credit: Hilary Leila Krieger [file])
Tuesday's victory by the Reform Movement in its petition demanding equal funding for its conversion classes vis-à-vis those run by private Orthodox institutions may influence future court rulings on other questions of funding for religious services, but its impact on the status of the conversions themselves in the eyes of the state is questionable, attorney Einat Horowitz told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. Horowitz and attorney Nicole Ma'or represented the Reform Movement in the petition on the funding of the non-Orthodox conversion schools and also represent it in separate petitions calling on the court to order the Interior Ministry to register 12 non-Jews who converted in Reform or Conservative ceremonies as new immigrants in accordance with the Law of Return. The petitions were filed on November 29, 2005, after the High Court handed down a ruling ordering the state to recognize "overnight conversions," that is, conversions of non-Jews who live in Israel and studied in Reform and Conservative classes here, but were converted in a ceremony in a Reform or Conservative community abroad. The petitioners include Carlos Kamchu from Columbia; Allan Goodrich from the US; Natalie Dahan from Russia; Andrea Fermutz from Austria; Valencia Adelcisa from Columbia; Grenville Adams from the US and Anika da Zuter from Belgium. Before the petitions were filed, the Reform and Conservative movements had won a number of incremental victories on the matter in the High Court. The High Court's rulings forced the government to register converts to Judaism from abroad who wished to move to Israel and be granted citizenship according to the Law of Return, and non-Jewish Israeli residents who studied Judaism in Israel but were formally converted abroad. In filing the 12 petitions, the Reform Movement wanted to smash the Orthodox monopoly on conversions in Israel itself. In some ways, Tuesday's High Court ruling recognizing Reform and Conservative conversion schools as being equal to private Orthodox ones touches on the subject of conversion. Indeed, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, quoting from the Reform Movement's petition, had warm words for the accomplishments of non-Orthodox conversion schools in helping integrate non-Jews into Israeli society. In fact, Horowitz told the Post, the High Court did not want to rule on the conversion school funding issue at first, saying it would do so after it ruled on the conversion petitions. It was the Reform Movement which had to convince the court that the two issues were separate. And indeed, in her ruling, Beinisch emphasized that this was so. "There are additional aspects [to the conversion question] which have great social and religious sensitivity regarding which one can point to significant gaps [i.e. advantages] which Orthodox conversion enjoys over Reform and Conservative conversion, for example, regarding personal status laws [i.e. marriage and divorce]. But these aspects have nothing to do with the petition before us and we do not have to express a position on this matter." What has happened to the 12 petitions since they were filed more than three years ago? Not much, according to Horowitz. At first, the government proposed establishing a second Neeman Committee to find a solution to the impasse between the state and the Orthodox establishment on the one hand, and the non-Orthodox religious movements on the other. However, the Reform Movement rejected the idea, saying it would be a waste of time. Instead, the government and the petitioners decided to discuss the problem among themselves. There have been three or four meetings since then - the last one this past summer - but little, if any, progress was made in these discussions. At the end of May, the state is scheduled to file an updated brief to the court on its current position regarding the petitions. Horowitz said the Reform leaders were waiting to hear what the state has to say.