Cynical New Israeli Religious Court Ruling On Converts


Through this post at Jewschool, I learned about this Israeli High Rabbinical Court ruling that invalidates all conversions done by the State of Israel’s own Conversion Authority under the current head of that government agency, former Knesset member Chaim Drukman. The High Rabbinical Court ruled this because they examined a woman who had converted 15 years ago on the occasion of her divorce, and decided that she was insufficiently observant of Jewish law. They put her, her children, and her ex-husband who was born Jewish, on a list of people who can’t get married in Israel. (What was the logic behind declaring the ex-husband not to be legally Jewish? You got me there.)

In the comments to the Jerusalem Post article, I found a link to this article from a far-right religious web publication, justifying the high court’s decision. The second article gives the impression that some Orthodox rabbis had chosen to invalidate Rabbi Drukman’s conversions because he worked with a Conservative-movement-trained rabbi in Warsaw.
I am flabbergasted that all of these people who converted to Judaism in good faith through the Israeli government’s Orthodox official religious courts are now going to be unable to marry in Israel, attending religious schools, be buried in Jewish cemeteries in Israel–all the things that Israel’s government religious courts control. All of this may stem from political ill-will between these rabbis and Rabbi Drukman.

When the Reform movement decided to opt for patrilineal descent in 1983, I was a teenager, and I remember thinking that it made sense. My mom told me at the time it would drive a wedge between Jews who did and Jews who did not accept the principle. Fine–people in the Reform movement knew in 1983 that Orthodox religious courts didn’t accept their conversions. When people convert to Judaism, they convert to join the community to which they want to belong. They agree to conform to the interpretation of Jewish tradition of their own community.

But what happens when you think you’ve chosen as your rabbinic authority an unimpeachable representative of the community to which you want to belong–and the ground shifts?

What I cannot believe is the cynicism of publishing such a ruling right before the Shabbat when Jews read the Kedoshim Torah portion, which contains Leviticus 19:34, ” The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I the LORD am your God.” (Jewish Publication Society translation.) This passage has also been translated to mean, ” The foreigner who becomes a proselyte must be exactly like one who is native born among you. You shall love him as [you love] yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am God your Lord.” (This works because the same Hebrew word, ger, means a stranger or a convert.) This verse is the basis for Jewish legal interpretations against hassling converts.

It’s meant to convey the idea that we should treat people as we want to be treated–a universal notion as well as a Jewish one. Or so I believe.

One thought on “Cynical New Israeli Religious Court Ruling On Converts”

  • Dear Ruth:

    I agree with you 300% — I have long predicted that eventually the Israeli rabbinate would begin invalidating even Orthodox conversions that involved interfaith couples.

    Many articles in Israeli newspapers routinely attack interfaith families now, and openly express regret that the largely intermarried Russian Jews were ever allowed to make aliyah to Israel.

    Most frighteningly to me, many of these anti-interfaith family comments are starting to come from non-Orthodox, secular Israelis and modern Orthodox Israelis, not just the haredi right-wing Israeli Jews.

    Regarding the Jewish man in the couple being declared ineligible to remarry in Israel, that is truly bizzare. If his wife isn’t Jewish, and they have gotten a civil divorce, then it is my understanding that the marriage doesn’t count in the eyes of the Orthodox, no get (formal religious divorce decree) is necessary, and he should be allowed to remarry any Jew he wishes to.

    But in the course of watching battles over “who is a Jew” in Israel over the last 20 years, I have learned that the supposedly immutable halachah (religious law) is twisted like a pretzel by some — not all — of the Israeli Orthodox, in an endeavor to get rid of interfaith families.

    I wish to state that not all of the Israeli Jews are opposed to interfaith families. Organizations like the Association for the Protection of Mixed Families (in Israel) and IRAC (the Israeli Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism) are fighting tooth and nail for the rights of interfaith families in Israel.

    I hope that anyone seeing this will consider giving money to the Association for the Protection of Mixed Families (in Israel) and IRAC.

    Robin Margolis

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