Israel Supreme Court: more non-Orthodox Jewish converts can become citizens

FILE PHOTO: Ultra-Orthodox Jewish boys play as men pray in front of the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem's Old City, February 23, 2021. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel's Supreme Court ruled on Monday on one of the most contentious issues regarding Jewish identity in Israel, deciding to allow more non-Orthodox Jewish converts to immigrate to Israel and become citizens.

The country's "Law of Return" grants Israeli citizenship to any Jew from anywhere in the world, though there have been disputes when it comes to those who have converted to Judaism.

More observant groups in Israel demand a strict Orthodox conversion while the less stringent conservative and reformed movements say they offer a valid alternative.

Until now conservative and reformed conversions carried out overseas were recognized for Israeli citizenship and those done locally were not.

The Supreme Court, saying it was concluding a 15-year legal battle after the government chose to sidestep the issue, ruled that non-Orthodox conversions in Israel would be sufficient for citizenship as well. It did not say how many of such conversions were typically carried out each year.

The ruling only interprets the existing law, the court said, while parliament "at any time can set a different arrangement in the law".

Interior Minister Arye Deri, who is an ultra-Orthodox rabbi, called the court decision "very unfortunate" and said he would work to amend the law so it only allows conversions done according to strict Jewish law.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid welcomed the ruling, saying, "We all need to live here in mutual tolerance and respect."

(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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