MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni sent a letter early this week to Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon demanding that he have the government
table a bill ensuring that conversions are performed
according to halochoh, and blocking the High Court's recent
ruling in favor of quickie Reform and Conservative
conversions performed outside of Israel.
"The majority ruling by the High Court to recognize quickie
conversions is making a mockery and disgrace of one of the
substantial issues in every state with democratic rule,
namely who is eligible to become a citizen of the state," he
wrote. "The Reform, Conservative and others do not operate in
accordance with the law books or any criteria in the least.
They have no clear criteria [for appointing rabbis] and in
effect anyone who calls himself a rabbi can act in this
sensitive and critical issue of converting members of other
religions or no religion whatsoever to the Jewish religion.
Once they are converted it automatically makes them eligible
for aliya and citizenship in the State of Israel."
In his letter Rabbi Gafni cited Paragraph 6.2 of the
coalition agreement, which says that the status quo on
religious issues may not be altered. He noted that the High
Court judges themselves stated that if the government is firm
in its opposition to these changes in conversion practices it
should amend the law.
After six years of legal proceedings the High Court, led by
Judge Aharon Barak, ruled seven to three last week in favor
of recognizing the so-called conversions performed abroad by
Reform and Conservative rabbis. The court did not address
whether Reform and Conservative conversions done in Eretz
Yisroel would be recognized.
The case was brought before the High Court by a group of
immigrants who studied in Israel, then traveled to chutz
la'aretz where they were immediately converted by
heretical clergy, and then came back to Israel and asked to
be registered as Jews. They made no pretense of being part of
the communities where they converted. The legal basis of
their appeal was that the clergy that converted them are
recognized in their home country as Jewish clerics. The High
Court has so far not recognized Reform and Conservative
clerics in Israel where there is an official, government-
recognized rabbinate, but it has recognized those clerics in
chutz la'aretz where they have the same legal standing
as genuine rabbonim. Based on the Law of Return the State
refused to register them as Jews on their national
identification cards (te'udot ze'ut) or to consider
The Interior Ministry defines these fictitious conversions as
"jaunt conversions" since they are typically carried out by
taking quick trips abroad to convert in order to obtain
Although according to halochoh a Jew is either born of a
Jewish mother or converted properly—including the
acceptance of Taryag Mitzvas—Reform and
Conservative rabbis, like the special conversion courts in
Israel, accept just about anyone who wants to become a Jew,
not inquiring into whether he or she genuinely intends to
"The court must not interfere in matters related to Jewish
halochoh, which are liable to cause a rift in the people due
to conversion not according to the tradition of our
forefathers throughout the generations," said Chief Rabbi
Yonah Metzger. "Conversion is not an economic concept of
absorption rights. Conversion is a distinctly halachic issue.
The High Court decision will have far-reaching consequences,"
he said, adding that the Chief Rabbinate would not recognize
Following an announcement, Rabbi Metzger convened an
emergency meeting of the Chief Rabbinate Council on Monday to
issue a directive to disregard the High Court decision.
"During thousands of years of Diaspora riddled with constant
torment and suffering, the Jewish people kept its uniqueness
as a people and its identity was carefully preserved," read a
statement issued by Chief Rabbinate Council following the
meeting. "The High Court decision is liable to cause
confusion and pose a genuine threat to the unity of our
people, including the possibility of a rift and division in
[Am Yisroel]. Foreign workers are liable to come into our
midst as a result of facile recognition of their rights." The
Council called on the court system to proceed with great
caution in taking responsibility for matters reserved for
halochoh. The statement also says that the Knesset should
legislate a law guaranteeing that conversions are only
performed according to the Torah as passed down to us from
one generation to the next.
MK Roman Bronfman (Yachad) asked the Attorney General to
instruct Rabbi Metzger to honor the High Court ruling.
Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar announced he intends to propose to
the Knesset that the right under the Law of Return not be
given to anyone who converts. "The High Court decision
effectively recognizes fictitious conversions and will
exacerbate the problem of those eligible under the Law of
Return who cannot marry according to [Jewish law]. It is
merely a matter of time before the High Court recognizes
fictitious conversions performed in Israel as well. This
decision splits the Jewish people."
