Thursday, July 07, 2005

Sacks's bad decision: Failure to recognize British convert weakens Jewish life

The following article was e-mailed to me as a subscriber of the Sephardic Heritage Update (a publication of the Center for Sephardic Heritage) by David Shasha, editor thereof. To subscribe, e-mail him at

Sacks's bad decision: Failure to recognize British convert weakens Jewish life
By: Leslie Bunder

For a man who has just been knighted, you would think that British Chief Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks would be worthy of the honor - but sadly this man is not.

While he may be seen as connecting communities, within his own Jewish community, he is far from a uniter.

Rather he divides it further and turns off people embracing the Jewish faith. Sadly, this is one Chief Rabbi who has failed to deliver.

The background: When is an orthodox Jewish conversion not quite an orthodox Jewish conversion? Well, it seems for the London Bet Din and the chief rabbi, if you get converted under an orthodox procedure don't expect them to recognize it as being kosher.

Converted in 1990

Recently, a family revealed that plans to send their son to the _Jewish Free School_ (,7340,L-3109307,00.html#n) have been stopped on the grounds that the London Bet Din does not recognize the orthodox Israeli conversion.

Under the auspices of the Sephardi Bet Din, Helen Sagal was converted in 1990, having spent 15 months on her conversion and married her husband, Raoul, in an orthodox service in Tel Aviv.

But despite embracing the Jewish faith and indeed also making sure her son Guy was circumcised by a United Synagogue mohel, it seems that this is not good enough for the Bet Din.

In what can only be described as an insulting and offensive letter, JFS wrote to Sagal with a letter it had received from the Bet Din's Rabbi Julian Schindler saying her conversion would not be recognized, and the only way her son could get a place would be if the school were "unable to fill its standard admissions number with children who are recognized as being Jewish by the Office of the Chief Rabbi.”

So what is up with the Chief Rabbi and indeed the people who make up his office? Here, we are now getting into the dangerous "Who is a Jew?" debate. Here we have someone who has converted to Judaism in Israel under an orthodox conversion, yet the London Beth Din denies that the child of this convert is Jewish.

Sephardi v. Ashkenazi?

Quite simply, this is sheer and utter madness. An orthodox conversion is Israel - indeed what is deemed to be the Holy Land - should be recognized by all. Maybe for the United Synagogue Bet Din this is not good enough? Maybe they are looking to see what they can get out of this in terms of wanting Sagal to pay for their "approved" orthodox courses?

Maybe they have an issue with a Sephardi conversion? Are not Sephardi orthodox conversions good enough for an Ashkenazi organization?

Jonathan Sacks, the chief rabbi, needs to step in and bring some sanity to this matter. He needs to show that he himself is not a hypocrite. After all, he is the man who time and time again lends his support to Israel and calls for unity in the Jewish community. If he and his Bet Din cannot recognize an orthodox Jewish conversion, then it is time he and his organization consider their own positions.

While Sagal and her family may not be totally religious in their nature, they are still Jewish. Allowing the son to attend the school would enhance his own Jewish identity; not allowing him will alienate the child and confuse him.

Another implication for this is would be converts may even be put off in becoming Jewish, if certain Bet Dins feel they can pick and choose who is Jewish and should be allowed into a Jewish school.

We need to embrace converts, who make a valuable contribution and wish to embrace a Jewish life. Not kick them down which is what has happened with the Bet Din.

Leslie Bunder is editor of Something Jewish, A UK-based website

From Ynet News, July 7, 2005

Update: This just in from Miriam Shaviv, of Bloghead (

Friday, July 08, 2005 (according to the British time zone, I presume)

Decision in the Sagal case
British Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks has made a decision in the case of Helen Sagal, whose Israeli Orthodox conversion was questioned after she applied for a place in JFS, a Jewish High School, for her son Guy. The decision was entirely predictable: Rabbi Sacks will not accept her conversion, and Guy, therefore, will be forced to go against his will to a non-Jewish school come September. . . .

. . . There are now two classes of Jews in London, born Jews, and converted Jews who can never be entirely sure that their lives will not be turned upside down one day, and their status reversed, by an excessively enthusiastic Beth Din.


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