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Who Is a Jew? Protecting Converts in Israel

Who Is a Jew? Protecting Converts in Israel

Aeriel view of Jerusalem skyline

One of the defining questions of Jewish peoplehood in our time is: “Who is a Jew?” Recently, members of the Israeli government have been introducing legislation that would rollback many of the basic rights we have won over the past decades. The most recent target is the the right of Reform and Conservative converts in Israel to be recognized as Jews.

Fifteen years ago, we at the Israel Religious Action Center filed a lawsuit demanding that people converted by Reform and Conservative rabbis in Israel be recognized as Jews and be granted Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return. This past May, the Supreme Court granted status to Jews converted by private Orthodox rabbis (as opposed to the government-sponsored Orthodox Rabbinate). Following the ruling, we demanded equal treatment under the law. The court ordered the government to justify the rules that continue to discriminate specifically against us.

The government filed their answer this past Friday, and asked the court not to take action because the Interior Ministry supposedly intends to introduce new legislation to address the problem next year. The government did not offer any details about what their proposed bill would say, but we don’t need a crystal ball to predict bad news. We have been fighting for full recognition of Reform and Conservative conversions performed here and abroad since the 1980s. The government has tried to block us at every opportunity.

Our response will be clear: No more excuses. No more delays. We will ask the Supreme Court not to take the bait laid by the government, and to immediately give equal status to all Reform and Conservative converts in Israel.

We expect some of our fiercest battles during the upcoming year to take place in the Knesset. Legislators will try to pass laws undoing our greatest achievements. They will try to write statutes legalizing discrimination. We will have none of it and will use all of the tools at our disposal to respond. 

IRAC is the only organization fighting for the rights of Reform and Conservative Jews by choice to have an equal place in Israel. With your support, we will succeed in the courts and in the Knesset fighting for progressive Judaism in Israel. 

Rabbi Noa Sattath is the director of the Israel Religious Action Center.

Rabbi Noa Sattath
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