Friday, April 27, 2012

Conversions - The Supreme Court Decides?

One of the sadder chapters to be written about the State ofIsrael will be what is happening with regard to conversions.

To review the situation that led to this, the mass influx ofJews from Russia into Israel over the last few decades contained many people who were not Halachicly Jewish,even though they had been completely raised to think so. The reason for that isthat they were products of an intermarriage where the mother was not Jewish, orproducts of a mother who was not converted according to Halacha.

There were so many of them coming into Israel and integrating with the country in every way including army service, that it was threatening to create a huge imbalance between Jews and non Jews. This presented a demographic challenge to maintaining Israel’s identity as a Jewish state.

The solution by the government was to set up special conversioncourts to expedite conversions of Jews with this kind of problem. Rabbi Chaim Druckman was put in charge ofthis court and used various leniencies in converting thousands of these people.

The problem arose when the Charedi dominated Chief Rabbinateheaded by Rabbi Avraham Sherman determined that all of Rabbi Druckman’s conversionswere invalid because of insufficient observance of Halacha.

The debate still lives and involves one of the keycomponents of conversion. And sides are being taken. The Charedi point of viewis that the conversions were invalid because the requirement that a potentialconvert must accept Halacha as binding and promise to keep it.

They further hold that since most of the converts did notkeep some of the basics showed that there was never any serious intent by theseconverts to follow Halacha. Hence the conversions were all invalid. And thereforethe Dayan responsible for all of that, Rabbi Druckman loses his validity as aDayan and thus invalidating all the conversion he was ever responsible for.Even if the convert the followed Halacha diligently!

The Religious Zionist perspective was that Halacha wasfollowed in every single conversion albeit with leniencies not normally usedbecause of the urgent nature of this issue that would affect the very nature ofIsrael as a Jewish state. What the leniencieswere is irrelevant. The point is that both sides believed that they were L’Shma- doing the right thing in the eyes of God.

The problem of course is that if one side considers theseconverts Jewish and the other side does not, the converts remain in limbo. Withthe numbers being so great and multiplying via their offspring means that fromthe Charedi point of view it will require a Yichus registry.

It will therefore be almost impossible to get married a fewgenerations from now without a thorough background check of Yichus. This isalready happening. People making Aliyah that are not Orthodox are finding outthat their Judaism is not being taken for granted. They now have to prove thatthey have Jewish lineage going back several generations! Something that isoften impossible to do.

The new immigrants are now going to suffer even while manyof their sons who ebleive they are fiully Jewish if not 100% observant arewilling to die for their country putting themselves in harm’s way by joiningthe army. After several generations of suffering persecution for being Jews atthe hands of the former Soviet Union, they now are suffering new indignities bytheir very own people.

The Israeli Supreme court has stepped in and ruled in favorof the Rabbi Druckman’s converts. The consider all of them fully Jewish andwill be registered as such. There will be no discrimination between any ofthose converts and any other Jewish Israeli. Marriages will be performed inIsrael for them will be fully recognized.

Rabbi Seth Farber who is Orthodox but not Charedi and who petitioned the courts on behalf ofthese converts was very gratified:

“We are pleased to see that the Supreme Court has upheld thepetition we submitted and we hope this judgment will be a boost to all thosewho are in the midst of a conversion process, and those debating whether toenter it.” “It is hoped that the verdictwill uproot the phenomenon of non-recognition of conversions, and end theongoing injustice converts are faced with”

I’m pretty sure that was not the reaction of the Charediside. They are L’Shma. They believe they are absolutely right and will continueto believe that The State of Israel justdeclared a bunch of non Jews – Jewish, despite the fact that they are not.

Even though its heart is in the right place - the Supreme Courtis not a Halachic body and in my view has no business deciding issues ofHalacha. So I’m not sure what was accomplished other than to further divideCharedim from Religious Zionists. Their actual status of these converts as Jewsthus remains unchanged in the sense that the right still believes they are notJews while the left believes they are.

Furthermore it gives these people a false sense of securityin thinking that a secular court in Israel can declare them Jewish – end ofstory. They will find that they will not be accepted into the Charedi world asJews at all.

One might retort, “So what?!” “Who cares what a bunch of religiousfanatics think?!” “We know the truth and that is all that matters.”

Not so simple. Charedim are growing in numbers and ininfluence. And - right or wrong - the simple fact is that a huge portion ofKlal Yisroel will reject these converts as Jews, and reject their sponsors as havingno Halachic validity on this issue.

While they gain recognition by the secular state with allthe rights and privileges that entails, they will not gain the peace of mindthat would come with recognition by all. They will still therefore remain with anunsettling feeling.

In my view the answer lies in some sort of compromise. Theidea of a wholesale invalidation is disgusting in my view - that should havenever happened. Nor should Rabbi Druckman have been so dishonored! I would muchrather see a unified response to this where no one gets anything shoved downtheir throats by either side – or even by the Supreme Court.