Israel's Supreme Court has ordered the government to recognize as Jews those who have been converted to Judaism by non-Orthodox rabbis.

Thursday's 7-4 ruling ends the Orthodox monopoly over conversions in Israel, and is expected to significantly broaden the definition of who is a Jew in the Jewish state.

The decision stems from a 1999 case of 17 foreigners who studied Judaism in Israel. The plaintiffs then tried to circumvent Orthodox prohibitions by going abroad to have the actual conversion ceremonies performed by more liberal rabbis.

Thursday's ruling drew immediate praise from Reformist and Conservative leaders.

However, Orthodox Shas leader Eli Yishai called the decision a disaster, likening it to what he called on Israel radio an "explosives belt that has brought about a suicide attack against the Jewish people."

Some information for this report provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.