Can’t blame court: Knesset failed to settle conversion for 15 years

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For 15 years the court waited, and for 15 years justices tried to get the Knesset to pass a law. But our elected officials refused to do their job. They refused to touch this hot issue.

So when you hear now that the High Court of Justice “crossed a line,” intervened in the legislative process and forgot its place, ignore it. The people who forgot their place and who crossed a line were the members of Knesset, who for 15 years pretended that they did not have to decide and did not need to legislate a law that would settle the issue of non-Orthodox conversions conducted in the State of Israel.

That issue of non-Orthodox conversions has been contentious for decades, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knows it well. As head of state in 1997 he established the Ne’eman Committee, and more recently, in 2018, the Nissim Commission.

In between, different MKs, such as Elazar Stern, a former IDF general, brought forward a variety of proposals. All were presented to the prime minister and members of the cabinet. None were accepted and converted into law.

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Which is why the High Court’s decision was just.

For years, conversions conducted by the Reform and Conservative movements outside of Israel were recognized in Israel for the purpose of obtaining citizenship under the Law of Return. The court’s decision on Monday basically balances out the existing situation, recognizing conversions performed in Israel as well.

For too long, Israel has been held captive by ultra-Orthodox political parties that control the Chief Rabbinate, control the legislative agenda of the Knesset and control the way of religious life in Israel. It has to stop.

Arye Deri, leader of Shas, wrote following the decision that the court had caused a rift within the Jewish nation. He is wrong. What has caused the rift in the Jewish nation has been the monopoly that was afforded to him and his fellow haredi (ultra-Orthodox) MKs for too long, allowing them to monopolize all matters of religious life in Israel.

Which is why, while Monday’s court decision is a landmark ruling, it is just one battle that advocates of religious freedoms have been fighting for in Israel for decades.

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Still, despite numerous government promises, there is not yet a proper respectable platform for egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall under Robinson’s Arch; there is still no civil marriage option in Israel for hundreds of thousands of tax-paying and IDF-serving Israelis; and there is still a relative monopoly by the rabbinate on kashrut throughout the country.

Keep in mind that the ruling can still be overturned by the Knesset if it were to get its act together and legislate that only Orthodox conversions can be recognized under the Law of Return.

One thing for certain: We can expect that when coalition negotiations commence after the March 23 election, legislation to overturn that ruling will be a primary demand of the haredi parties.

But that makes no difference. Today, advocates of religious freedom can take satisfaction in a win. It might be small and may be overturned, but it shows what is still possible in 2021, and how Israel can truly become the home for all Jews.

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