Thursday, September 15, 2016

You Can’t Make a Cheeseburger Kosher

If it were up to me, I would make cheeseburgers Kosher. If it were up to me I would change a lot of Halachos. I might even get rid of all of them and become a humanist. Or maybe a hedonist. Or both.

But of course I can’t do that. Because I am not God. I am a believing Jew whom God has commanded to lead his life a certain way. This is why I follow Halacha. Although I do love much of the Torah’s requirement of us - like Shabbos – I am not necessarily in love with every single detail of it. But I follow it because I believe that the ultimate good can only be defined by God. That I don’t like or understand a Godly directive, is irrelevant to my following it. 

Those directives are what the Torah and its interpretation by the sages in the Mishna and Talmud is all about. As is the interpretation of those sages by Rishonim (medieval commentators) and Achronim (later commentators) all the way up to our day and going forward.

This and our belief system as outlined by Maimonides 13 fundamental principles of faith is what Orthodox Judaism is all about. (While there has been some recent discussion challenging some of Maimonides 13 principals for a variety of reasons, mainstream Orthodoxy considers them all important. Discussion of this is beyond the scope of this post.)

As an Orthodox Jew I am required to advocate for observance of Halacha to all Jews in all cases. This is based on the principle of Kol Yisroel Areivim Zeh LaZeh. Every Jew is responsible for the welfare (both material and spiritual) of his fellow Jew.

How to go about that is a legitimate question. I am a believer in the honey approach over the vinegar approach. The one thing I oppose is what has come to be known in Israel as ‘shoving religion down people’s throats’. I am opposed to legislation that does that. Because instead of winning over the hearts and minds of the vast majority of Jews in Israel that are traditional to one extent or another (but not Orthodox) you end up alienating them. In some cases turning them into enemies! 

‘The ways of the Torah are pleasant’. That should be the guiding principle when trying to show non observant Jews the beauty of a Torah observant lifestyle. If we want to convey this message we need to inspire them. Not hit them over the head with a hammer.

This is one of the reasons I oppose things like closing down all the streets or public parking lots in Jerusalem on Shabbos. Much as I would like to see the holiest city on the planet be fully Shomer Shabbos, forcing non observant Jews to do that is the wrong way to go about it.

But this approach has its limits. There are some areas of Halacha that may upset the majority of Israelis that nevertheless must be maintained in the public domain. One of those in the area of conversions to Judaism. If one is to be true to his beliefs one cannot allow those beliefs to  be undermined because they are not popular. Even in a Democracy like Israel. Because Israel is not only a Democracy, it is Jewish State. Which brings me to a story in the Forward that reported on a recent poll taken of both Israelis and Americans: 
A large majority of American and Israeli Jews say Israel should recognize marriages and conversions performed by Reform and Conservative rabbis.
poll conducted by The Jerusalem Post and the American Jewish Committee found that 74 percent of American Jews and 62 percent of Israeli Jews believe the non-Orthodox rites should be recognized. The findings were released Tuesday.
In Israel, the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate controls all religious ceremonies — including marriage, divorce, conversion and burial — and those performed by non-Orthodox clergy are not recognized by the state.
The survey of 1,002 Americans and 500 Israelis also found that a plurality of American Jews, 48 percent, think Orthodox control of the Rabbinate weakens ties between their community and Israel. A similar portion of Israeli Jews, 54 percent, do not want Orthodox control over religious matters in their country. 
While this poll was about marriages and pluralism at the Kotel as well as conversions, I want to focus on conversions. Which in my view is the most important of those issues. 

I never had any doubt that non Orthodox Jews would favor allowing non Orthodox conversions. But as a public policy matter that affects the personal status of every Jew, recognizing conversions which are not considered valid by all denominations would create a Pandora ’s Box of who is and is not considered a Jew. Which among other things affects who a Jew can Halachicly marry.

It’s not that I don’t want to be fair to non Orthodox rabbis. I would love to be. But I can no more accept a non Halachic conversion than eat a cheeseburger, much as I would like to do both.

That said, if I saw a non observant Jew eating one at a McDonalds, I would never go in there and admonish them – embarrassing them in public. I wouldn’t even do it in private. Although I may be obligated to get them to stop admonishment is not the way to do it.

But when it comes to public policy that affects us all, I have to take a stand that is unpopular to the majority and oppose the Jewish State passing a law that would recognize non Orthodox conversions. There has to be a system in place that assures that every conversion done is recognized by  all. Not just some. If not, you have chaos! Recognizing conversions by one denomination that are not recognized by another would make Israeli society more divided than ever!

This is not about rejecting fellow Jews. This isn’t about shoving anything down anyone’s throat. This is about making sure that when someone says he is a Ger Tzedek – a righteous convert, that he or she is accepted by all.

That being said, I do think there has been some heavy handedness in this department by the Chief Rabbinate. And some serious controversy about which Orthodox conversions are and are not accepted. That has to be corrected. I believe that people of good will can accomplish that. What cannot happen, however, is to abandon Halacha in favor of the public will.

*The original  photo accompanying this post has been replaced. It was too easily linked to the post title by readers which made it seem like the title was message about the person in the photo. Although that was never my intent. I now see how that mistake can easily be made. I apologize for that. And specifically apologize to that individual, his family, and friends if it cost them any embarrassment.