Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Conversion crisis update:The new Jewish “papacy"

Here's the Hillel (standing-on-one-foot) version: "Power corrupts . . . "
And money creates problems, too. :(
I’m sorry that I don’t remember where I read this, but someone recently wrote, concerning the conversion crisis, that Israel was flexing its muscles as the new population center of the Jewish world, with the Israeli rabbinate becoming indifferent to the concerns of Jews in galut/the Diapora.
Indeed. :(
To understand the latest twist in the conversion crisis, start with the Jewish Week article "Who Is A Jew Crisis Moves Into Aliyah Sphere: Chief Rabbinate seen taking control of Orthodox converts seeking to move to Israel." Now, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel not only gets to decide whose conversion is valid--apparently, their rabbis don't accept all of our rabbis, even the Orthodox ones--but also whether a convert with an "unacceptable" Orthodox conversion is eligible for automatic Israeli citizenship as a Jew under the Law of Return.
This new power grab by the official Israeli rabbinate is:
  • anti-Diaspora/Galut because it calls into question the authority of non-Israeli rabbis to make decisions for their own communities
  • anti-Zionist/Tzionut because it discourages converts from making aliyah/moving to Israel (which, for all we know, may be part of the official rabbinate’s intention)
(Side/snide note: It takes a certain talent to develop an official policy that’s both anti-Galut and anti-Tzionut.)
  • anti-non-Chareidi, because it calls into question any version of Orthodox Judaism (and any type of Orthodox rabbi) that doesn’t conform to every last Chareidi-mandated chumrah (stringency that goes beyond what halachah/Jewish religious law actually requires). I don’t remember where I read this, but, a few months ago, one convert now living in Israeli commented, only half-jokingly, that she wondered whether the Israeli rabbinate might nullify her conversion years from now if she were seen once in public without socks under her sandalim. This may also account for the ruling being anti-Tzionut—some of the Chareidi (fervently Orthodox) community may live in the Land of Israel, but they don’t accept the existence or authority of the State of Israel, so why would they want to encourage aliyah, especially by non-Chareidim?
  • dictatorial, because it strips all rabbis everywhere of their authority to make decisions for their own communities and concentrates said authority in the hands of a single decision-making body in Yerushalayim/Jerusalem. Has there ever been a period in Jewish history in which all authority for conversions, not to mention weddings and divorces, was limited to one centralized decision-making body for the entire planet? Is Yerushalayim rapidly becoming a Jewish Vatican? Whatever happened and/or will happen to the concept of Mara D’Atra, the local religious decisor for a particular community?
In case this latest volley in the conversion war doesn’t distress you enough, try looking at conversion through the eyes of this would-be Jew, who's dismayed by the high cost of converting. (Hat-tip: Larry Lennhoff, here.)
  • I hate to be a cynic, but I don’t really see another option—the move to create centralized batei din (rabbinic courts) that have the sole authority to do conversions puts so much power into the hands of so few that the rabbis in charge may be tempted to charge as much money as they want, because a perspective convert has few other places to go.
  • The move to create centralized batei din for conversion also makes it much more expensive for most would-be converts to go through the process because they can no longer just go to their LOR (local Orthodox rabbi). Now, not only do they have to pay for the beit din (consisting of three rabbis) and the use of the mikveh (ritual-immersion pool), they have pay to travel there, too, even if there’s a mikveh down the street and three Orthodox rabbis within commuting distance who would be willing to convert them.
Bottom line, literally—will would-be converts have to be rich in order to complete the conversion process?
And if they do convert, will they be able to make aliyah and be accepted as Jews in Israel, and/or trust that their conversions will never be declared invalid or nullified retroactively?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

And they may be required to promise they send any and all children to dayschool which really some families just cannot afford.

Thu Feb 24, 01:36:00 PM 2011  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

So I've heard. This means that it's not enough for a convert to live within walking distance of an Orthodox synagogue--s/he must also either live within walking/busing/driving distance of a K-12 Jewish dayschool or be willing to send his/her kids to a Jewish boarding school to meet the education requirement. Heaven help the Jew-by-Choice who's not wealthy and/or has (a) kid(s) with special needs.

Thu Feb 24, 02:02:00 PM 2011  
Anonymous Graven_reuven said...

That was the requirement for us converting our 2 adopted children. Nothing like spending 13k for kindergarten. A trip to Israel would have been the least of our expenses.

Fri Feb 25, 06:11:00 AM 2011  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Reuven, the beit din doesn't have to *be* in Israel, it just has to be "approved" by Israel--my second link is to an article that states that "the Chief Rabbinate only accepts RCA conversions in 10 regional rabbinic courts across North America."

This means that a conversion candidate living in Wichita, Kansas will probably have to schlep to Chicago--and is likely to be required to move there (or to another area with a substantial Orthodox Jewish population), as well.



Fri Feb 25, 10:37:00 AM 2011  

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