Editor – Joel Katz
Religion and State in Israel is not affiliated with any organization or movement.
By Yair Ettinger, Haaretz June 6, 2008
A petition was filed in the High Court of Justice yesterday against a ruling by the Rabbinical Court of Appeals that nullified thousands of conversions performed by the state-sponsored Conversion Authority, headed by Rabbi Haim Druckman, since 1999.
The petition, filed by attorneys Aviad Hacohen and Susan Weiss on behalf of a woman whose conversion to Judaism was revoked by the ruling, accused the rabbinical courts and the Chief Rabbinate of running "a state within a state."
It was joined by several nonprofit organizations, mostly religious Zionist groups, including WIZO, Emunah, the Center for Women's Justice, Ne'emanei Torah v'Avoda and Mavoi Satum.
The petition accused the judges of both the Ashdod Rabbinical Court and the Rabbinical Court of Appeals of having exceeded their authority by nullifying a conversion performed by an authorized court.
It said the rabbinical courts thereby violated the rules of natural justice and the principles of human dignity and liberty, and therefore asked the High Court to overturn the ruling.
By Dan Izenberg, Jpost.com June 6, 2008
"[Religious Court Judge Avraham] Attia devoted eight pages of the nine-page decision to a crass diatribe against the woman and Rabbi Haim Druckman," [attorney Susan Weiss of the Center for Justice for Women] said. "He used language unfit for any person, let alone a dayan."
…According to Weiss, the case highlights many of the faults of the rabbinical courts. "They have no concept of due process or fairness, and they display no sensitivity to those who come before them," she said.
By Susan Weiss, www.cwjisrael.blogspot.com May 28, 2008
Weiss Advice: agunah and other troubles - challenging the status quo regarding Jewish women and divorce
"Susan works in the Israeli rabbinic and family courts (which is like being an anthropologist on mars)"
By Elad Tene, Ynetnews.com June 9, 2008
A protest rally under the heading of “Love thy foreigner” took place Thursday night on the steps of the High Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem.
The meet included a dramatization of Ruth the Moabite fearing the annulment of her conversion – an act that may cast a doubt on the Jewishness of King David, who was among her offspring.
By Matthew Wagner, Jpost.com June 6, 2008
Speakers called to end the monopoly of haredi rabbis over the Chief Rabbinate, to pass legislation to limit the rabbinical courts' power over conversions and to make the conversion process more congenial to potential converts.
By Matthew Wagner, Jpost.com June 9, 2008
One of the judges in the special conversion courts run under the auspices of the [Conversion] authority, Rabbi David Bass:
"Within a few decades," wrote Bass, "a rift is liable to be created between totally secular Jews willing to marry non-Jewish immigrants [whom they meet in day-to-day to life] and religious Jews who will not marry gentiles.
Eventually, the Jewish people of Israel will be split into two separate peoples who are unwilling to marry one another.
"In my opinion, if we do not succeed in assimilating the waves of immigration into the Jewish people and its heritage, if we do not succeed in creating a consciousness of a common destiny, a common purpose among the religious, traditional and secular Jews of Israel, I do not see how we will manage to exist in this part of the world in the long run.
"Therefore, conversion should not be seen solely as the interest of the non-Jewish immigrant looking to integrate into Israeli society, it is also an existential imperative of the State of Israel as we enter the 21st century."
By Yair Ettinger, Haaretz June 8, 2008
Almost all those who petitioned the High Court of Justice against the ruling to nix conversions were not converts themselves. They hail from religious Zionist circles.
Former Bnei Akiva secretary-general Dr. Amnon Shapira said it is "the first time that the religious Zionist public has told the ultra-Orthodox outright that they have gone far enough."
"It begins with the military service and the national service, it went on with the Shmita debate and now it has come around to conversion. It cannot go on. The ultra-Orthodox have created a new religion, and now they're calling for a war. A cultural war."
By Matthew Wagner, Jpost.com June 4, 2008
Yonatan Ben-Harosh, a spokesman for Ne'emanei Torah Ve'Avodah, said that the main objective of the demonstration was to force the Chief Rabbi to come out in defense of the converts and to assure them all that their conversions would be recognized for marriage and divorce purposes.
By Netty Gross, The Jerusalem Report Issue 4, June 10, 2008
Legislation to prevent rabbinic panels from nullifying conversions is being drawn up, the chairman of the Knesset Law Committee, Menahem Ben-Sasson (Kadima), has told The Jerusalem Report.
