By Amit Acco, Partner |

The High Court of Justice issued its ruling today  today recognizing conversions that take place under the auspices of the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel. The full panel of nine judges headed by President Esther Hayut confirmed that the conversions of the Petitioners, which had taken place in Israel many years ago, should be given the same treatment as conversions that take place outside of Israel. The High Court emphasized that the purpose of the Law of Return was to encourage Aliyah to Israel for persons who convert to Judaism as well as those who are born Jews.

The Court decision is significant because it requires that the standard for recognizing conversions within Israel can now include Reform and Conservative conversions. Reform and Conservative converts whose conversions take place in Israel are to be recognized as  Jews by the Ministry of Interior and they are eligible for Aliyah under Israel’s Law of Return.

In their opinions, the Judges severely criticized the Government and the Knesset, for failing to pass legislation, as had been promised, resulting in long delays to the determination in this case.

Judge Dafna Barak Erez wrote:

“We refrained from ruling on this issue for nearly fifteen years – out of a respectful attitude toward the respondent’s position (AA: The State of Israel), to enable the promotion of orderly legislation on the issue…however, we cannot wait forever, when the rights of the people are at stake, and legislation on the subject is not in sight at all”.

The Court noted that the Law of Return does not define “conversion” and “convert” and that there has been no subsequent legislation that defines these terms, leaving it up to the Court to interpret the Law. The Judges made it clear that the judgment is limited to the important civil-public question of granting Aliyah status under the Law of Return. It does not deal with a religious question.