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January 18, 2017 / 20 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘conversion’

Sorry, Ivanka, Israel’s High Rabbinical Court Doesn’t Recognize Your Conversion

Thursday, July 14th, 2016

(JNi.media) Presumptive Republican candidate Donald Trump is often referring to his daughter Ivanka as an Orthodox Jew (which she is), but Israel’s high rabbinical court on Wednesday raised the question in everyone’s mind as to whether the court might agree with him or not, along with the rest of the converts who used the services of Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, an Orthodox Rabbi who serves as the spiritual leader of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and was principal of the Ramaz School. Perhaps the rabbinate would next revoke the diplomas of the Ramaz graduates as well…

It should be noted, though, that despite our catchy headline, Ivanka Trump herself was converted under the Rabbinical Council of America and the Israeli Chief Rabbinate “Geirus Policies and Standards” network (GPS) agreement, and so her conversion is not, in fact, in jeopardy.

The high court debated on Wednesday an appeal regarding a ruling of a lower rabbinical court in Petach Tikvah, which revoked the Jewish status of a convert because she had been converted by Rabbi Lookstein, and Rabbi Lookstein was not on the approved list of rabbis submitted by the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA).

The high rabbinical court panel was headed by Dayan (judge) Rabbi Nahum Gortler and with the dayanim Rabbi Yitzhak Elimelech and Rabbi Maimon Nahari — all three being recent appointments for whom this has been their very first ruling in this capacity. Which may explain why they chose to ignore the public and strong urgings of both Sephardi and Ashkenazi chief rabbis to accept Rabbi Lookstein’s conversions.

The high court decided to deny the Lookstein conversion, thus essentially annulling all his past conversions and called on the petitioner to undergo a “giur l’chumra,” which essentially means a new conversion. She was instructed to repeat before the high court panel that she had faith in the one God, and that she accepted the yoke of the rabbis on halakhic matters. The court ruled that when she dips in the mikvah before her wedding it would count as the halakhicly required dipping for the conversion as well.

The petitioner endured the procedure, actually showing she was indeed accepting the rabbinical yoke and then some, but outside the court she said, “I feel humiliated, they were actually saying they’re not recognizing my being Jewish. I love Rabbi Lookstein, he is my rabbi, he brought me into the Jewish world, and I don’t want his conversions not to be recognized.”

Natan Sharansky, Chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency for Israel, which handles the vast majority of Jewish immigrants to the Jewish State, responded in a statement to the Wednesday ruling, saying, “Today’s decision by the Supreme Rabbinical Court, which effectively de-legitimized a prominent rabbi in the American Jewish community, demonstrates why Israel is in danger of being delegitimized as a center of religious authority in the eyes of world Jewry. I call on the Government of Israel, which recognizes the vital importance of the Israel-Diaspora relationship, to take immediate steps to change the attitude of Israel’s religious authorities toward the spiritual leaders of the Diaspora.”

The rabbinical courts administration said in statement that “since the issue of setting the criteria for recognition of the validity of rabbinical conversions abroad is in discussion at the chief rabbinate of Israel, the Rabbinical High Court decided not to enter the issue of the validity of Rabbi Haskel Lookstein’s conversions and approved the petitioner’s right to get married after the court had been impressed by her sincerity and she accepted with a full heart the yoke of Torah and Mitzvot — in order to facilitate the petitioner’s speedy marriage.”


Israeli Rabbinical Court Revisits Verdict on Conversion

Wednesday, July 13th, 2016

A woman converted to Judaism by Rabbi Haskel Lookstein of Kehillath Jeshurun Congregation in New York was summoned to another hearing on her case, set for Wednesday, by the Chief Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem.

The summons followed an appeal of the ruling of the Petach Tikva Rabbinical Court which did not recognize Rabbi Lookstein’s conversion, arguing that the rabbi, one of the most prominent modern Orthodox rabbis in the United States, is not recognized by the State of Israel to perform conversions.

The rabbi is also known for his conversion of Ivanka Trump, a prominent businesswoman in her own right who is married to New York Observer owner and publisher Jared Kushner — and who is also the daughter of U.S. GOP presumptive presidential candidate Donald Trump.

The appeal was submitted by the convert to the Supreme Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem last Wednesday with the assistance of the ITIM organization, and the verdict generated massive protests both in Israel and abroad.

ITIM director Rabbi Dr. Seth Farber demanded that the Supreme Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem accept the woman’s conversion. “We were very surprised by the summons,” he said.

“It’s time to stop torturing the convert… We call upon the Court not to take in this war of attrition and allow this convert, and many other who converted by the Halacha with Orthodox rabbis in the Diaspora, to marry and lead a full Jewish life in Israel.”

The Petach Tikva verdict has already been reversed by Israel Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau, who explained in a letter to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and opposition chairman and MK Isaac Herzog that the Chief Rabbinate of Israel recognizes conversions performed by Rabbi Lookstein, including that of Ivanka Trump.

