Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Conversion in Israel

There’s been a lot of discussion lately of the unfortunate decision by the RCA to basically capitulate to the Israeli Chief Rabbinate on matters of conversion, as well as the even more controversial ruling to reverse conversions performed by the Israel Conversion Authority, headed by Rav Chaim Drukman.

First of all, it is important to understand the motivations of the Chief Rabbinate, under charedi control.

When the Chazon Ish ruled that it is appropriate to trust Jews who state their identity as such, there weren't large numbers of potential olim who came from mixed marriages where the mother converted under Reform auspices. There are now. These children are raised Jewish, but do not practice halacha.

By traditional halachic standards, they are not Jewish. yet they come to Israel & claim to be. The Rabbanut, now under Charedi control, is desperate to keep it all straight and to identify Jews properly.

I understand why they do it. But the ends do not justify the means and far more harm than good is being done, even by Orthodox standards.

(The truth is that ultimately it's all nonsense anyway. Am I to believe that in the past 3000 years no Jewish woman has ever had an affair and then passed off the child as her husband's? Statistically, it's very likely that something like this did happen. All it takes is one European Jewish woman 1000 years ago who did this, and considering the mathematics of intertwining family trees, that would make us all mamzerim today. So the obsession of keeping a pure bloodline is useless.)

Some have called for abolishing the Israeli Rabbinate entirely. I don't think there’s a need for that strong a step, even if it were politically possible. The Rabbinate just needs to become a voluntary institution that serves those who want it. Make it a state-sponsored OPTIONAL service provided to the Jewish residents of Israel. Take away their absolute monopoly on birth, marriage, funerals, kashrut, etc. Let there be a state-sponsored Rabbinate for each major stream of Judaism, available for serving its constituents. And let there be a civil options as well.

Who decides what qualifies as a major stream of Judaism that deserves its own Rabbinate? That's an issue, but not an insurmountable one. It'll get hashed out.

The time to remove the Rabbinate's power is now, before it is too late. Demographics favor the Charedim over the next 25 years and their voting power will block any attempt to weaken the Rabbinate.

This topic reminds me of an incident I experienced. When I made aliyah some years ago, I had a letter from my shul Rabbi. It turned out he wasn't on their approved list. I said that I could get a letter from Rabbi X, of the shul where I grew up instead. It turned out that Rabbi X was on the list of approved Rabbis. The woman in the office, a cute single British girl (I was single at the time too), started discussing with me where the Rabbi could send the letter and whether it could be faxed. We were flirting a little (at least that's how it seemed to me), some light banter, and then she stopped, smiled at me, and said "you know what? You mentioned the name of an approved Rabbi. Don't worry about the letter - I'll just stamp you approved!"

So, officially at least, the state of Israel considers me Jewish because I flirted with an office worker. Maybe that's why the charedi rabbanut cracked down!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Boycott the Chidon HaTanach?

Bat-El Levi, 15, from Be'er Sheva is one of the 4 Israeli finalists in the Chidon HaTanach, the international Bible competition for Jewish teens sponsored by Israel. She is also a Messianic Jew who believes in Jesus.

From The Jerusalem Post:

The controversy surrounding the participation of 16-year-old Bat-El Levi, from Beersheba, began last week as a result of a campaign led by the haredi anti-missionary organization Yad Le'Achim.

Yad Le'Achim discovered that Levi belonged to a messianic Jewish congregation. The organization immediately contacted rabbis and other spiritual leaders. Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, a leading religious Zionist halachic authority, called to boycott the quiz if the messianic Jew did not forfeit her participation. His call was joined by other rabbis aligned with religious Zionism, including Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliahu.

Sources close to the Levi family, who did not deny their ties with a messianic Jewish congregation, said there had been attempts by Yad Le'Achim to dissuade Bat-El from taking part in the competition. A group of activists demonstrated in Dimona when the participants came to the Negev town for a preliminary quiz.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. One the one hand, the Chidon HaTanach has always been the pride of young Jews showing their knowledge of Torah in an international competition. Should that be spoiled by the spectacle of a girl who believes in Jesus possibly winning this thing and becoming a point of pride for Messianic Jews and creating an opportunity for increased openness to missionary activity?

On the other hand, this is a Jewish girl living in Israel who has studied hard and has gotten where she is on the basis of merit. Is it fair to bar her?