Thursday, July 9, 2015

Thoughts on the Israeli Rabbanut and conversion

Note: I just found this post in my blog's "drafts" folder, where I had composed it in 2008. It was really a collection of comments of mine from some other blog posts thrown together. I decided to edit it now to add some flow, and publish, but if it still comes across as slightly disjointed, that origin is the reason.

The madness of the current conversion process in Israel is staggering. However, it is important not to misrepresent the views of the Charedi Rabbanut.

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.

OK, that's as far as their rationale goes. I understand why, in their bumbling, inefficient, and condescending way, they do it. But the ends do not justify the means and far more harm than good is being done, even by Orthodox standards.

So what's the answer?

I don't think the Rabbinate in Israel needs to be abolished. Instead, it should become 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 stream of Judaism, available for serving its constituents. And let there be a civil option as well.

It'll be hard enough taking away the Rabbinate's power. Abolishing them entirely will be virtually impossible. Limiting their influence is hard, but possibly doable.

Yes, yes, I know. Who decides what's a major stream of Judaism that deserves its own Rabbinate? Yes, that's an issue, but not an insurmounatble one. It'll get hashed out.

Let's be honest. 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.

In any case, the time to remove the Rabbinate's power is now, if it's not already too late. Demographics favor the Charedim over the next 25 years and their voting power will block any attempt to weaken the Rabbinate.

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, 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...

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