Expanding citizenship will be popular in the U.S. but ignite a backlash in Israel.
By Noah Feldman March 2, 2021, 9:30 AM EST
In a stunning, generation-defining decision, Israel’s Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that people who became Jews through Conservative and Reform conversions must be considered as Jews for purposes of the country’s Law of Return, allowing them a fast-track to citizenship. Israel’s legislature, the Knesset, has the authority to reverse the decision and restrict the Law of Return to Orthodox converts. That may well happen — but if it does, it would represent a serious blow to relations between American Jews, most of whom are not Orthodox, and the state of Israel.
The Law of Return is foundational to Israel’s self-concept as a Jewish democratic state. It establishes the principle that Jews may become citizens of Israel simply by showing up in the country and declaring their intention to become citizens. As written, the law defines a Jew as “one who was born to a Jewish mother or converted, while not being a member of another religion.” The case before the Supreme Court involved the vexed question of the meaning of the word “converted”: Which conversions count as qualifying a person for citizenship under the law?
The answer has massive implications for the nature of Israeli identity. Israel’s large Orthodox population mostly would prefer that it be restricted to conversions performed by Orthodox rabbis. Yet the Conservative and Reform movements of Judaism, which remain very small in Israel, are popular and influential in the U.S. Laypeople in these more progressive Jewish movements insist both that their conversions are religiously valid and that the state of Israel ought to recognize them for purposes of the Law of Return.
The distinctions matter on multiple different legal dimensions. The Orthodox rabbinate maintains a monopoly on performing legal marriages for Jews in Israel. Consequently, people who have undergone Conservative or Reform conversions cannot marry other Jews within the country.
Comments by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times:
Article 16 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
(1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
(2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
(3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.