Israel’s Landmark Conversion Ruling Won’t Do Much for Actual Converts

March 4, 2021 | Bethany Mandel
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Earlier this week, the Israeli Supreme Court issued a ruling that conversions performed by Conservative and Reform rabbis inside Israel are to be considered valid for naturalization purposes. (Previously, this was only true of non-Orthodox conversions performed in the Diaspora.) Bethany Mandel observes:

[A]s usual, conversion is being used as a political . . . football. This has always been the problem with how Israel has handled conversion: it treats actual converts and their needs as being of no consequence. Converts are seen . . . only as proxies in fights over political and religious power. . . . That objectification isn’t restricted to any one sect of Judaism; I’ve seen it in all of them, from the far-left to the far-right.

The proof of that indifference to the converted is in how Israeli media has so far handled the decision—that is to say, with very little curiosity about actual converts behind the case, or about the limbo they’ve been kept in for over a decade while they waited for a ruling from the high court. The actual people involved, and their plight for the last fifteen years, is an afterthought in the country’s imagination—if even that.

So: could this ruling actually bring good news for Reform and Conservative converts, not just those who complete their conversions in Israel, but also those outside it? To me, it seems unlikely. Good news would mean there was some sort of political incentive for those in power to go to any effort to recognize and embrace converts as part of the Jewish people. This decision doesn’t meet that bar.

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