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August 5, 2015 / 20 Av, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘conversion’

Ex-Mossad Chief Backs Move to ID Soviet Jews

Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

Ephraim HaLevy, former chief of the Mossad, has committed himself to a program which will help certify the Jewish identities of thousands of immigrants, primarily from the former Soviet Union, who need certifications that they are Jewish in order to marry under official Israeli law. The announcement came at the annual meeting of the Shorashim (Roots) program, an initiative of the Tzohar Rabbinical Organization. HaLevy was officially announced as the program’s Incoming chairman. Shorashim is backed by the Harry Triguboff Foundation based in Sydney, Australia, together with the Friedberg Charitable Foundation of Toronto, Canada and with funding from the government of Israel. The program operates out of offices in Moscow and Kiev, and the first center in Israel to assist couples with the identification process was opened last week in the presence of Triguboff.

Prof. Ze’ev Khanin, Chief Scientist of Israel’s Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, told the meeting that since the fall of the Soviet Union, more than one million people have immigrated to Israel. Accounting for natural demographic patterns compounded with a certain percentage of people who chose to leave Israel of their own initiative, approximately 975,000 people living in Israel today describe themselves as of Russian origin.

“For years we were imploring these Jews to come home to Israel and now we’re going to reject them because they can’t easily prove their Jewish ancestry?” HaLevy asked. “There is an answer and that is what this program offers, but if we don’t commit ourselves to it then we’ll go down as the biggest traitors in Jewish history.”

The process often involves sending emissaries into archives and cemeteries in tiny Russian and Ukrainian villages to obtain the levels of proof necessary to determine that an immigrant to Israel is of certain Jewish ancestry. Once procured, the documentation is then presented to Israeli rabbinical courts before an individual’s proof of Judaism can be confirmed.

Rabbi David Stav, the founder and president of Tzohar and also the national religious candidate for the position of Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, told the meeting, “We can’t even begin to comprehend the value of what is being done here and this is truly a historic effort.”

Couples not afforded the assistance offered by Shorashim often will enter marriage without halachic approval, a situation which effectively would define their children as non-Jews under Israeli law. Those who are determined not to be of Jewish descent are provided with support to convert under rabbinic guidance.

Masorti Rabbis Perform First Conversions in Lisbon

Monday, April 29th, 2013

For the first time in the history of the Masorti movement, its rabbis performed conversions to Judaism in Portugal.

The two conversions were performed in the Portuguese capital at a Beit Din rabbinical court of three judges, who recognized Juliana Fernandes da Silva and her life partner Edgard Pimentel as Jews.

Though the Masorti movement — the smallest of the three major streams of Judaism — has performed conversions of several Portuguese Jews, this was the first time that the rabbinical court convened in Portugal, according to Rabbi Chaim Weiner of London, who oversaw the proceedings of the court.

Usually European Masorti converts travel to London, he added, but this time it was decided to hold the court in Lisbon because several rabbis were already in Portugal on a month-long study trip of the country’s Jewish heritage.

Da Silva, a 26-year-old Brazilian mathematician who grew up in a Catholic home, took a ritual dip in the mikveh following the court’s decision.

Immersion in the mikveh is required as part of the conversion process, and not afterwards, according to Jewish law.

Da Silva and Pimentel, a Brazilian born to an atheist father and a Catholic, non-observant mother, were welcomed at a reception the following day into Lisbon’s small Masorti community of a few dozen people.

All God’s Children Take a Bath

Thursday, August 16th, 2012

Several biblical regulations specify that full immersion in water is required to regain ritual purity after ritually impure incidents have occurred. Most forms of impurity can be nullified through immersion in any natural collection of water. Some require “living water,” such as springs or groundwater wells. Living water has the further advantage of being able to purify even while flowing as opposed to rainwater which must be stationary in order to purify. Discoloration or contamination of the water can invalidate the water for immersion.