Rabbi Lau explained in his letter that the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the local Rabbinical Courts are separate entities, but that the Chief Rabbinate Council would be convening soon. One of the items on the agenda, he said, would be the appeal of the Petach Tikva verdict. He expressed his confidence that the opinion of the Chief Rabbinate would be made clear to the local rabbinical courts at that meeting, set for Wednesday, 1 Tamuz.

Hana Levi Julian

Demonstrators Block Shabbat Mass Conversion Baptism in Rishon L’tzion

Saturday, June 18th, 2016

More than a thousand demonstrators arrived on Shabbat at the Heichal Hatarbut auditorium in Rishon L’tzion, near Tel Aviv, to rally against and try to prevent a Christian baptism ceremony for Israeli converts, planned by the J-Witnesses sect, Israeli media reported. The demonstrators, organized by the Lehava group, succeeded after about two hours to effect the cancellation of the event by police.

“We arrived and managed to block the entrances and break-in seven times,” Lehava Chairman Ben-Zion (Benzi) Gopstein told Hakol Hayehudi. Gopstein, who spent Shabbat in Rishon, reported that “only a few dozen missionaries entered the event, and at one point the police revoked the permit for the ceremony.”

The Lehava action to prevent the mass conversions began on Thursday, when a large group of organization members arranged for their lodging in town for Shabbat, and called for a protest prayer on Shabbat morning.

Three Lehava members were arrested during the demonstration but were released after a few hours.

“We met six women, two of them Holocaust survivors, who had been brought there by their gentile caretakers, and we convinced them not to go inside,” Gopstein related. “One of them said she thought it was an [MK] Tzipi Livni event.”

Gopstein added, “Now police can tell the court in full honesty that it is unable to secure such an event.” He said this had been “an event of true akhdut-unity — many Rishon L’tzion residents arrived, as well as ‘hill youths,’ Chabad, the city rabbis and Lehava activists, and thank God we were successful. Should another such event take place we’ll be there, we’ll go anywhere.”

David Israel

Q & A: Ruth’s Conversion

Thursday, June 9th, 2016

Question: When did Ruth convert – before or after she married Naomi’s son? Also, what is the earliest reference in Jewish sources to a formal conversion process?

Lazar Rozenblat
Brooklyn, NY

Answer: Megillat Rut (1:3-5) states: “Va’yamat Elimelech ish No’omi va’tisha’er he u’shnei baneha. Va’yis’u lahem nashim mo’aviyyot, shem ha’achat Orpah veshem hashenit Ruth,va’yeshvu sham ke’eser shanim. Vayamutu gam sheneihem Mahlon ve’Kilyon, va’tisha’er ha’isha mi’shenei yeladeha u’me’ishah – Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. They took Moabite wives for themselves – the name of one was Orpah and the name of the other was Ruth, and they lived there about 10 years. Then both Mahlon and Kilyon also died, and the woman remained bereft of her two sons and her husband.”

The story continues (1:8): “Vatomer Na’omi li’shetei koloteha, lechna, shovna, isha leveit immah, ya’aseh Hashem imachen chesed ka’asher asiten im hameitim ve’imadi – Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law: Go return each of you to your mother’s house, and may Hashem deal kindly with you as you have dealt kindly with the departed and with me.” She was able to sway Orpah, but Ruth remained with her mother-in-law.

The Talmud (Yevamot 47b) sees the conversation between Naomi and Ruth as the model of the conversation a beth din is required to have with a prospective convert. The Talmud understands Ruth’s response (1:16-17) to Naomi’s entreaties that she follow Orpah as answers to Naomi’s efforts to dissuade her from converting. Thus, when Naomi told Ruth that Israelites are forbidden to walk beyond techum Shabbat (a distance of 2,000 cubits) on Shabbos, Ruth replied, “Ki el asher telchi elech – Wherever you go I will go.” To Naomi’s reminder that a man and a woman are forbidden to be sequestered together unless they are married, Ruth answered, “U’va’asher talini alin – And wherever you lodge, I will lodge.” When Naomi informed her that there are 613 commandments that must be followed, Ruth replied “Amech ami – Your people shall be my people.” Naomi’s warning that we are forbidden to worship idols was countered with, “Ve’Elokayich Elokai – And your G-d [shall be] my G-d.” To Naomi’s cautioning that beth din has the authority to enact four modes of execution for certain offenses, Ruth answered, “Ba’asher tamuti amut – Where you die, I will die.”

Finally, Naomi told her that two graveyard sites are put at the disposal of beth din for the burial of executed offenders (Rashi: one site for those executed for extremely harsh sins and another for those executed for less serve sins), Ruth responded, “Ve’sham ekaver – And there will I be buried.” Thereupon, Naomi ceased protesting (ibid. 1:18): “Va’tere ki mit’ ametzet hi lalechet itah va’techdal ledabber eleha – When she saw that she was steadfastly minded to go with her, she left off speaking to her.”

