The Supreme Court Recognizes Reform Conversions in Israel // Q&A with MK Rabbi Yisrael Eichler

What exactly happened today with the Supreme Court’s decision?
Up until now, if someone brought a letter from a Reform rabbi in America, he was recognized as Jewish. For years, the malchus harishah recognized such people as Jews, even though according to the official law—as set forth in the status quo agreement with Rav Yitzchak Meir Levin—everything connected to marriage, divorce and conversion had to be done according to din Torah, but in practical terms it was interpreted as meaning only in Eretz Yisrael.
But that wasn’t enough for the Reform. They wanted the Israeli Beit Hadin Harabbani, which is Orthodox, to recognize Reform and Conservative conversions, when the Israeli Rabbanut doesn’t even want to recognize the geirus of the beis din of Rav Nissim Karelitz because they don’t want to create a precedent for private conversions.
Now, three weeks before the upcoming elections, the Supreme Court decided to give a gift to Lieberman and Lapid—despite the fact that the matter had been pending a decision for 15 years—that even a conversion performed in Israel by a Reform rabbi should be recognized as if it were done through the Rabbanut. This is against Israeli law and precedent.

But the Supreme Court is the body that sets the law.
No. There’s a law saying that all matters of marriage, divorce and giyur can only be dealt with by the Beit Hadin Harabbani of the chief rabbinate.

But isn’t this part of the old argument between the Knesset and the Supreme Court over who has the final say over Israel law?
No. In America there’s a Constitution, and if the legislature passes a bill that is against the Constitution, the Supreme Court can invalidate it. In Israel, however, there is no constitution. No one ever gave the Supreme Court the right to invalidate laws. The job of the Supreme Court is to clarify the intent of those who wrote the laws. If the law says that all issues connected to marriage, divorce and giyur can only be dealt with by the Rabbanut, the Supreme Court can’t come along and say that it never happened. In fact, the Supreme Court itself wrote in its decision that it isn’t saying whether such a person is a Yid or not, because it isn’t getting involved in religion; it’s only getting involved with regard to citizenship, and since the Knesset hasn’t clarified that for 15 years, they are therefore deciding that such people should be recognized as Jewish citizens.
Can the Knesset now clarify what it meant and circumvent the Court’s decision?
Only if the Knesset passes a bill allowing it to override the Supreme Court [this proposed bill is known as the Override Clause] so that the Supreme Court won’t be able to invalidate laws passed by the Knesset. And if it does, the law can then go back to the Knesset, which can reinstate it with a simple majority of 61.
At the moment there is no such law or mechanism. For years there has been a movement to do something to stop the Court from meddling in the Knesset’s affairs. Now we’re going to have to get it done.

But can’t the Knesset pass a bill right now about this specific issue?
Sure, and then the Supreme Court will just invalidate it. It would be like playing ping-pong.

Considering that the Reform movement was recognized outside of Eretz Yisrael, it was already impossible to rely on any state documentation. So how much does what happened really matter to us chareidim, if non-kosher American conversions were already being accepted as valid?
You can ask an even better question. There are half a million Russian non-Jews here who don’t even pretend to be interested in geirus. They have Israeli citizenship and marry Jewish people. How does that affect chareidim? Because it’s going to increase assimilation to an even greater degree, and we can’t allow this to happen to the Jewish nation. There are a couple of million people who live in this country who want to marry Jews but won’t check to see who the bubbe or elter bubbe was. They’ll be satisfied with a letter from the medinah stating that the person is a Yid. We already have this problem with the Russians, and now we’re going to add to it.


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