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Conversions – The Supreme Court Decides?


A conversion to Judiasm that was done at the Rabinic Court

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

To review the situation that led to this, the mass influx of Jews 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 is that they were products of an intermarriage where the mother was not Jewish, or products 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 in maintaining Israel’s identity as a Jewish state.

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

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

The debate still lives and involves one of the key components of conversion. And sides are being taken. The Charedi point of view is that the conversions were invalid because the requirement that a potential convert must accept Halacha as binding and promise to keep it.

They further hold that since most of the converts did not keep some of the basics showed that there was never any serious intent by these converts to follow Halacha. Hence the conversions were all invalid. And therefore the Dayan responsible for all of that, Rabbi Druckman loses his validity as a Dayan 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 was followed in every single conversion albeit with leniencies not normally used because of the urgent nature of this issue that would affect the very nature of Israel as a Jewish state. What the leniencies were 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 these converts Jewish and the other side does not, the converts remain in limbo. With the numbers being so great and multiplying via their offspring means that from the Charedi point of view it will require a Yichus registry.

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

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

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

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

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

I’m pretty sure that was not the reaction of the Charedi side. They are L’Shma. They believe they are absolutely right and will continue to believe that The State of Israel just declared a bunch of non Jews – Jewish, despite the fact that they are not.

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

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

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

Not so simple. Charedim are growing in numbers and in influence. And – right or wrong – the simple fact is that a huge portion of Klal Yisroel will reject these converts as Jews, and reject their sponsors as having no Halachic validity on this issue.

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

In my view the answer lies in some sort of compromise. The idea of a wholesale invalidation is disgusting in my view – that should have never happened. Nor should Rabbi Druckman have been so dishonored! I would much rather see a unified response to this where no one gets anything shoved down their throats by either side – or even by the Supreme Court.

This article first appeared on the Emes v’Emunah blog.

About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at hmaryles@yahoo.com.


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2 Responses to “Conversions – The Supreme Court Decides?”

  1. ronitgoldstand says:

    I agree to some extent. There’s no doubt in my mind that there is an urgent need to separate issues of State (even on issues where State converges with religion, as will inevitably happen in a Jewish State) and Halacha in modern-day Israel. This is especially important with regard to the Law of Return, which is already clearly defined in terms that are not “Halachically acceptable” — that is, someone who is considered Jewish under the Law of Return is not necessarily considered Jewish under Orthodox halacha (e.g., a Reform convert or the child of a Jewish father & Christian mother).

    In the case of integration into Haredi society via marriage, for the most part this is *already* only possible for Jews with carefully vetted “yichus”, irrespective of current events such as the current ruling. In the uncommon event that a Haredi individual does consider marrying a convert or the son or daughter of a convert, they always have the option of having said individual undergo a giyur lechumra with the Eda Charedit Beth Din, a practice which I personally find loathsome but which has already taken hold in at least one case that I know of….

  2. Steve says:

    Unfortunately, this is yet another example of the Supreme Court’s judicial activism. Yes, this serious problem needed to be fixed. But it wasn’t the Supreme Court’s job to do so, they just stepped in (again) to fill the vacuum left by others. What powers will they grab next?

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Binyamin and Chaya Maryles, uncle and aunt of Emes Ve-Emunah author Harry Maryles.
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