We were dismayed by an op-ed piece in the Jerusalem Post the other day by two former spiritual leaders of prominent U.S. Orthodox congregations on last week’s Israeli Supreme Court conversion ruling recognizing non-Orthodox conversions under the Law of Return.
Simply put, to us, the authors seemed to almost nonchalantly denude the Jewish faith of any semblance of transcendent standards. It almost seemed that as far as they were concerned, anything goes and Judaism is mostly about promoting a sense of common destiny, not about following Divine imperative.
In pertinent part, here is what they said in an article entitled, “As Orthodox Rabbis, We Support the Court’s Conversion Ruling”:
We are Orthodox rabbis who have served in Orthodox synagogues and taught in Orthodox schools for five decades. It is precisely because we love Orthodoxy we speak in support of the Israeli Supreme Court’s decision validating Conservative and Reform conversions done in Israel for Israeli citizenship.
This move, we believe, will help foster in Israel a less coercive Orthodoxy and worldwide will embrace all our people as part of Am Yisrael, with a shared past and shared future.
No doubt, the Chief Rabbinate will disagree with the position we’ve taken as they fiercely want to hold on to power, determined to be sole arbiters on conversions, leaving no room for Conservative and Reform….
Because we support Reform and Conservative conversions for citizenship in Israel doesn’t mean we would accept their conversions as halachically legitimate. As in America, when individuals have come before us with non-Orthodox conversions, if they don’t meet Orthodox standards, we would encourage another conversion.…
Why accept the Supreme Court decision?… We are all part of what can be called the Covenant of Family – that family includes our co-religionists from other denomination. Recognizing their conversions in Israel will deepen the relationship between Israel and the majority of Jew in the Diaspora who are not Orthodox.…
Perhaps the greatest threat to Israel is the lack of unity of our people. The Supreme Court decision has the potential to bring us closer, allowing Jews from all streams to feel part of the destiny of Am Yisrael, talking openly with each other, disagreeing agreeably, recognizing we are all part of one nation, but one family – hopefully a loving family.
But is insistence on a halachic Judaism best understood as a means of exercising power? Is the set of Jewish religious tenets from time immemorial simply the plaything of a particular nationalism? Hasn’t Judaism historically been regarded as fealty to Divine imperatives before some began teaching otherwise?
Indeed, hasn’t being Jewish meant following halacha before and far longer than it has served as a prop for modern-day notions of unity?
So we reject that the essence of Judaism is a warm and fuzzy togetherness and common future. It is about meeting halachic standards regarding lineage in the first place. It is also about putting on tefillin and keeping kosher and aiming to perform all the mitzvos although of course some people are more observant and others less so. There are no substitutes for this principle – not even a warm feeling for the Jewish people.