The Talmud (ibid.) and the Rambam (Hilchot Issurei Bi’ah 14:15) go into more detail regarding the questions asked of a prospective ger. If the queries are answered to the satisfaction of beth din, the prospective convert is forthwith accepted and undergoes mila (if the convert is male) and tevilah (immersion).

If the rules of geirut are based on this dialogue between Naomi and Ruth, Ruth evidently wasn’t Jewish at the time. How, then, does the megillah refer to Ruth as Naomi’s daughter-in-law when le’halacha she wasn’t? We cannot resolve this difficulty by applying the principle of “ein mukdam u’me’uchar ba’Torah” (the Torah is not written in chronological order) because this principle can only be applied when two different matters are involved (see Pesachim 6b), not within the same context.

The Midrash (Ruth Rabbah 2:9) clearly states that Ruth and Orpah were not Jewish when they married Mahlon and Kilyon, which is why their husbands were punished. Yalkut Shimoni (chap. 600) notes that according to one opinion the brothers’ names indicate that they made themselves profane (Mahlon/hullin) and deserved death and destruction (Kilyon/kelayah) because they had taken gentile women as wives.

We talk of them having “married” gentile women even though their marriages were halachically invalid. We find terms used “loosely” in the Talmud as well. For example, the first mishnah in Tractate Yoma states that seven days before the Day of Atonement “another wife would be prepared for [the kohen gadol] in case his wife died, for the Torah states (Vayikra 16:6), ‘And he shall make atonement for himself and for his house’ – ‘his house’ is taken to mean ‘his wife.’” The Gemara proceeds to discuss several hypothetical scenarios; it also discusses how to insure that the kohen gadol not be married to two wives on the Day of Atonement since “his house” denotes one wife, not two. The Gemara considers the wording of various conditional divorces and later discusses a kohen gadol who is an onen (aninut is the first day of mourning, before aveilut takes effect) following the death of his wife. But, asks the Gemara (ibid. 14a), how can he be an onen if he divorced her? It answers that although he is not obligated to mourn, he will surely be distracted and distressed since he still thinks of her as his wife (even if halachically she wasn’t when she died).

There are some indications, though, that Naomi and Orpah had, in fact, undergone conversion before they married Mahlon and Kilyon. Naomi tells her daughters-in-law (Ruth 1:8), “Ya’aseh Hashem imachen chesed ka’asher asiten im hameitim ve’imadi – May Hashem deal kindly with you as you have dealt kindly with the departed and with me.” This reference to dealing kindly with the departed, “chesed shel enmet,” is an illustration of authentic Jewish behavior – minhag Yahadut – that these two women practiced. Midrash Ruth (Zohar Chadash) states explicitly that R. Yosi Ish Socho maintains that Ruth and Orpah were Jewish at the time. If Ruth only became Jewish later, this change in status would’ve been reflected in her name. But the megillah calls her Ruth both before and after her crucial conversation with Naomi.

If both Ruth and Orpah were Jewish, though, why did Naomi try to convince them to return to “their” people? The answer is that they had not converted wholeheartedly. Rather, they had converted like the wives of Samson and Solomon. These women converted for ulterior motives and reverted to their earlier behavior and beliefs in the end (see Rambam, Hilchot Issurei Bi’ah 13:14). Thus, a new commitment – kabbalat ol mizvot – was required of both Ruth and Orpah. Orpah ultimately decided to return to her people and former ways in response to Naomi’s entreaties, whereas Ruth remained steadfast. The commentators note that Naomi kept pleading with Ruth and Orpah because she was convinced that both daughters-in-law would go back to their parents’ homes and former way of life. Incidentally, Yalkut Shimoni cites R. Yochanan who states that Mahlon, who married Ruth (who remained steadfast), was forgiven (mechila) while Kilyon, who married Orpah (from whom Goliath was descended), was destined for destruction (kelaya).

Ruth’s is not the first conversion in Tanach. Exodus 18:1-5 states, “Va’Yishma Yitro kohein midian chotein Moshe…va’yavo – When Jethro, the priest of Midian and father-in-law of Moses, heard…he came” The Talmud (Zevachim 116a) states that this “coming” denotes conversion.

However, it is the conversation of Naomi and Ruth, as stated above, which forms the basis for the laws of derishat ha’ger, the interrogation of a prospective convert by a rabbinical court, as stated in Yevamot. Both the Rambam and the Tur rule that this is the accepted halacha. Ruth’s conversion can thus be considered the first explicit example of conversion as we know it today, and she was surely accepted as a convert prior to her marriage to Boaz, a marriage that resulted in no less than the royal house of David.

