May 23, 2006

no more non-Israeli conversions

In the latest edition of the conversion dispute, things have taken a serious turn. While previously we found out that the Rabbinate of Israel has decided to reject conversions by the RCA, even those signed on by Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz, now they have raised the level of conflict. Reports have it that they are now rejecting all foreign conversions. That is right - all.

The Cheif Rabbinate has decided to make procedures uniform and require any Rabbi abroad who wishes to be approved to effect conversions, will have to pass the Rabbanut exams for conversion, effectively making the Rabbanut the sole decider on conversions around the world. They have prepared a list of 50 Rabbis who are allowed to perform conversions without taking the exams. Rabbi Schwartz from the RCA is on the list. The Rabbanut response though is that only conversions actually performed by these 50 Rabbis will be accepted, but not those they sign on as part of the overall beis din, if they were not the officiating Rabbi.

I do not even know what to write about this. I am completely in shock as to how the Rabbanut can overtly reject Orthodox Rabbis all over the USA and Europe. How can the Rabbanut think that they are more of an authority on conversions and have the gall to reject conversions by others? Does that mean that converts, either those already converted or those future converts, will not be allowed to come to Israel, as they will be recognized as non-Jews?


  1. Wow, this is really shocking! Even if they do this crazy move I don't think it is going to effect much in the field outside of Israel. Rabbis who are not on the A-list, so to speak, will most likely continue to conduct conversions (certainly those within the non-orthodox circle of practice will). It won't have an impact on who can move here --the State already recognizes those who are not halachically Jewish as Jewish and as eligible for citizenship (e.g., Jewish father but not Jewish mother, one Jewish grandparent on either side). What it will have an impact on, however, is life for these people once they are living here --they won't be able to marry in Israel, they won't be able to be buried in a Jewish cemetary and so forth.

    I really just find this appalling and think it has much more to do with their desire for power than on any other basis.

  2. Yael - I agree it is a power grab. I find it shocking that the Orthodox groups in the USA/Europe have yet to adequately respond.

    The non-halachic Jews you mention as being recognized is really a different issue, i think. The state has chosent o recognize them for whatever reason, yet the State has always rejected conversions performed by "unacceptable sources". That was the big fight over "Who is a Jew" and is always under discussion and fighting between the Reform and Orthodox.

    You are right that they will be able to move to Israel and marriage and burial (among other things) will be the problem. That is what i meant. If Israel lets them in (I do not know how the State will relate to such converts), they will have problems getting married, having children and schooling and getting buried. Because of these problems, I suspect many would simply reject the idea of moving to Israel..

  3. When I was getting married, (here) i of course had to go the rabanut and prove that I was jewish. I had a letter from a rav in Jackson Heights, Queens (who happened to be my brother in law, but that's a different story) that acknowledged I was Jewish. I was wearing a white shirt, black pants, kipa, my fiance (now my wife :-) was of course tznius. Bkiztur, we looked like normal frum yidden. However, when i showed them the letter, he took out "the book". In the book was a small small list of Jewish rabbis from America they would accept a letter from. In it was 1 rav from Queens, 2 from Brooklyn, 1 representing the entire south, and the rest I had no idea who they were. How could they possibly expect that these 30 or 40 rabbaim in their book represented all jews in America?! i was appalled at the audacity of the Rabanut to dismiss so many rabbaim and talmedei chachamim, as well as my testimony. In the end, they said fine, and just went with the letter I had (as I told them I wasn't going anywhere until they accept it...) but what do they think?! I agree with the general concept of the need of recognized rabbaim, but it needs to be a much much much larger list. Rabbaim that the rabbanut knows should be allowed to add people to the list themselves. Why is there such a distrust in am yisrael? Why is there such a need of "only what i think, not what you think?!" Is there no more trust between rabbaim? Is there no more acceptance of other jews? This is very disturbing. I've lived in places where "rabbis" of the community were giving "sold conversions", and so I see the need of a list. However at the same time, if those 50 rabbaim on the rabbanut's list, sent in their own lists, can't they be trusted? The rabbanut has some major gliches they need to work out....

