Barak Asks to Rule on 'Who is a Jew' Before Retiring.
Supreme Court President Aharon Barak is pressuring the state to speed up its response to several petitions regarding the question of "Who is a Jew," so that he will be able to write the ruling on these cases before he retires in December.
However, the Justice Ministry said that the state cannot formulate its response until after the elections are held and a new government is formed.
The petitions demand that Reform and Conservative conversions in Israel be recognized for the purpose of obtaining citizenship under the Law of Return. They were submitted late last year by seven people who underwent non-Orthodox conversions in Israel, and now want to be granted citizenship.
The petitioners argue that all of the court's previous rulings on this subject lead to a single conclusion: that any conversion performed by a recognized Jewish community, including one in Israel, entitle the convert to citizenship under the Law of Return.
The court has already recognized non-Orthodox conversions overseas as sufficient for citizenship, even if the convert lives in Israel and merely made a quick visit overseas to undergo the ceremony. It has also entitled people who undergo non-Orthodox conversions in Israel to register as Jews in the Population Registry. However, it has yet to rule that non-Orthodox conversions in Israel are sufficient for citizenship under the Law of Return.
The Israel Religious Action Center, the legal arm of the Reform Movement in Israel, is representing the petitioners, and it has been urging that the case be concluded before Barak retires. During a recent hearing, he revealed that he shares this desire: He asked the state's attorney, Yochi Genessin, whether the state would be willing to combine the latest petitions with other conversion-related cases currently pending before the court and treat them as if a show-cause order had already been issued - something that would significantly speed up the proceedings.
Normally, the court first holds a preliminary hearing and then, if the case seems to have merit, it issues a show-cause order, giving the state a specified amount of time in which to submit a more detailed response. After this, another hearing is held. Treating the petitions as if a show-cause order had already been issued would thus save considerable time.
However, Genessin refused, saying that the state would need more time to formulate its response. Even the scheduled date for the next hearing, May 24, is likely to be too soon, she noted, because that will not give the new government formed after the March 28 elections enough time to determine its position.
"There will be no choice," she said, "but to postpone the hearing until after the summer recess."
"After the summer, I will no longer be here," Barak responded. By law, a justice must stop hearing cases three months before he retires; in his case, that means September.
"I'm not calculating our handling of the issue based on the end of your tenure," Genessin responded.