Non-Orthodox Converts Are Jews, Court Decides
The Israeli Supreme Court reignited the “Who is a Jew” debate today, ruling that people converted by non-Orthodox rabbis should be registered by the government as Jews.
The ruling immediately sparked threats from Orthodox politicians to introduce conflicting legislation or order religious institutions to ignore it.
In a separate decision the court said Reform rabbis, the least strict of three main wings of observant Judaism, could not perform weddings in Israel.
The decisions reopened a decades-long debate over whom Israel considers Jewish, a source of conflict between Orthodox Jews who control Israeli religious institutions and Diaspora Jews who are mostly non-Orthodox.
Court Registrar Shmuel Tsur said the judges ruled 4 to 1 “to register as Jews . . . in identity cards and in internal documents those converted by non-Orthodox rabbis.”
They said it was impossible for government clerks to be responsible for determining the authenticity of Jews who come to register, he said.
Interior Minister Arie Deri, a member of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party and head of the agency directly affected by the decision, said he will have to meet with a council of Shas elders to decide how to react.
The previous interior minister, Rabbi Yitzhak Peretz, also of the Shas Party, resigned rather than obey a Supreme Court order to register as Jewish a woman converted by a non-Orthodox rabbi.
Religious Affairs Minister Zevulun Hammer said on Israel radio: “I am very unhappy and disappointed at the decision, which says essentially that whoever says he is a Jew is a Jew.” He said he may introduce a law challenging the ruling.
The Conservative movement in Israel issued a statement praising the decision and saying it hoped that the Parliament and government will accept the judgment “with courage as behooves a democratic country.”
The Orthodox want the definition of who is a Jew to include only those born to Jewish mothers or converted according to Jewish law known as Halacha, which would effectively mean by Orthodox rabbis.
Reform and Conservative Jews contend that the Orthodox proposal would symbolically excommunicate them from Judaism and alienate U.S. Jews from Israel.
Rabbis estimate that there are more than 10,000 conversions a year in the United States, nearly all non-Orthodox.