Rabbi Yaakov Klass

Innocent Homework or Insidious Conversion Attempt?

Sunday, December 20th, 2015

(JNi.media) Rage over a homework assignment became so harsh and abusive, school officials in Augusta County, Virginia decided to keep all 10,000 county students at home this past week, and to suspend school sports activities over the weekend.

This WW3 battle began when Cheryl LaPorte, who teaches world geography at Riverheads High in Staunton, Virginia, gave her students a homework assignment: to copy by hand a line of Arabic script. The lovely arabesque calligraphy happened to be the shahada, an Islamic statement of faith bearing witness that “there is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is the messenger of Allah.” It has been established, incidentally, that LaPorte did not compose the assignment based on secret instructions she received from her operators in ISIS, but rather picked it from a workbook created by teachers called “World Religions.” The book also includes assignments about Christianity and Judaism.

It took only a few hours before some angry parents demanded LaPorte’s firing for “violating children’s religious beliefs,” but the Virginia Department of Education and Augusta County Superintendent Eric Bond announced they reviewed the material and they don’t believe it violated student rights.

Nevertheless, the county school system removed the offensive statement from the curriculum, replacing it with “a different, non-religious sample of Arabic calligraphy.” The county also issued a statement saying it was not leading a drive to convert students to Islam. Augusta County Schools official Eric Bond said in a statement that none of the “lessons in the world geography course are an attempt at indoctrination to Islam or any other religion or a request for students to renounce their own faith or profess any belief.”

That was too little, too late, as far as some parents were concerned. Kimberly Herndon told WHSV, “The sheet she gave out was pure doctrine in its origin,” adding, “I will not have my children sit under a woman who indoctrinates them with the Islam religion when I am a Christian.”

Megan Williams, reporting for the News Leader, noted that “increased police presence and national media attention have made for a weird week as Riverheads High School headed into winter break.” The decision to end the school week early was reached on Thursday, “after district offices were hit by a firestorm of phone calls and emails over the controversy.” Williams reported that “Augusta County Sheriff’s deputies were in all schools and the front doors were locked.”

A Facebook group calling itself SUPPORT LAPORTE was started and to date attracted 5,653 members. Most of the reactions on the social network are expressions of disbelief at the parents’ heightened sensitivity to other people’s religions and cultures.

Williams quoted Prof. Nancy Klancher of Bridgewater College, which serves Augusta County, who explained that county students come from the Shenandoah Valley, and “don’t know anything about any other religions besides their own.”


Vatican Says ‘Jews Don’t Need Conversion’

Friday, December 11th, 2015

Jews do not need to be converted, and the Catholic Church “does not question the continued love of God for the chosen people of Israel,” the Vatican said Thursday.

The news came in a 10,000-word document released by the Holy See that says Jews do not need to be converted. Moreover, it says, the only way for Catholics to understand their own faith is to view Jesus within the Jewish context of his time.

Entitled “The Gifts and Calling of God are Irrevocable,” the document calls on Jews and Christians to work together to make the world a better place.

“While affirming salvation through an explicit or even implicit faith in Christ, the Church does not question the continued love of God for the chosen people of Israel,” the document states.

“That the Jews are participants in God’s salvation is theologically unquestionable, but how that can be possible without confessing Christ explicitly, is and remains an unfathomable divine mystery.”

The Church recommended that Jews and Catholics jointly combat all forms of anti-Semitism, and condemned the Nazi slaughter of Jews in World War II.

“History teaches us where even the slightest perceptible forms of anti-Semitism can lead: the human tragedy of the Shoah (using the Hebrew term for the Holocaust) in which two-thirds of European Jewry were annihilated.”

Drafted by the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations With Jews, the document also stated clearly that Catholics must refrain from active attempts to convert Jews.

“The Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews,” it says. Judaism “is not to be considered simply as another religion; the Jews are instead our elder brothers.”

The document cited the release 50 years ago of the Nostra Aetate — ‘In Our Times’ — that repudiated Jewish guilt in Jesus’ death.

“Judaism is not to be considered simply as another religion; the Jews are instead our ‘elder brothers’ (Saint Pope John Paul II), our ‘fathers in faith’ (Benedict XVI),” the document states.

“Jesus was a Jew, was at home in the Jewish tradition of his time, and was decisively shaped by this religious milieu (cf. ‘Ecclesia in Medio Oriente,’ 20). His first disciples gathered around him had the same heritage and were defined by the same Jewish tradition in their everyday life.”

Hana Levi Julian


Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin of Efrat (R) speaks with Rabbi David Stav. Rabbis Riskin and Stav are part of a group of leading rabbis who decided to establish independent Orthodox conversion courts in Israel, breaking the official Rabbinate monopoly.

What happens next remains to be seen.

Photo of the Day

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/photos/troublemakers/2015/08/12/

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