Conversion Issue Returns to Court; Last-ditch Compromise is Rejected

Israel’s High Court of Justice this week heard a petition challenging the Orthodox establishment’s sole authority over conversions performed in Israel — an issue that stands at the forefront of the nation’s religious-secular debate.

The court had repeatedly postponed hearings on the petition, first filed three years ago, in the hope that the matter would be resolved through a compromise among the various religious streams.

However, efforts to reach compromise between the Orthodox establishment and liberal streams of Judaism have failed.

Instead, the Conservative and Reform movements have increasingly sought recognition through the judicial system.

The fervently Orthodox community has responded with protest rallies and efforts within the Knesset to pass legislation that would codify into law the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate’s authority over all conversions conducted in Israel.

Tuesday’s hearing before an expanded panel of 11 justices addressed a petition submitted by parents whose children, adopted abroad, underwent Conservative conversions in Israel.

At the opening of the session, in a final attempt to find a solution outside a court ruling, Chief Justice Aharon Barak offered a compromise proposal-that the children be listed as Jews in the nationality section of the population registry, but that the section for religion be left blank.

The petitioners rejected the compromise.

“I am happy the parents refused to accept this strange idea, because we as a religious and nationalist movement view Judaism as the uniting of religion and nationality,” said Rabbi Reuven Hammer, who is head of the Conservative Movement’s rabbinic court for conversions.

“The parents converted their children in a religious ceremony,” he said, “in order for their being joined with the Jewish people. And they are insisting that there be no division between statehood and religion.”

The representative for the state then argued that the sole authority for conversions in Israel be the Chief Rabbinate.

The court, which is slated to hold another hearing on the petition before issuing a ruling, will also be hearing a separate challenge to a recent district court ruling that ordered the Interior Ministry to recognize as Jewish 30 individuals who underwent Reform and Conservative conversions.

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