In Judaism, a “Mikva” ritual bath is usually constructed especially, as the household or other community water sources do not have the quantity and kind of water required. A mikvah is used in the following circumstances:

1) by Jewish women to achieve ritual purity after menstruation or childbirth (Leviticus 15:5-10, 19-27)

2) by Jewish men to achieve ritual purity (Leviticus 15:5-10, 19-27)

3) by Jewish men or women after discharges (Leviticus 15:13,16) or leprosy (Leviticus 14:6-9)

4) by Jewish men or women after contact with a corpse or grave (Numbers 19:19)

5) by Jewish priests when they are being consecrated (Exodus 40:12)

6) after mistakenly eating meat from an animal that died naturally (Leviticus 17:15)

7) for utensils used for food captured in battle (Leviticus) or of non-Jewish manufacture (Rabbinic)

8) as part of a traditional procedure for conversion to Judaism (Rabbinic)

In Islam, the requirements for ritual bath are the same as in Judaism, including the preferred use of “living water,” such as springs or groundwater wells and the prohibition of discoloration or contamination. There is no minimum quantity of water, and leniency is given to using tap water where its source is springs or groundwater wells, even if it has been stored in retaining tanks before being used. Ghusul is required in the following circumstances:

1) by Islamic women to achieve ritual purity after menstruation or childbirth

2) by Islamic men to achieve ritual purity

3) by Islamic men or women after discharges

4) After contact with a corpse or grave

7) for utensils used for food captured in battle or foreign manufacture *

* There is a haddith (a saying or an act or tacit approval or disapproval ascribed either validly or invalidly to the Islamic prophet Muhammad) that requires this, but I do not know if its is practiced by any Madh’hab (Muslim school of law).

In Christianity, there are no requirements for the ritual bath, although, based on the accounts of John the Baptist, running river water is preferred (specifically the Jordan river). However regular water, standing or springs or groundwater can be used. Baptism is only required in the following circumstance:

1) as part of a traditional procedure for “conversion” (actually initiation) to Christianity, either as a baby (in place of circumcision), or as an adult to express free-choice acceptance of Christianity.

(Disclaimer: I wrote this informally from memory, please verify any statements before relying on what is written here)

Neighborly Chesed: Above And Beyond

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

My husband and I are living in our house for over 30 years. We have wonderful neighbors on both sides. The one on the right, a non-frum Jewish couple, lived in their house longer than we’ve resided in ours. We always got along very well with them, as they are unusually kind, friendly and helpful people. When I had an injury many years ago and couldn’t function properly, the husband always offered to drive me – and indeed drove me – to therapy. He was happy to pick up anything I needed from the store – and always with a smile. I tried not to take advantage, but I very much appreciated his and his wife’s help.

In recent years a frum couple, also friendly and kind, moved in on the other side of these people. The man, a doctor, offered his services whenever they needed it, and was always available for advice and help.

Our non-frum neighbors always commented about how they could never move away, even though they were retired and didn’t need a house the size of theirs. After all, they were thrilled with their neighbors, as well as with other people on the block.

The non-observant wife of the aforementioned couple was born a non-Jew and claimed to have converted to Judaism. While not giving that fact much thought, I found it difficult to believe that she would have been converted by an Orthodox rabbi since she had no intention of being observant. I thus assumed that a Reform rabbi probably converted her. Whatever her religious status, our good neighborly relationship remained intact.

This woman (we’ll call her Carol) unfortunately became ill four years ago. Throughout her illness, she remained positive and lived life to the fullest. Sadly, things took a turn for the worse and she recently passed away.

The doctor and his wife (the frum neighbors mentioned earlier), always looking to do chesed, asked Carol’s husband on the day of the funeral for Carol’s conversion papers so as to ascertain if she was really Jewish. To their pleasant surprise, as well as to ours, Carol’s conversion papers revealed that an Orthodox rabbi had performed her conversion. The papers, written in Hebrew and English, were signed by a well-known rabbi.

The frum doctor and his wife arranged through our local rabbi to have Kaddish recited for Carol. The doctor’s wife, another neighbor and I shared the cost.

Despite not practicing her religion, Carol’s soul – due to her caring neighbors – now has Kaddish being said for her three times a day. Her husband and family, overcome with emotion, filled with tears upon hearing this even though they didn’t understand the depth of our action.

