Israeli Supreme Court Chief Justice Miriam Naor on Wednesday issued a temporary injunction against the Interior Ministry ordering it to explain within two months why 11 petitioners who underwent Reform or Conservative conversion in Israel should be refused a Certificate of Oleh (immigrant) based on the Law of Return, and why they should not be registered as Jews in the Population Registry.
The Law of Return (Hok Ha-Shvut) was passed in 1950, giving Jews the right of return and the right to live in Israel and to gain Israeli citizenship. In 1970, the right of entry and settlement was extended to people with one Jewish grandparent or people married to a Jew, although they were not considered Jewish under Jewish halakha. Those who immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return are immediately entitled to gain citizenship in Israel.
According to the halakhic definition, a person is Jewish if his or her mother is Jewish, or if he or she converts to Judaism. However, Orthodox Jews do not recognize conversions performed by Reform or Conservative authorities. But the Law of Return states that any Jew, regardless of affiliation, may immigrate to Israel and claim his or her citizenship.
In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that all conversions performed outside of Israel would be recognized by the authorities under the Law of Return. The court had already ruled in 1989 that conversions performed outside of Israel were valid for the Law of Return, regardless of whether they were Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform. The 2005 ruling extended that decision, finding that overseas conversions were still valid even if the individuals did the preparatory work for the conversions while residing in Israel.
Now it appears that the Supreme Court is prepared to bring down the last vestige of halakhic Judaism regarding conversion, in an attempt to authorize Reform and Conservative religious courts in Israel to covert, forcing the state to accept their converts as Jews.
The current Interior Minister, Aryeh Deri, is an ultra-Orthodox Jew, and will most likely fight the court’s obvious plan tooth and nail. But in the end, he will have one of three choices: obey the court (not going to happen), resign (not likely), or change the law, which is, in fact, anchored in the Haredi parties’ coalition agreement.
Can the Law of Return be changed today? Can the 1970 dreaded ruling allowing non-Jews to be accepted as Jews also be revoked, while the Knesset is at it? The fate of Netanyahu’s government may depend on it.