Thank you for writing to Jewish Values Online. I believe that you are really asking two (or more) separate questions.
1. Legally, will a person who underwent a Reform conversion outside of Israel be allowed to move to Israel and be accepted as a citizen under the ‘law of return’?
2. Religiously, will a person who underwent a Reform conversion process be recognized and accepted as Jewish for all purposes in Israel?
I begin with a very strong caveat: I am by no means offering you any legal advice, and the outcomes with regard to legal matters can change drastically, depending on minute details of the facts in a given instance, so anything I say here is speculative at best, and cannot be taken as authoritative or in any way as something you can count on.
Legally, the Israeli Supreme Court has determined that a conversion performed outside of Israel by a recognized authority (a recognized and ordained rabbi) in a given community (Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, etc.) will (generally) be accepted for the purpose of conferring the status of a citizen of Israel on the person who underwent the conversion and is seeking to make Aliyah, in accordance with the provisions of the ‘law of return’. Of course, there are conditions that attach to this, but in general, this is the holding. So yes, a person who undergoes a Reform conversion can make Aliyah and be a citizen of Israel.
Religiously, it is not so clear. [I am offering no judgement or personal comments here about whether this is a good or bad situation: I am simply trying to explain what is likely in the scenario you ask about.] In Israel, the determination of matters of personal status (whether one is Jewish, whether one may marry a particular person, etc.) are left to the determination of the Orthodox Rabbanut. Since in general the Israeli Orthodox Rabbinate does not recognize or accept the authority of any non-Orthodox rabbi (Reform, Conservative, Renewal, Reconstructionist, etc.), and often do not accept conversions (Orthodox or not) done outside of Israel, they would not accept a Reform conversion as valid, and usually will not certify the person as Jewish. This means that a person who converts may not be accepted as Jewish for some or all purposes in Israel.
This can lead to the anomalous situation of a convert to Judaism who is practicing and observing Jewish laws and following a fully Jewish lifestyle, living as a citizen in Israel, perhaps serving in the IDF, but who is not considered Jewish for religious purposes.
The Reform movement supports the legal determination of the Israeli Supreme Court in this matter, and is seeking to have the rabbinic actions of its’ movement’s rabbis accepted as valid for all purposes, including religious determinations.
The Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), the Israeli arm of the Reform movement’s political and social action organization, and the Association of Reform Zionists in America (ARZA), the Reform Movement’s Israel-oriented arm, have been pushing for many years for Jewish religious pluralism in Isreal, and for equal status and rights for Progressive/Liberal (Reform, Reconstructionist, & Conservative) rabbis, congregations and schools, in Israel. You can readily find information online; one of the topics that keys in to this matter is the fairly widespread news concerning the ‘Conversion Bill’ proposed by Minister of Knesset Rotem in recent months, now tabled for a time due to protests from world Jewry.
If you are seriously considering Aliyah following a conversion, I strongly urge you to contact the IRAC for information on the current legal situation, as well as assistance in the process. Nefesh B’Nefesh is another organization that can be helpful for those in this situation.
May a Jew that went through a Reform Conversion move to Israel under the law of return?
Speaking from a Conservative/Masorti Jewish perspective, I would initially delineate two issues, one posed explicitly, and the other one implicitly, in this question:
1.Is a conversion to Judaism conducted under Reform auspices recognized in Israel?
2.Is there a Conservative/MasortiJewish approach to Reform conversions, independent of the official Israeli political stance?
1.The Israeli Law of Return, a basic part of the law operative in the State of Israel, provides for Jews to move to Israel and claim citizenship immediately.Since this law covers converts to Judaism, and since the Orthodox in Israel (as elsewhere) do not accept the legitimacy of non-Orthodox conversions, there have been numerous, Orthodox-inspired attempts since the 1970’s to amend the Law of Return so as to restrict the applicability of the Law of Return to native-born Jews and to those converted under Orthodox auspices.While the legislative and political history of these attempts is complicated, the basic situation today is that, for purposes of citizenship, Israel still accepts non-Orthodox conversion as competent to enable the immigrant to invoke the Law of Return.However, the Rabbinic courts, authorized in Israel to handle issues such as marriage, refuse to treat such citizens as Jewish.
Responding to that state of affairs from a Masorti/Conservative viewpoint:I lament the politicization of the “Who is a Jew” question in Israel.It has brought out so much that is negative, and even brought people into the category of violating the prohibition against “sin’at chinam”, “Causeless hatred”.That prohibition is such a key component of the Jewish values structure that the Rabbis have identified it as the reason why the Second Temple was destroyed. It stands as a cautionary teaching for all who cherish the State of Israel today.
The basic problem stems from the delineation of Orthodox Judaism as the “established synagogue” of the State of Israel.The separation of “Church and State”, or more correctly, “Synagogue and State”, in Israel, would not only end the gross offenses against Jewish unity that now receive state sanction.Such a separation would also be good for the cause of Judaism.Removed from the power political mindset fostered by its connection with governmental power, the Orthodox movement would adopt the non-coercive outreach programs now practiced by the Reform/Progressive and Masorti/Conservative streams in Israel.That would be likely to bring more secular Israelis under the beneficial influence of Jewish tradition, while keeping Judaism the religion of a people rather than a sect.
2.The Conservative position on conversion to Judaism differs from some, although not all, Reform practice, in that not all Reform rabbis insist on the ceremonies of immersion in a mikveh (i.e. tevilah) for both male and female converts, and circumcision (milah) for male candidates.For Conservative Judaism, these are official standards of practice, and may not be waived.When a person, having been converted under Reform auspices, approaches a Conservative/Masorti rabbi, there is no automatic rejection of the conversion based on its having been supervised by a Reform leader.If the conversion had not included the ceremonies of immersion and, for males, circumcision (or symbolic circumcision, if the male had previously been circumcised in a purely surgical context), then the Conservative/Masortirabbi is likely to invite the convert to “complete the conversion process” by observing those ceremonies.
Rabbi Michael Panitz
Temple Israel of Norfolk, Va. (Masorti/ Conservative)
August 24, 2010/ 14 Elul, 5770
Answered by: Rabbi Michael Panitz
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