Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The Conversion Conundrum

Ha’aretz has a point. And it should not be lost on the victors, which in this case is the Charedi Rabbinic establishment. The victory is in the realm of conversions in Israel. Since they have commandeered the Rabbanut, they now control defining who is and isn’t a Jew.

The issue I am concerned with in this essay is not so much the Halachic definition of who is a Jew. It is the issue of the assimilation of non Jews into the Jewish people. As the Ha’aretz editorial points out the masses of non Halachic Jews who think of themselves as Jews is enormous. This is due to the many intermarried couples who emigrated here from Russia. Many of them had undergone improper conversions. Perhaps some had not converted at all.

But they all raise their children as Jews - adopting much of religious tradition, like lighting candles on Shabbos or eating in a Sukkah or having a Pesach Seder, or keeping minimal standards of Kashrus. None of them would be considered to be fully keeping Halacha. - or more correctly - committed to keeping all of Halacha. But they do keep some of the Mitzvos. Some more. Some less. And they are virtually impossible to tell apart from majority of Israeli Jews who are also partially observant.

In short they think they are Jews. They act like they are Jews – at least in the cultural sense. They attend Israeli schools. They learn Hebrew and join the army. They have a sense of belonging to the Jewish people - and yet they are not Jews.

This is a problem.

In terms of intermarrying with them - I assume the rabbinate is now very careful to assure that a couple applying for marriage are actually Jews. There are all kinds of background checks especially if one or both of the applicants are not religious.

There is another issue to think about in this regard. What if some of the very successful Kiruv groups gets to these kids and makes them Frum? How much checking is there really about lineage when a Bachur from a Yeshiva wants to get married to a Beis Yaakov girl? What if a Bachur who is now Frum never suspects that his mother wasn’t Jewish having been brought up in a traditional (although not entirely observant) home? What if he ends up in an American Yeshiva? And he finds a Shiddach there? How much checking goes on in the US? When I got married, no one checked out my lineage nor my wife’s. We were both FFB and had been educated in the system. I wonder if the same thing hold true today for those of us who fit that description? Are Lakewood Bachurim ever checked out for lineage before marriage?

It would seem to me that the integration level of these people into Israeli society is very high. It will be almost impossible to tell apart a Jew from a non Jew as this population of non Jews who thinks they are Jews continues to grow. Especilaly if Kiruv efforts in these circles continues to be successful.

Yotzah Scharo B’Hefseda. The victory may yet prove to be pyrrhic, as Ha’artez puts it. The cost may be too high because of the way they are going about it. They are virtually telling any irreligious potential convert – even if they are somewhat traditional - to stay away! And they are too quick to invalidate previous conversions certified by the Dayanim of the previous religious court – scaring away even sincere potential converts.

Please do not misunderstand. I am not suggesting that we overlook the requirements for conversion. All I am saying is that we are going to pay a price for the heavy handed way in which the currently constructed Rabbanut is dealing with it. It is laudible to be concerned for the Kashrus of a conversion. But it is a huge mistake to completely ignore the problems resulting from it. I have yet to hear any of the Charedi leadership speak to this issue.