Knesset Member Ben-Sasson, himself an Orthodox Jew, says his committee has jurisdiction to examine all the country's courts, including religious ones.
He says the bill to stop reversals of legitimate conversions will be ready for its first reading in a few months.
It will also empower local rabbis to carry out conversions and allow couples to register wherever they wish, enabling them to avoid courts with a reputation for excessive strictness.
By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz Opinion June 6, 2008
This is not a problem that will go away or remain contained.
The group of halakhically non-Jewish immigrants, now put at about 300,000, will grow, since many of their children, and the majority of the immigrants still arriving from the former Soviet Union, share the same status.
But the more significant development is the linking up of secular Jewish Israelis with their [halakhically] non-Jewish fellow citizens, who they meet at work, in the army and in school.
… A generation from now, most of the younger generation of these immigrants will have started families with Jewish spouses. They will be 100 percent Israeli, and Jewish in their own view, but will be seen by the ultra-Orthodox as goyim (non-Jews).
By Avirama Golan, Haaretz Opinion June 8, 2008
The ultra-Orthodox Sherman, well aware of the tension between the needs of society, the nation and Jewish law, waved a red flag before the nationalist religious rabbis in ruling that halakha overrode any other circumstance - but they responded with silence.
Their silence does not stem from a weak capitulation to the ultra-Orthodox. It is the reflection of a process that goes much deeper and is far more serious.
…conversion has become a symbol. It holds the key to the gate to the Jewish people and/or Israeli society, and it pits the social-national agenda against halakha, Israeliness against the Judaism that favors "a nation that dwells alone," and the choice of forming a civil society dwelling on its land against the old longing for an existence outside history and time.
The annulment of the conversion and the denunciation of Druckman revealed a gap that is hard to breach among the religious Zionist public, and optimists hope that some kind of change for the better will emerge from it.
However, it seems that the religious and secular majority, Jewish and non-Jewish, is incapable of and uninterested in waging the fight to wrest power from rabbinical tyrants.
By Avraham Burg, Haaretz Opinion June 8, 2008
A covert civil protest has already been launched against the Orthodox monopoly over marriage and divorce in Israel.
The time has come to start an active civil rebellion against the "identity thug" zealots, to take back responsibility for Israeli identity from closed and backward groups and return it to the free majority.
We must return to the biblical heritage of Ruth; first of all: "thy people is my people" and only then, if then, "thy God is my God."
From now on, let the holiday of Shavuot be a national holiday honoring converts and conversion, the "other" who enrich us.
By Gilad Kariv, Haaretz Opinion June 8, 2008
The writer is a Rabbi, Attorney and Associate Director, Israel Religious Action Center.
Those who receive the convert are supposed to select a few of the Torah's commandments and to present them to him or her, but the mitzvot related to helping others and to charity are not a matter of choice. In any situation or any scenario, they must appear among the acts required of converts after they join the fold.
By Avi Gisser, Haaretz Opinion June 5, 2008
The writer is the rabbi of Ofra, and chairman of the Religious Public Education Council.
Successive governments paid the ultra-Orthodox political parties by giving them control over Judaism.
The government handed them the rabbinic courts, the judges' appointment, the conversion policy, and control over the issue of women whose husbands refuse to grant them an official bill of divorce, or cannot be located. They are the ones who appoint chief rabbis and determine the Jewish character of the state.
Moreover, the government pays the ultra-Orthodox coalition with an exemption from oversight of their school curriculum and the core curriculum requirement, and with generous budgets. The military service exemption for yeshiva students is also expanding.
And all this, the Jewish agenda, has been placed in the hands of the ultra-Orthodox in return for coalition peace and quiet and acquiescing in any peace plan, whatever its price. A safety net for political survival in exchange for total control over Israel's Jewishness.
By Rabbi Donniel Hartman, www.hartmaninstitute.com May 28, 2008
The writer is Co-Director of Shalom Hartman Institute
The State of Israel needs multiple rabbinates that reflect the diversity of ideology permeating Israeli religious life.
As the home of all Jews, the State of Israel does not have the right to determine authentic Judaism, but must reflect the diverse Jewishness of that population.
By Dr. Zvi Zohar, Chauncey Stillman Professor of Sephardic Law and Ethics at Bar-Ilan University, and Senior Research Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.
There is no justification for anyone to hold, that halakha enables retroactive annulment of giyyur based upon the proselyte’s future conduct.
