Sunday, May 14, 2006

"Mi k'amcha Yisrael, goy echad ba-aretz?": Will the Israeli rabbinate tear what's left of "one people" apart?

"Who is like Your People Israel, one people on earth?"

I find this alarming. First, the Israeli rabbinate refused to accept non-Orthodox conversions. Now, it's not only refusing to accept even many foreign Orthodox conversions, it's even questioning the Jewishness of people who can trace their Jewish ancestry back eight generations! All I have by way of proof of my Jewishness is my parents' ketubah (Jewish marriage contract). Is our son at risk of being declared a non-Jew?

"Who is like Your People Israel, one people on earth?" Good question. Not only can we be thoroughly unwelcoming to people who (would like to) choose Judaism, now we don't even accept those who were born Jewish. Is the People Israel unique on earth in our insistence on self-destructive behavior? How long will we remain "one people," or am I already too late in asking that question?


Blogger westbankmama said...

First, I want to say that I agree with you that it is alarming, and living here in Israel, I suspect that politics is playing a role in this. But, in an effort to "dan lekaf zchus", perhaps we can both look at it from the perspective of your previous posts? Perhaps this new Rabbi is just insisting on a "hechsher" on Rabbis who say they are Orthodox but that he does not personally know?

Sun May 14, 08:39:00 AM 2006  
Blogger PsychoToddler said...

I can see the issue with non-Orthodox conversions, but it is impossible to tell more than a generation or two backwards who has Jewish matrilineal ancestry. So we have to give people the benefit of the doubt.

The real issue is what's going to happen going forwards, because intermarriage is rampant, and cursory conversion is common in some of the more liberal branches of Judaism (a "sholom bayit" issue?), and I worry that people who say they are Jewish in a generation or two will have very little to base that on.

Sun May 14, 11:01:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Drew Kaplan said...

there's been several posts on this topic over the past week on this topic, which would seem to mitigate your concern(s), mainly to be found at Canonist, though On the Contrary also has a post or two on the topic, as well.

Sun May 14, 12:54:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Drew, I haven't seen much that would mitigate my concerns, except that the RCA seems eager to work out this problem. If anything, I found what the ADDeRabbi at On the Contrary had to say rather discouraging.

Please excuse me for taking this personally, but the last person in my family to live and die Orthodox was my greatgrandmother, so our son has no Orthodox rabbi to vouch for his Jewishness. In addition, my Israeli nieces and nephew are the children of a Jew by choice. Her conversion was under the auspices of an American Orthodox rabbi. I fear that the fact that said was approved by the Israeli rabbinate *at that time* might not suffice to protect her children from being declared non-practicing Protestants.

My nightmare scenario #1: Within the next 15 years, my nieces and nephew are each, in turn, rejected for marriage by the Israeli rabbinate (their parents having made aliyah only weeks after the wedding). Each chooses to raise her/his kids as totally secular Israelis.

My nightmare scenario #2: My son's fiancee having decided, after very serious deliberation, to chose Judaism, they go to an Israeli-rabbinate-approved Orthodox rabbi to begin the process. Instead of addressing my son's fiancee, the rabbi grills my son about his Jewish identity, rejecting our ketubah as proof. My son storms out, enraged, and our only grandchildren are raised Roman Catholic.

Result: In 20 years, there won't be a practicing Jew left in the family, and all of my parents' descendants will be (considered) Christian.

Tue May 16, 09:17:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

I have further thoughts on this issue.

One is that if, as the ADDeRabbi asserts, the real issue is that a significant group of chareidi rabbis consider only chareidi rabbis to be real rabbis, then it's not only *our* kid whose Jewishness might be questioned, because it stands to reason that, if non-chareidi *rabbis* aren't consider to be real *rabbis,* then non-chareidi *Jews* aren't considered to be real *Jews.*

Blu Greenberg is a well-known author on Jewish subjects and a prominent Orthodox Jewish feminist and member of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Association. Her husband, Rabbi Irving "Yitz" Greenberg, a Modern Orthodox rabbi, is well-known for his efforts to bring Jewish education to Jewish adults of all stripes. Will their children be considered Jewish?

Rabbi Avi Weiss is rabbi of the Riverdale Jewish Center, a prominent activist in Jewish causes, and founder of Yeshiva Chovevei Torah, a Modern Orthodox rabbinical school. Will his children be considered Jewish?

And what of those who, much to their unpleasant surprise, have fallen out of favor with the chareidi rabbinate? Books that were written by chareidi Rabbi Nosson Slifkin to convince skeptics that it's possible to be Orthodox and believe in the validity of science were banned last year by chareidi rabbis as "kefirah (atheism)." Will Rabbi Slifkin's children be considered Jewish?

