High Court ends Orthodox monopoly on conversion for adoption

Every case will be examined individually, the judges rule.

A father and his adopted sons. Photo by Brendon Connelly via Wikimedia Commons.
A father and his adopted sons. Photo by Brendon Connelly via Wikimedia Commons.

After a 20-year legal battle, the High Court of Justice on Sunday ended a practice whereby non-Jewish children adopted in Israel have to undergo an Orthodox conversion to Judaism.

The nine-justice panel issued its ruling on a petition submitted in 2003 by the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism.

At issue was the Israeli law under which the religion of Jewish parents and their adopted children has to be the same. The state’s Children Protection Service had decided that only Orthodox conversion would qualify for non-Jewish children being adopted, prompting the petition.

Only several dozen non-Jewish children were up for adoption last year, leading the court to rule that every case can be examined individually.

“This case could have and should have been decided many years ago, but it was protracted because among other reasons the court took its time in handing down a decision,” Uri Regev, CEO of the NGO Hiddush—For Religious Freedom and Equality told JNS in an interview.

Regev was the founding head of the Israel Religious Action Center, which submitted the petition to the Supreme Court, sitting as the High Court of Justice.

“Despite the haredi wrath against the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court is anything but eager to pull the chestnuts out of the fire and to rock the boat on issues of religion and state, and often tries to pressure the parties to reach an agreement in the hopes that a solution would be found without having to rule,” he said.

Regev said that adoption is a civil institution and so was never defined as being governed by halachah, or Jewish law, nor should it be.

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