Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Charedi War against Religious Zionists

Rabbi Dr. Jeffrey Woolf is outraged. And I don’t blame him.

The High Rabbinical Court of Israel is now flexing it’s newly aquired Charedi muscle... influence gained through growing Charedi numbers in Israel. That influence is responsible for appointing judges associated with Rav Nissim Karelitz and Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv. We are now bearing its fruit. And the result is a disgrace.

In a single moment the high court invalidated perhaps thousands of conversions performed by Religious Zionist Rabbi Chaim Druckman. Leaving all those people who believed they were Jews – and that their children were Jews – hanging in limbo. Charedi Judge, Rabbi Avraham Sherman wrote the opinion. All these converts need to undergo another conversion.

Who is Rabbi Druckman? Why are his conversions being questioned? Here is a concise description by my friend Rabbi Shael Segal:

He heads of one of five courts within the Conversion Authority established in 2003, and considered to have a more liberal position regarding conversion standards than the Chief Rabbinate. His liberalism, however, doesn’t mean that his standards for the candidate to be converted are lenient. He simply doesn’t insist that the other member of the candidate’s family be observant. The candidate for conversion is required to be shomer mitzvoth. The fact that the candidates spouse, parents etc. are not shomer mitzvoth has no relevance to the candidate’s conversion.

These words were penned a year ago. They were in a post generated by a conversion of Rabbi Druckman's that was invalidated. And if I understand correctly that is the basis for this ruling. The fact that they found one woman - a convert of Rabbi Druckman - to have never accepted keeping the Mitzvos is now suspected of all of Rabbi Druckman’s converts.

I know that conversions in Israel is a serious issue now. As it should be. The influx of so many questionable Jews from the former Soviet Union has mad this a boiler plate issue. The national character of the state is a a Jewish one is at stake. Religious Zionist Rabbis have been bending over backwards to convert as many of them as they can in order to preserve the state’s Jewish character. I presume the fear is that if nothing is done then in the coming generations the numbers of non Jews will increase to a level where Israel would lose its identity as a Jewish state.

This concern has generated a legitimate concern about whether conversions that are done for national reasons will result in Halachic compromises. This is a legitimate debate. And the conversion process needs to be strengthened and standardized.

But that is not what happened here. This is a blatant attempt at asserting control under the guise of that concern. That’s why it is an outrage and that’s why Sepahrdi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar had to reverse that decision. He is also the presiding Judge of the Israeli rabbinical court. He knew it was political. He knew how wrong that decision was.

I find it impossible to understand invalidating all those conversions in any other light. It is one thing to question a single individual when one sees something specifically wrong. But to question all conversions by an Ehrlich Rav just because he may be more Mekil or because he is a religious Zionist is nothing more than a political act of war! That’s the only conclusion that can be drawn. Sinas Chinam is at work here.

Dr. Woolf quotes Rav Aharon Lichtenstein who put it best:

R. Aharon Lichtenstein… inveighed heavily, and passionately, against this act of sacrilege, this desecration of the Torah's honor. He stated clearly that it is the Dayyanim who dared to disqualify R. Druckman… are, themselves, disqualified. Hatred and prejudice disqualify one from sitting in judgment.

This is politics disguised as concern over the validity of conversions. But it has little to do with that concern. It has to do with who is going to control religious life in Israel. Will it be Religious Zionists or Charedim? This may very well be the first shot fired in that war. This enmity has always existed. But now Charedi rabbis can do something about it. And they are. Religious Zionist control is now being challenged. And the victims be damned.