  4. team - that's a fascinating story about your experience with them. I agree with you - some sort of list is needed, otherwise it will become too hefker, but clearly to reject all Rabbis of the diaspora is takign it way too far. They have bene workign in coordination for many years with many Rabbonim all over the world on all sorts of issues, and now to suddenly reject them makes it suspect in my eyes.

    When my brother registered to get married (here in Israel) we had an interesting story. He is not religious and had come in to Israel specifically for the purpose of registering for his wedding.
    He went to the Rabbanut office in Petach Tikva all set with his letter from the Rabbi in Chicago and the copy of our parents Kesuba. They told him it was not good enough and he needed more (I am not sure what exactly they said, maybe Dan can write in and fill in this detail). He came to jerusalem to get me to be his witness that he is jewish.

    I left Kollel in mid-morning to go with him to Petach Tikva. They close doors at 1pm, so we had to rush to get there on time. We get there as they are closing doors and convince the guard to let us in as we had already been there. Finally the Rabbis let us into there room. I do not remember exactly what happened, but I do remember they were sitting at the desk with a pile of files. We retold the whole story. They asked me for confirmation that he is my brother and is Jewish. they asked what I do and what kollel I learn in and then said fine and stamped the papers.
    Meaning, they believed me without knowing who I am more than believing the letter from the Rav in Chicago!!

  5. Maybe I am getting too cynical. I believe we are watching and living in another period of change in Judaism. Groups of Orthodox Rabbis are vying ferociously for power over what is really a small group of jews. The fact is, Orthodoxy is not huge. but the Rabbis, I believe, have been watching the orhodox become much more learned on their own and are feeling that their "power/strength" is not as necessary. More people are capable of deiding their own basic shailos. More people know gmorah and some halacha than ever before. The secular world has intruded on their lives and awakened orthodoxy to ideas, good and bad, that werent there before. Almost like the "eitz hadas".

    My opinion is, this is simply a power grab.

  6. it is definitely a power grab. I do not know what the American Orthodox Rabbis reaction should be, but I would suggest them responding in kind. Meaning, they should make a similar list of Israeli Rabbis they approve of and any conversions done by any Rabbi other than a listed Rabbi will not be recognized. but that will only cause more division. And the Israeli population is growing while the American jewish population is shrinking (Israel has become the largest Jewish location in the world last year - more Jews in Israel than any other one country), so such a reaction might not have such a strong effect..

    The Rabbi of my shull always says that the current relationship between people and Rabbis is a bdieved situation. He always says that really the average person is supposed to be learned enough that he can answer his ownquestions and not ask the Rabbi. Asking the Rabbi the halacha (every little halacha) has only started happening in recent history - people used to learn enough to pasken most things on their own. The Rabbi is there for the times you cannot, and for giving direction in life.. Because we have lost a lot of our knowledge and ability, a situation has developed that we overuse and over rely on our Rabbis.

  7. "they believed me without knowing who I am more than believing the letter from the Rav in Chicago!!"

    Absurd! Absolutely absurd! Just goes to show how messed up the whole system is. An overhaul is needed, true- but not the way they're doing it.

  8. RR - yes it is completely absurd and ridiculous..

  9. the even bigger irony to me is that this is the same organization that recognizes some shady conversions done for russian immigrants.... there's probably not one body of rabbis anywhere that doesn't have unscrupulous rabbis, so why start this way? first should be education and dialogue, then punitive actions not the other way around.

  10. Apparently, it's happening on Gittin as well. See here

  11. that's amazing! So, somebody who gets a get (or did a long time ago) and will get remarried, there children will now be mamzerim? If the bet din in America forced the husband to give a get and the woman goes to Israel and wants to remarry, now they are going to chase down the former husband and force him to give another get? This whole thing is getting more ridiculous by the minute..

  12. I'm glad you all are being shocked by this. The knowledgeable conservative and reform rabbis that I know of, of course, have long had their conversions rejected, and their characters assassinated. Don't you see the common ground at all?

  13. anon - I see your point. I still think that there is a difference. Between the Rabbinate and the RCA there is a commonality of the same halachic rules being adhered to, so for one to not accept the other is ridiculous. Whereas Reform and Conservative have different criteria for their conversions, which make it more problematic..

    But I understand your point, and accept it (to a degree)


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