'Not swift justice, but sweet and righteous just the same'

‘Long time coming’: Reform, Conservative Jews hail Israel conversion ruling

Two movements, which make up majority of US Jewry, express hope move will lead to their integration in Israeli society; Orthodox Union, JFNA, Conference of Presidents silent

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the Union for Reform Judaism president, speaking at the movement's biennial conference in Orlando, Florida, November 7, 2015. (URJ/via JTA)
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the Union for Reform Judaism president, speaking at the movement's biennial conference in Orlando, Florida, November 7, 2015. (URJ/via JTA)

The Reform and Conservative religious movements celebrated Monday’s High Court of Justice ruling that legitimized non-Orthodox conversions in Israel for the purpose of citizenship.

The movements that make up the vast majority of American Jewry said in separate statements that the decision was a long time coming and expressed hope that it would lead to greater integration of non-Orthodox Jews in Israeli society, where Reform and Conservative Jews are much less prevalent.

Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs said the ruling “was years in the making and reflects the diversity and vibrancy of Jewish life in Israel and around the world.”

“The Court has affirmed the reality that the Jewish people are stronger because of the contributions of Reform and Conservative Movements and their commitment to bringing more Jews into the Jewish People,” he continued. “We hope this ruling establishes a precedent that will lead to further recognition of the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel.”

The Conservative Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly in a statement called the ruling a “rebuke” of “recent Knesset efforts to restrict religious freedom in Israel.”

Leaders of the Reform and Conservative movements at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, November 2, 2016. (Courtesy Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism)

“This was a very long time coming. Not swift justice, but sweet and righteous just the same,” it said.

“We call on all parties in Israel to respect the decision of the Court and to proactively protest attempts to legislate against religious freedom in Israel, as well as Jewish communities abroad,” the Conservative Movement’s rabbinic body added.

Also welcoming the move was the Anti-Defamation League, which retweeted a post from its Israel office calling the decision an “important step towards achieving religious pluralism in Israel.”

Notably silent were several major umbrella Jewish organizations including the Conference of Presidents, The Jewish Federations of North America and the Orthodox Union.

Monday’s High Court ruling determined that people who convert to Judaism in Israel through the Reform and Conservative movements must be recognized as Jews for the purpose of the Law of Return, and are thus entitled to Israeli citizenship.

The bombshell decision, which shatters the longstanding Orthodox monopoly on officially recognized conversions in Israel, was the culmination of an appeal process that began more than 15 years ago, involving 12 people in the country who converted to Judaism through non-Orthodox denominations. The justices specified that they had previously withheld issuing a ruling to allow the state to handle the matter, but the state had failed to do so.

The ruling only applies to conversions in Israel. A previous court decision forced the state to recognize non-Orthodox conversions abroad for purposes of immigration, but not those performed in the country.

While the ruling was lauded by left-wing, centrist and secularist parties in Israel, it was denounced by right-wing religious politicians, who vowed to advance legislation in the next parliament to overturn it. Both of Israel’s chief rabbis similarly blasted the move.

“What the Reform and Conservatives call ‘conversion’ is nothing but a forgery of Judaism,” Chief Sephardic Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef said in a statement, calling on lawmakers to work for a “quick” legislative fix.

Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau claimed those who undergo Reform or Conservative conversions “are not Jews.”

“No High Court decision will change this fact,” he said.

The latest ruling follows a 2016 High Court decision ordering the state to recognize private conversions to Orthodox Judaism that are conducted outside the framework of the Chief Rabbinate.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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