Reform asks court to recognize conversions of adopted infants

JERUSALEM, May 6 (JTA) — The Reform movement’s decision to petition the High Court this week to recognize the Jewishness of two infants who were adopted and converted abroad could further strain Israeli-Diaspora relations, according to a senior aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “In our recent meetings with leaders of the Reform and Conservative movements, as well as with members of the religious camp in Israel, we asked everyone to try as much as possible to tone down the rhetoric and to lower the heat,” said Bobby Brown, the premier’s adviser on Diaspora affairs. Tensions between the Orthodox and liberal religious movements have escalated in the wake of preliminary Knesset approval last month of a bill that would cement in law the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate’s exclusive control over conversions performed in Israel. The proposed legislation would not affect the long-standing practice of recognizing conversions conducted abroad. The legislative process has been suspended to allow for a possible compromise to be negotiated. Government officials have suggested that the Reform and Conservative movements cease litigation on conversion matters in exchange for an end to the controversial Knesset measure. But Reform and Conservative leaders in Israel have vowed to continue pursuing legal actions. Brown stressed that the Reform petition, which was being filed on behalf of two Israeli couples, “in no way violates” any understandings reached between representatives of the Israeli government and Diaspora leaders during a series of meetings in Washington and New York last month. But he added that “anything done on either side to heat up the issue makes it harder to come to mutually acceptable conclusions.” Uri Regev, director of the Reform movement’s Israel Religious Action Center, defended the movement’s decision to petition the court. He said that until last May’s elections, the Interior Ministry routinely registered children who were adopted and converted aborad as Jewish. “It stopped this practice under pressure from religious members of the government,” Regev said. “We are simply petitioning the government to do what it is legally required to do.” The Interior Ministry is headed by the fervently Orthodox Shas Party. Regev charged that Netanyahu “is trying to convince American Jews that the conversion issue only relates to the conversion of Israelis, but that’s not the case here.”

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