Israel’s High Court has issued a landmark judgement requiring the country to consider all Jewish conversions – including those carried out by the Reform and Conservative movements – as legitimate for the purposes of the Law of Return.
Following a petition 15 years ago by NIF grantee the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), the Court had been deliberating while urging the Knesset to legislate on the matter.
Over the past two years the court has not ruled because of repeated Knesset elections; it had been expected to again postpone the ruling until after the elections later this month.
A panel of nine justices headed by Chief Justice Esther Hayut handed down the 8-1 ruling. “Jews who during their stay in Israel were legally converted in a Reform or Conservative community must be recognized as Jews.”
Justice Noam Sohlberg, the dissenting voice, said that he agreed with the legal reasoning of the ruling but believed that the court should have waited until 12 months after the formation of the new government before making its decision.
The ruling was welcomed by Avigdor Liberman and his Yisrael Beitenu party as well as all center and left-wing parties but furiously condemned by Shas and United Torah Judaism.
“Today Israel’s Supreme Court decided that Israel should be a national home for all types of Jews,” Mickey Gitzin, the Israel director of the New Israel Fund and a longtime Israeli activist for religious freedom told JTA. “It is a day to celebrate, even as the road towards equality for all — especially those who are not Jewish — remains long.”
Rabbi Ayelet Cohen, director of NIF’s office in New York told Haaretz, said that “the path towards equal rights for all, regardless of faith, remains long. Yet today we celebrate one small but significant step towards pluralism, towards a society in Israel that views all as equal.”