By Kobi Nahshoni, Ynetnew.com June 5, 2008
"Converting non-Jewish immigrants in a national, strategic mission for Israel is one which is crucial for the State's future," Minister of Immigrant Absorption Jacob Edery told Ynet.
"The study disproves the notion that the Israeli public loves immigration but doesn't like immigrants. The Israeli public is ready and willing to make its fellow immigrants feel and be a part of Israeli society.
"The State and its religious establishments must create more solutions which could facilitate immigrants' conversion," he added.
"This challenge should be our top priority. These people have chosen to become a part of the Jewish people. It is up to us to help them do that."
By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz June 5, 2008
Most of the public are interested in helping them convert to Judaism and 74 percent are in favor of Orthodox conversion.
But the same number of people - unlike most Orthodox rabbis - believe that they should be allowed to convert to Judaism even if they don't intend to maintain a religious way of life.
The survey reflects a more stringent attitude on the part of the religious public, 89 percent of whom fear that the non-Jewish immigration would lead to assimilation and only 54 percent of whom are willing to live next door to non-Jewish immigrants.
Fifty-five percent of religious people do not accept conversion for any purpose other than observing a religious way of life. However, the survey also showed a greater willingness to help immigrants to convert among the religious public.
Two-thirds agreed to accompany a family in the process of conversion, 85 percent agreed to host a person undergoing conversion for the Sabbath and 79 percent are ready to accept the would-be converts in their children's schools.
www.torahinmotion.org June 3, 2008
In light of the recent ruling invalidating thousands of converts Torah in Motion hosted a discussion on the crisis with
Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, member of the beit din l'giyur of the Rabbinical Council of California
Rabbi Seth Farber, Founder and Director, ITIM:The Jewish life information Center
Rabbi Barry Freundel, Head of the Gerut Commission of the Rabbinic Council of America
Rabbi Benny Lau, Director Beit Morasha
Undoubtedly, declaring a conversion invalid after the passage of years, as in the Ashdod case, is always a tragedy.
But the blame does not belong to the bearer of the message. Orthodox rabbis have long criticized heterodox rabbis for not informing "converts" that their conversions will not be recognized by a large segment of the Jewish world, and thereby paving the way for future tragedies.
And the same can be said of an Orthodox rabbi who follows a single opinion against the overwhelming weight of historical and contemporary halachic decisors.
By Shmarya Rosenberg www.failedmessiah.com June 2, 2008
…both rabbis in question are now haredi. They are both – especially Avraham Sherman – close to Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the haredi leader behind the conversion crisis.
And, despite Rosenblum's assertion to the contrary, the European Conference of Rabbis is largely haredi.
As for Israeli journalists' ability to read rabbinic teshuvot, the rabbinic court could alleviate this problem (which extends to the vast majority of haredim, who also lack the skills necessary to read those teshuvot) by translating their sources into modern Hebrew with full punctuation (and no arcane abbreviations) and publishing them, along with the court's own teshuva, on the internet and with its decision.
To not do this but to criticize the public for (allegedly) not understanding the basis for the court's decision is disingenuous.
…What Rosenblum does not tell you is that Sherman's decision overturning Rabbi Druckman's conversions was made by ruling Rabbi Druckman a willing heretic.
In other words, without doing that, Druckman's conversions would still stand.
…Rabbi Druckman followed the opinions of several noted rabbis – including a former Sefardic chief rabbi of Israel. The idea that Druckman took one lone opinion and held by it when there are hundreds of opposing opinions is simply false.
Finally, Rosenblum fails to tell his readers there is a very real rabbinic discussion over what, exactly, accepting the yoke of the commandments actually means.
By Lily Galili, Haaretz June 3, 2008
The "one person" in this riddle is Rabbi Haim Druckman, the man in the eye of the storm - a storm whose meaning on the Russian street is different than on the broader Israeli street.
For most Israelis, this is entirely a political story of power struggles between national religious Zionism and the Orthodoxy represented by the Supreme Rabbinic Court. It is the inevitable clash between the Zionist ethos and the spirit of rabbinic law.
For tens of thousands of immigrants, however, this is a personal-collective story of people who find themselves in the crossfire and do not always understand what is happening but feel that the shooting is aimed at them. The reactions on a Russian-language site are sad and confused.
Editor – Joel Katz
Religion and State in Israel is not affiliated with any organization or movement.Special Shavuot Conversion issue