I’m quite sure Carol’s neshamah is smiling and that Hashem is proud of the chesed Am Yisrael does for one another. Mi k’amcha Yisrael!

Report: Orthodox Conversions in Israel Down 31%

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

Orthodox conversions in Israel are down by 31 percent over the past two years, according to a new report.

“Both demographic changes and bureaucratic hurdles have contributed to this change,” said Rabbi Seth Farber, director of ITIM: Resources and Advocacy for Jewish Life.

The ITIM study, released on the eve of Shavuot, the holiday in which Jewish tradition celebrates the conversion to Judaism of biblical Ruth, shows that the total number of Orthodox conversions performed in Israel in 2011, including Jews from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia, has been cut nearly in half since 2007.

There were 4,293 Orthodox conversions in 2011, compared with 8,008 in 2007. From 2008 to 2010, the number of Orthodox conversions fell from 6,221 to 4,645.

ITIM’s report also discussed other developments in conversion in Israel during the past year, including the absence of clear criteria for recognizing conversions done abroad.

“Despite the 2005 Supreme Court ruling which calls upon the Ministry of Interior to recognize the autonomy of local Jewish communities on issues relating to conversion, the State of Israel continues to make it difficult for converts to make aliyah,” according to the report.

“This is against the spirit of Jewish tradition,” Farber said.

The report will be placed on the table of the Knesset Immigration and Absorption Committee this week.

From `Sin’ [China] to Sinai

Friday, May 18th, 2012

This is not my story at all. But when I heard it from Avigayil Madmoni, formerly Gin Lin Lug, a Chinese convert, I gained a new view of what Torah means to me. I know for sure, as anyone who has ever met this very charming, sincere, lovable young woman will agree with me, that Avigayil is my sister like any other Jew and that she surely stood at Har Sinai — together with my ancestors and the souls of their descendants, namely me and all the Jews alive today, and who have ever lived, since the giving of the Torah.

Having heard Avigayil’s story and internalizing its message, I know that Torah is everything. It is the past, present and future. It is the air we breathe, and the messages we receive all the time telling us that it is Truth, and the closer we cling to it, the more alive we are and the better person we can strive to become – and actually become, with the help of Hashem!

Our high school in Ofakim brought Avigayil to speak to us. A convert of six years (and incidentally, one of the dayanim who signed on her conversion is the husband of our principal), Avigayil speaks a fluent Hebrew with a slight accent. These are her words [translated from Hebrew]:

I have been a student at Seminary Neveh Yerushalayim for the past five years, since shortly after I converted. I have realized a few of my lifetime dreams – that of joining your people and also of earning my degree here as a certified nurse.

My third dream is to get married and raise a family of fine Jewish children, and that, like everything else, is in the hands of G-d, as I have clearly seen every step of the way. Who knows? Maybe just like the Chinese girl from the book, Bamboo Cradle, found her mate, I, too, will merit to get married and raise a family.

My story begins in China, of course, in the home of simple but honest and hard working peasants who taught me good values. I always felt that there was something more, something beyond just living a decent life. I thought that training to be a nurse would provide fulfillment, but my parents couldn’t afford to send me to nursing school.

Divine Providence found me a job in Israel as a caregiver to ten-year-old Elad Madmoni z”l, terminally ill with muscular dystrophy. He was confined to a wheelchair, but his mind was alert and his soul was pure and beautiful.

Elad attended school and spent recess in his wheelchair, watching his friends running around and playing ball. He was fully aware of his situation but never complained. In fact, he radiated peace and joy to everyone around him.

Elad’s family was religious, and I would watch him pray with fervor and study Gemara and Mishnayos. His good spirits always amazed me and I used to ask him, “How can you pray to G-d? Aren’t you angry that He made you this way and that there is no cure for you?” And he would answer so sweetly, “Lin, whatever the Creator does is for the best, even for me. Who knows, maybe He made me this way so that you could come and learn more about Him?”

Now I know that Elad was right, but how could he have known?

