Magazine article The Christian Century

Israeli High Court Approves New Routes for Converting to Orthodox Judaism

Magazine article The Christian Century

Israeli High Court Approves New Routes for Converting to Orthodox Judaism

Article excerpt

Orthodox Jewish lawmakers have vowed to pass a law nullifying an Israeli Supreme Court decision recognizing all Orthodox conversions--not only those performed by the state-sponsored Chief Rabbinate--as legally valid.

The Israeli high court's recent ruling compels the state to accept as Jewish all converts who have undergone Orthodox conversions inside and outside Israel. It is a defeat for the Orthodox rabbinate, which until now has enjoyed sole authority over Jewish institutions in Israel.

The rabbinate's ultra-strict conversion criteria have made it difficult or impossible for most of the country's 350,000 non-Jewish immigrants of Jewish ancestry, as well as foreigners living in Israel, to convert to Judaism.

Bezalel Smotrich, an Orthodox parliamentarian, said the high court is exceeding its authority.

"The High Court is getting involved in sensitive policy matters and doesn't give lawmakers any choice other than to fix the distortion created in legislation," Smotrich said. "We will submit to the Knesset a bill giving recognition only to state-ordained conversions immediately at the start of the summer session."

Israel's chief Sephardic rabbi, Yitzhak Yosef, cohead of the rabbinate, called the court's ruling a "scandal. …

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