According to Israeli law, all religious conversions, since they pertain to laws of personal status, fall under the jurisdiction of the religious court system. The legal force of a religious conversion depends, therefore, on the consent of the head of the religious community that the person seeks to join. Jewish conversion, consequently, becomes official in Israel only when certified by the Chief Rabbinate. In 1995, the conversion administration of the Chief Rabbinate set up special conversion courts, similar to ones set up in the 1970’s by Rabbi Shlomo Goren. These courts were created to deal exclusively with conversion cases, without entirely divesting the regular rabbinic courts of their authority in this area. In 2001, responsibility for running the conversion courts was transferred to the general rabbinic court administration, under the administrative supervision of the Justice Ministry (as of January 2004) and the halachic supervision of the Chief Rabbis and the judges in the appeals court. Since 2004, all conversion issues will be coordinated from the Department of Conversion in the Prime Minister’s office.
The only officially recognized conversion in the State of Israel is Orthodox-halachic conversion. There are also non-establishment conversion procedures offered under the auspices of the Conservative movement and the Movement for Progressive Judaism. Any conversion performed under the auspices of a Jewish community, in Israel or abroad, will be recognized for civil purposes, as per various High Court rulings. Thus, for registration as a Jew under the Population Registry Law (1965), there is no difference between Orthodox-State conversion and Reform or Conservative conversion (based on Supreme Court rulings: Goldstein 1995 and Na’amat 2002, regarding conversion in Israel; Shas 1989 regarding conversions abroad, which led to the 1992 decision of the Knesset Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee to remove, across the board, the entry of Jewish Nationality in the identity card). Regarding personal status, however, only Orthodox-State conversion is recognized. Any other process may have cultural, educational, or communal value, but it will not receive the recognition of the Israeli Rabbinate. Anyone who converts in such a manner (and for a woman, also her children) will not be able to marry, get divorced, or be buried in Israel as Jews. Conversion performed abroad will also only be recognized by the Israeli Rabbinate if the bet din (rabbinical court) for conversion was Orthodox. The Israeli Chief Rabbinate keeps a list of recognized rabbinical courts abroad, and updates it from time to time.
The 1950 Law of Return gives every individual who was born Jewish or converted to Judaism, the right to Israeli citizenship. Narrow readings of this law, which have impeded the naturalization of converts in Israel and abroad, were proscribed by the Supreme Court in 2004. The Law of Legal Competency and Guardianship – 1971, sets 18 as the minimum age at which a person may legally decide to convert. The Law of Penalties – 1977 made it illegal to convert or persuade a minor to convert without the consent of both of his biological parents. If consent is not given, or one parent cannot be located, the Family Court is empowered to give authorization. A minor may only change his religion to the religion of one of his parents. If neither of his parents is Jewish (eg. the whole family is undergoing the conversion process together), the court will give conditional approval of the minor’s conversion.