Hearings on converts are delayed

Court President Aharon Barak said the court had other issues to address and gave no date for the hearings to resume before an expanded panel of 11 justices.

"There is no doubt I am disappointed," Rabbi Ehud Bandel, president of the Masorti, or Conservative, movement, in Israel told Israel Radio.

"After five years of this case being dragged around, I see it is a hot potato each side is trying to pass off to the other. The court is handing off to the Knesset; the Knesset returns it here. It is unfortunate there is a lack of courage to try to resolve the matter."

Bandel did say, though, that there is a "ray of hope" in the delay because it would help them return to the negotiating table with the chief rabbinate to "find a solution to the sensitive matter outside the courtroom and not in Knesset legislation."

Tuesday's court session was to consider petitions filed by the Reform and Conservative movements seeking recognition of conversions performed abroad and in Israel, as well as a state appeal of a lower court decision to register non-Orthodox converts as Jews in the Interior Ministry's population registry.

In Israel, the Orthodox have sole authority over such religious matters of conversion, marriage and divorce.

In the state's appeal of a Jerusalem district court ruling that recognized non-Orthodox conversions, state attorney Yochi Gennisn warned that easing conversion regulations would cause "divisions, confusion and chaos."

In the courtroom Tuesday were people whose non-Orthodox conversions had not been recognized, as well as parents of children adopted abroad. One Israeli couple had adopted two children in Lithuania, whose Conservative conversions were not recognized.

"My wife and I have two adopted children, whom we want to be part of our people. We first went and tried an Orthodox conversion, which was refused because it would only be granted if the children go to religious school, and we refused to have that imposed on us," the father told Israel Radio.

"So we instead went to the Conservative movement, which in my view are no less good Jews than any other."