Today, Israel’s highest Rabbinical court handed down a crucial ruling effectively annulling the conversions of some 40,000 people. The Rabbis argued that the Israeli government has been too liberal in approving conversions to Judaism. The matter is now being referred to the Israeli Supreme Court.
The Rabbinical court’s decision will not retroactively impact the citizenship of these individuals. However, the ruling will likely make it harder for these converts to find Rabbis willing to oversee Jewish rituals for them, whether marriages, funerals, or other events. Israel’s conversion management process is the unique byproduct of a technically secular state in which citizenship is determined by religion. All Jews are citizens; Rabbis determine who are Jews; and the secular state has hiring and firing power over those Rabbis. Prime Minister Olmert recently sacked the 76-year old Haim Druckman, the previous head of the conversion authority, for authorizing too few conversions.
There is no simple solution for this. So long as citizenship is determined by religion, the state will be subject to the whim of the Rabbis. At the same time, the state picks the Rabbis. This all occurs, of course, on the backdrop of the usual Jew versus Jew arguments. Unless Israel rethinks its fundamental premise of religious-based citizenship, this is a perpetual problem.