Chief Rabbi Amar said that the decision would result in
having to keep careful lineage records listing those who were
born of Jewish mothers and those who were converted according
to halochoh. "The people who would suffer from this first and
foremost are the same people battling against the Torah, who
are liable to find themselves outside of Am Yisroel.
It would be better if the Knesset determined by law that
conversion is only . . . according to din Torah. But
in light of the current political situation and in order to
limit fictitious conversions, there is no alternative other
than to cancel the Law of Return for all who convert."
The Knesset is scheduled to hold an intersession plenum on
Wednesday to discuss the High Court decision.
A minority of the bench, Judges Turkel, Procaccia, Levy and
Gronis, held recognizing the conversions would leave the
country's border wide open since anybody presenting a
"conversion certificate" would be recognized as a Jew in the
State of Israel. Judge Edmund Levy quoted Israel's first
Prime Minister who said, "The Law of Return is not one of the
immigration laws that determine under which conditions the
State accepts immigrants and which kinds."
On the other hand High Court President Judge Barak maintained
the State must recognize Reform converts as Jews in every
respect. "It remains entirely unclear why we must limit the
recognition of conversions performed outside of Israel to
those converts seeking to join the congregation that converts
them," he wrote in the decision. "We can appreciate the need
to avoid the exploitation of conversion outside of Israel
[but] why show prejudice against conversions by other streams
in Judaism toward which we should adopt—based on the
State's stance as well—a position of equality?"
Judge Barak includes Reform and Conservative as integral
parts of the Jewish people. "In saying `a recognized Jewish
community,' we mean an established and active community . . .
belonging to one of the streams recognized by the world
Jewish population. Maintaining this requirement will ensure
that conversion is not exploited in order to acquire economic
rights without a desire to join the Jewish people."
In the minority opinion Judge Edmund Levy writes, "The State
of Israel has been transformed into a place that draws
immigration and therefore the broad interpretation of `Jew'
as used in the Law of Return, will likely create a track to
sidestep the immigration laws, allowing its use not only by
those who truly want to join the Jewish people but also
others whose motivations are suspect. This scenario is liable
to involve serious repercussions, for the practical meaning
will be that the State of Israel will be compelled to come to
terms with the fact that various figures based abroad who are
not under the supervision and control of any of the state
authorities would be the ones to determine who will enter
Israel and be its citizens. This outcome is very far-
Similarly Judge Asher Gronis wrote, "The opinion of the
majority provides the communities outside of Israel with `the
key to enter Israel . . . ' There will be no way to supervise
in any real way the conversion ceremonies. The possibility of
receiving instant citizenship through the Law of Return in an
easy and nonobligatory manner could precipitate serious and
ugly developments in this matter . . . "
Judge Turkel urged his colleagues on the panel not to issue a
ruling on the matter and instead to leave it in the hands of
the Knesset to legislate guidelines for recognizing
conversions performed outside of Israel.
According to the chairman of Vaad HaRabbonim Haolami
LeInyonei Giyur, "The High Court ruling will open up
sifrei yuchsin in Am Yisroel." Five years ago,
when another High Court ruling on fictitious conversions was
about to be handed down, maranan verabonon issued
instructions to place the responsibility for opening
sifrei yuchsin in the hands of Vaad HaRabbonim.
Vaad HaRabbonim notes that sifrei yuchsin are already
constantly being compiled and the recent High Court decision
triggered dozens of calls from individuals interested in
registering themselves out of a recognition of the importance
of the matter in maintaining the purity of Kerem Beis
Yisroel. "The conversions of the heretics, i.e. the
Reform and Conservative, are not even worth the paper they
are written on. The High Court decision will merely cause a
total separation between the government and the rabbinical
system," said the Vaad Chairman.
"Nobody authorized the High Court to interfere in halachic
matters," read a Vaad HaRabbonim statement. "The High Court
wants to determine who is a citizen, but it does not have the
ability to interfere and determine who is a Jew, which only
the holy Torah determines, as we received it on Mount Sinai.
The High Court judges must recognize their place and look for
other solutions for the hundreds of thousands of non-Jews who
came to Eretz Yisroel. Unfortunately the High Court decision
will cause serious demographic problems in Eretz Hakodesh
when the cities are flooded with hundreds of thousands of
non-Jews trying to filter into Kerem Beis Yisroel."