In what is yet another strike against the religious establishment in Israel, the High Court of Justice ruled on Thursday afternoon that private Orthodox conversions conducted in Israel should be recognized by the state for eligibility for the Right of Return.
It joins a recent ruling allowing non-Orthodox converts the use of public mikvas, as well as a state agreement with the non-Orthodox movements to create a pluralist prayer section at the Western Wall, as another blow to the Orthodox establishment’s dominance over religious life in the country.
The significance of the ruling is not so much in the implications for non-Israeli nationals who convert in Israel, but for the legitimacy of non-state Orthodox conversions performed in the country in general.
It could also impact the eligibility of non-Orthodox converts in Israel to gain the right to Israeli citizenship, something they are currently not granted.
Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef condemned the ruling as “outrageous,” and said that “pirate conversions” have no state inspection and therefore cannot be recognized by the state in any way.
There are a small number of private Orthodox conversion courts in Israel, including haredi ones, and conversion applicants approach them instead of the state system for various reasons. Until now, anyone converting them through them has not been given the right to Israeli citizenship under the law of return, since the chief rabbinate only recognizes conversions done through its system as valid.
The ruling will now change this situation.
Its greatest and most significant impact is likely to be in the future however, and regarding the general legitimacy of Orthodox, non-state conversions.
National-religious activists have for many years campaigned to make the state conversion system more accessible and effective. Last year, a group of senior rabbis from the sector gave up on this campaign and established a new, non-state Orthodox conversion system, Giyur Kahalacha, to increase conversion rates for amongst the 300,000 strong community of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who are not Jewish according to Jewish law, halacha.
In the wake of Thursday’s ruling, these activists proclaimed that the decisions represented a precedent which would pave the way for state recognition of Giyur Kahalacha converts.
MK Elazar Stern, who battled fiercely for conversion reforms in the last government, called the decision “a day of celebration for the Jewish people,” and a strike against “extremism”
“The High Court ruling recognizing conversions done through private courts is great news for the State of Israel, the fight against assimilation, and for those choosing not to convert through the alienating conversion courts of the chief rabbinate,” said the MK
“It is important to emphasize that the High Court ruling is a direct result of the repeal of the conversion law that I passed in the previous Knesset, which was canceled in the blink of an eye, when the coalition agreements were signed.”
The Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah welcome the ruling and called on the government to formalize the standing of private conversion courts.
“The ongoing failure of the state in the realm of conversion and the abolishing of the conversion reforms of the last government by the present one, brought the High Court to the important realization that there are other solutions,” said the organization.
“We call on the prime minister who oversees the state conversion authority to formalize the standing of private rabbinical courts in general.”