Unless a reasonably solution is devised, a) non-chareidi conversions will not be recognized, b) non-chareidi "born" Jews will not be recognized, and c) non-Orthodox Jews, having no Orthodox, much less chareidi, rabbis to vouch for our Jewishness, will not be recognized. In the blink of an eye, the chareidi rabbinate of Israel will have written off as non-Jewish roughly 95% of American Jews.

Here's another thought:

Mark/PT said, "The real issue is what's going to happen going forwards, because intermarriage is rampant, and cursory conversion is common in some of the more liberal branches of Judaism (a "sholom bayit" issue?), and I worry that people who say they are Jewish in a generation or two will have very little to base that on."

And yet, efforts to devise standards of conversion that will be acceptable to the Jewish community as a whole have failed in the past (does anyone have a link to "the Denver experiment?"), and can be expected to fail in the future as long as the chareidi rabbinate insists that every potential convert vow to observe every last chumra (stringency that goes beyond what the law requires) to the letter. Surely there must be some middle ground between "cursory conversion" and chareidi extremism. Because, if such a middle ground is not found, the American Jewish community is doomed to a slow and agonizing death, strangled by unaccepted conversions and the inability of the roughly 60% of American "born" Jews who are non-Orthodox " to prove our Jewishness.

Tue May 16, 08:52:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

westbankmama said," . . . in an effort to "dan lekaf zchus", perhaps we can both look at it from the perspective of your previous posts? Perhaps this new Rabbi is just insisting on a "hechsher" on Rabbis who say they are Orthodox but that he does not personally know?

Er, Fudge tried to explain that term to me after she used it on her blog. I think it means, roughly, not judging someone too harshly, or giving someone the benefit of the doubt. I guess my feeling is that there are thousands of Orthodox rabbis. What, exactly, constitutes knowing a rabbi well enough to judge his qualifications to perform conversions? Do chareidi rabbis have enough contact with non-chareidi rabbis to be in a position even to know their positions on halacha, or is this the blanket condemnation that it appears to be? I'm sorry, West Bank Mama, but if this attitude is tough even for the Orthodox, imagine what anxiety attacks it's giving the rest of us.

Tue May 16, 09:15:00 PM 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am here by by way of Jack's Shack. Your comment on your blog name attracted me to your site.

This post is so timely for me. I can trace my father's family to the 1700's in the Ukraine. My Jewish lineage. But my father was not considered Jewish by his community's sisterhood because his mother was not Jewish.

This brings up a dismaying prospect for me. I can live in Israel due to the Law of Return because of my grandfather. But I am on the path of conversion by a Reform rabbi. My status, if I choose to make Aliyah, would be in jeopardy.

And even though my rabbi is Reform, I attend a Conservative synagogue and am incorporating kashrut into my life.

This issue tears at me. Because I feel like I'm returning home to my Jewishness.

If I make Aliyah through the Law of Return, it's with the knowledge that my conversion would not be acceptable and yet I feel every bit a Jew as those born into Orthodox families. My beliefs are the same as theirs. I am learning. I study Torah. I make every effort to cease all work on Shabbat as proscribed.

My prayers are the same. So why would my conversion not be acceptable just because my rabbi is Reform?

I live on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Our synagogue, Beth Israel, was heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina and we hold services in the fellowship hall of a Methodist Church. We do not have a rabbi. Hence, the Reform rabbi from Jackson who is guiding me.

My congregation is made up of Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox members. There are 60 families that belong to it. The one thing that ties us to together is our faith and belief that we are one people.

My heart and soul are Jewish. It took me almost 40 years to realize that. And even with the rabbis decisions in Israel, there is nothing that will change that.

I realize that a standard for conversions must be incorporated. But shouldn't that standard incorporate the heart and soul as well as the knowledge of kashrut and the details of living a Jewish life according to Orthodox belief?

Wed May 17, 01:03:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Oy va voy, Seawitch, I'm sorry to say that Reform conversions have *never* been accepted by the Orthodox. It's likely that Conservative conversion have never been accepted either, much as I hate to admit it, having been a member of Conservative synagogues just about my entire life. I wish there were some reasonable way to establish universally-accepted conversions that would take into account both halachic standards and human souls, but most attempts have failed, thus far. As you've read, the chareidi rabbinate seems bound and determined to make conversion even more difficult. I wish I had more encouraging news for you.

Wed May 17, 11:40:00 PM 2006  

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