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.
I hope that this has proven helpful.
Answered by: Rabbi Joseph Blair