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Acceptance of Conversions in Israel

Return to A Resource Guide to Jewish Conversion.

You want to become Jewish, and you want to be considered a Jew in the State of Israel. You want your children to be considered Jewish in Israel, too.

I have good news and bad news. The good news is, if you convert with any Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist or other rabbi in the United States or Canada, you will be considered Jewish under Israel's Law of Return. A Reform convert who made aliyah in 1980 tested this in a case that went to Israel's Supreme Court. If you convert to Judaism, you can come to Israel as a Jew.

Now the bad news. Israel's religious courts, which determine who can marry in a Jewish ceremony in Israel and other matters relating to personal status, do not accept non-Orthodox conversions. Furthermore, as the influence of far-right religious elements has increased over the Israeli rabbinate, Israeli Orthodoxy has come to reject many Orthodox conversions performed abroad. Indeed, in a recent case, they threw into doubt all the Orthodox conversions performed by Israel's own (Orthodox) Conversion Authority.

While there is a list of North American religious courts the Israeli rabbinate currently accepts, there is no guarantee, in the current political climate, that all conversions will be accepted by other rabbis, especially those in Israel. Some Orthodox rabbis are currently arguing that conversions should be annuled if a rabbinical court has evidence the person was insincere, and some have broadened such evidence to include how Jews by choice behave in the present. Based on our reading of rabbinic responsa and knowledge of the Jewish community, such an approach seems to contravene Jewish law, which forbids explicitly mistreating converts and maintains that Jews by choice are obligated to Jewish law just like people born Jewish. (That is, they can't be declared no longer Jewish if they do something against Jewish law.) We just have to have some faith in human beings, that they will resolve the internal political conflicts causing this weird moment in Jewish history.

Hebrew for "going up," it refers to the honor of saying the blessing over the Torah reading. It can also refer to the act of immigrating to Israel. (e.g. "After falling in love with Jerusalem, Rachel and Christopher made aliyah.") Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation.
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