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High Court: State must pay for circumcisions of non-Orthodox converts

The justices based their decision on the need for equality and "respect for religious freedom."

Supreme Court Justice Daphne Barak-Erez arrives for a hearing in Jerusalem, July 20, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Supreme Court Justice Daphne Barak-Erez arrives for a hearing in Jerusalem, July 20, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

Israel’s Supreme Court, sitting as the High Court of Justice, ruled on Tuesday that the State of Israel must fund circumcisions for converts who come through the Reform and Conservative streams of Judaism, and not exclusively Orthodox converts as it has done until now.

“The state is not obligated to finance a circumcision procedure,” wrote Justice Daphne Barak-Erez in the ruling. “However, when it chooses to finance it, it must do so on the basis of equality and out of respect for the religious freedom of those who are faced with the choice between different conversion paths.”

A circumcision in Israel costs thousands of shekels.

The decision was in response to a petition filed 14 years ago in 2009 by Reform Judaism’s legal arm in Israel, the Religious Action Center; and the Masorti Movement in Israel, an umbrella organization for Conservative Jewish activity in the country.

The justices said they left the petition pending for many years in the hope that the dispute would be resolved out of court. They ordered the Ministry of Religious Services to pay 30,000 shekels ($8,100) towards the petitioners’ legal expenses.

Orly Erez-Likhovski and Nicole Maor, of the Religious Action Center, said: “We welcome the fact that the court ruled that the state is not allowed to discriminate between Reform and Conservative converts and Orthodox converts when it comes to financing their circumcision—the symbol of entry into the nation of Israel.

“If the state chooses to finance the circumcision procedure, it is obligated to do so in an equitable manner and not to impose a ‘fine’ of thousands of shekels for those who choose a conversion that is compatible with their worldview,” they said.

Interior Minister Moshe Arbel of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party said the court’s verdict places takes power over the naturalization process and places it in private hands.

“The decision actually encourages and enables the privatization of the citizenship process other than through the state system,” he said.

“As the person in charge of Israel’s immigration policy, I find it appropriate to warn that the responsibility for the results of the decision rests with those who made it,” Arbel said.

Religious Services Minister Michael Malchieli of Shas also criticized the ruling, saying it was unfortunate that in a time of war and during the holiday of Chanukah commemorating a revolt against Hellenists who banned circumcision, “there are those who find it appropriate to further damage the Jewish identity of the state and Jewish tradition, which is the anchor on which Israel’s return to its land rests.”

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