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{Reposted from the author’s blog}

In a somewhat disappointing development (at least to me) Israel’s Supreme Court has ruled that people who ‘convert’ to Judaism under the auspices of the Reform movement in Israel will be recognized as Jews.


I understand why they did this. They simply want to show fairness and equity to heterodox denominations. Which comprise by far the largest share of Jews in the world.

I get that.  But that does not make it right. Especially if one factors in the direction these denominations are going. Which is to eventual oblivion. I say this with no rancor. Just as a prediction based on their trajectory. I don’t think there is any dispute about the high rate of American Jews apathetic to their own Judaism. Or the high rate  of intermarriage (over 70%).

Back to the conversion issue. I have no problem at all with non Jews becoming Israeli citizens. That is certainly the case with large numbers of Arabs who are – as reflected by their representatives in the Keneset. But to identify people as Jews when they are not universally accepted as such gives lie to that identity. If one is not fully accepted as a Jew how can they be sure they are Jewish? A declaration by the Israeli Supreme Court accepting their legitimacy as Jews does not make it so.

Orthodox Judaism does not accept either Conservative or Reform conversions. They are both considered non Halachic conversions and therefore their ‘converts’ are not considered Jewish. The Conservative Movement will argue that their conversions are  Halachic – their guidelines for conversions being virtually identical to Orthodox guidelines.

They are not identical for reasons beyond the scope of this post. However, for purposes of this post let us grant for a moment that they are.  If they believe that conversions must be Halachic, how can they accept Reform conversions which have no Halachic basis at all?

The Halacha requires that an individual is a Jew from birth only if their mother is Jewish. It does not matter if the father is. But if only the father is Jewish and the mother is not, they are not Jewish at all.

Reform Judaism has ‘ruled’ that a Jewish father will do. No need for the mother to be Jewish. So in the case of intermarriages, all children will be considered Jewish if the parents are living as Jews. Making about half of them non Jews according to Halacha.  With an intermarriage rate so high, there are going to be a lot of people that considered Jewish by the state of Israel that will not be. I am pretty sure that the Conservative movement feels the same way.

Another way to be considered Jewish is through conversion. Which is the issue at hand. Both Orthodox and the Conservative denominations require a Bris (for men) and immersion in a Mikvah.  Reform does not require either of those. If one chooses to live as a Jew, Reform Judaism considers that sufficient. What it means to live as a Jew according to Reform is not clear. But it is certainly not the same as it is to Orthodoxy or to Conservative Judaism both of which require observance of Halacha. (Even though most Conservative rabbis ignore the fact that the vast majority of Conservative Jews today are not observant.)

Bearing that in mind, If there was ever an instance where Conservative Judaism should align with Orthodox Judaism this would be it. Surely they consider Reform conversions illegitimate.

And yet I’m sure they sided with Reform here and are quite happy with the Supreme Court decision.

One may ask, if Israel is going to be a democratic state, shouldn’t they recognize all conversions? Of course they should. But if they are going to be a Jewish state they should only recognize conversions that are acceptable to all denominations.

Israel is both a democracy and a Jewish state. But by their decision, the Supreme Court has moved the needle. They apparently place more importance on being a democracy than they do on being a Jewish state.

A lot of people say that Israel cannot be both. But I disagree. It is just a question of priorities. First Israel must be Jewish and then within those parameters it must be a democracy. The trick is in knowing how to do that. The one thing they should not do is undermine the Jewish side of the equation. In my view, this is what the Supreme Court has done with this decision.

I can’t imagine a bigger mess in a Jewish country than not knowing who is and isn’t a Jew. Getting married will increasingly become a nightmare. In far too many cases, knowing one’s Jewish lineage is already a problem in Israel. It will now be magnified many times over.  And this doesn’t even address all the corrupt Orthodox Batei Din (religious courts) doing Sham conversions.

The Charedi politicians are determined to overturn this decision. I agree with them in this instance. That said, I would be remiss if I did not condemn Charedi MK Yitzhak Pindrus for calling female IDF soldiers that converted under Reform auspices ‘Shiksas’.

While it is true that they are not Jewish, calling them a pejorative that implies immorality and promiscuousness is both unfair and untrue. It is the height of Chutzpah and ingratitude to call someone who admired the Jewish people enough to convert, thinks she did, and serves in the military that protects him and his entire community. I think of too many things lower than that. She may not be Jewish. but she ought to be respected and even admired. that MK Pindrus (and any other Charedim that might feel the same way) do not understand this is is a major flaw in their character.

Be that as it may, I know my views are not politically correct. But I do think they are Halachicly correct. Which makes this ruling by the court a sad day for Israel and for Judaism.


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Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at [email protected].