We had long philosophical talks, perhaps on a simple level, but I was always amazed how he knew the answers to my questions. “China is an ancient country with an ancient tradition,” I told him once, “but all Chinese people know that the Jews are the most learned and clever nation in the world. That’s what my grandfather told me, too. So tell me, what is written in your Torah?”

And he would patiently explain ideas that you’ve been familiar with since you were small children. I became interested in Judaism and at the age of 21, opened the Bible for the first time in my life and was actually able to read it in Hebrew. I had loved this language from the very first day I came; the very letters seemed holy to me and I used to copy them. When Elad saw my interest, he began teaching me to read and write and speak. He taught me Jewish history and told me stories about the Sages. Thanks to him, I was able to see that everything in this world has a purpose; nothing happens just like that. Then, right before Shavuos, he told me the story of Ruth, Naomi and Boaz, and all the chessed that each did.

From Feet To Amot: A New Jewish Units App

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

During my yearly visits to Australia to visit my wife’s family, I must endure the brutal calculations involved in switching from the imperfect Imperial system to the maligned-by-Americans (but clearly more efficient) Metric system. Pounds become kilos, Fahrenheit becomes Celsius, and feet become meters. Calculations are involved every day – and I don’t have a mind for numbers. Similarly, when I learn Gemara, I often come across ancient and archaic measurements that need conversion into modern numbers. This ensures that today’s average learner and I can better understand the amounts being dealt with. ArtScroll usually provides a formula, or tells us the conversion in the simplest terms. But now, thanks to Crowded Road CEO Adam Korbl and Rabbi Ronnie Figdor, there’s an app that helps us do just that.

The new Jewish Units app conveniently converts all Talmudic measurements (volume, length, time, area, weight, and currency) into their modern-day counterparts. And I literally mean all measurements. As someone who proudly learns an average of an amud of Gemara a day, I was flabbergasted to learn about how many types of measurements there are in Judaism. I had heard of a p’ras, a parsah and a perutah, but a pesiah, a pim and a pundeyon? And that’s just those beginning with the letter “P”!

All in all there are nearly 200 units of measure that can be converted. Perhaps that’s why I always had a hard time remembering the conversion amounts for biblical measurements. I remember thinking that a mil was about equal in length to a mile. But it turns out to be closer to a half mile (or 0.5666 to be exact). I recall the notion that a shekel (not to be confused with a New Israeli Shekel) was about equal to $1 – but it’s really about $18. And was I off regarding a kikar. One of those equals $54,119. And a kikar can be used for weight as well. So if your wife of 150 pounds thinks she’s putting on weight, you can simply say, “Honey, you’re not even 3 kikars.” (One hundred fifty pounds equals 2.668 kikars.)

If you don’t have a currency converter on your smart-device, the Jewish Units app also does basic currency conversions (e.g. dollars to euros). But the best aspect of the app, aside from its prime function, is its essential glossary that permits less learned people like me know that a pesiah is a regular footstep (about an amah) in length, or that a pundeyon was an ancient Roman currency. And if you’re wondering, one pim – a unit of measure in Sefer Shmuel – equals 80 pounds. My in-laws will also be happy to know that the app works in the metric system as well.

I showed the app to the people who will likely use it the most: kollel and yeshiva guys. It was as if I walked into a 7th-grade classroom with a (yet to be invented) Playstation 5. The app appeared to be the perfect combination of convenience and coolness. One boy who had recently completed a half marathon proudly noted that he had run 45,880 amot, about which one of his friends said: “Yeah, but that’s only 5.73 parsahs.”

In the near future Crowded Road will be offering the Jewish Units technology as part of their popular iTalmud and iMishna. “The ability to tap on a phrase in the Talmud or Mishnah that includes a halachic unit, such as daled amos, and instantly receive an explanation and modern-day conversion according to a rabbinic authority of choice should be a very powerful proposition,” says Korbl, the CEO of Crowded Road.

Perhaps the only negative aspect to the app that might dissuade some downloaders is its current $4.99 price tag. But that’s only 0.14 sela – a real bargain.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/scitech/electronics-today/from-feet-to-amot-a-new-jewish-units-app/2012/05/10/

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