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Thursday
Apr032014

“WHO IS A JEW?” OR “WHO IS AN ISRAELI?”

Regrettably, many of the politicians in Eretz Yisroel fail to understand the difference between an Israeli and a Jew. Again and again, we hear about the efforts to redefine who is a Jew according to the national definition of a citizen of the state of Israel. The fulfillment of Torah and mitzvos is no longer the formula for belonging to the Jewish People; instead it’s the fervent devotion to the nuances of Israeli culture.

Translated by Michoel Leib Dobry

1. It may sound a bit strange, but lately the members of the Knesset have appeared to take on an approach of supreme knowledge. They had made the decision on what is best for the ultra-Orthodox community, including a callous intrusion into the educational content of their children’s studies to release them from the “burden” of learning Torah. Now, they have adopted the role of the chief rabbis of Israel, and every Knesset back-bencher is certain that he knows the opinion of Torah better than these leading Talmudic scholars. Rabbanim are no longer the ultimate authority that decides on the issue of conversion. They have been replaced by the country’s political representatives.

According to the new legislation introduced by the Netanyahu-Lapid-Bennett coalition government, every potential convert can choose which rabbinical authority will perform his/her conversion, including Reform and Conservative rabbis. In practical terms, Knesset Member Elazar Stern’s proposal seeks to tear down the last remaining guardrail of government conversion laws. Among the opponents to this legislation is Rabbi Chaim Druckman – the same rav who received a “lifetime achievement” award for his work as director of the Israel Conversion Authority, which has turned this field into a colossal mess. Now, however, even he has come to his senses. The person who has represented a matador’s red cape on the conversion issue, arousing the fury of leading Torah giants, has finally stepped forward to prevent passage of a new law that can destroy everything. But the Knesset Members aren’t all that interested. With the encouragement of journalists who are convinced that the ultimate truth and justice lies with them, coalition MKs have come with a full frontal attack against the final bastion of the crumbling conversion system in the chief rabbinate of Eretz Yisroel.

In this determined atmosphere against all that holy is in Israel, everything is permissible. After the minister of religious affairs, the person entrusted with guarding the principles of the Jewish faith, embraced the Reform movement and gave it official sanction at the Kosel, it should come as no wonder that they would dare to push forward this new bill proposed by another kippa-wearing Knesset Member.

According to Bayit Yehudi MK Orit Struk, MK Elazar Stern doesn’t move an inch on this legislation without first consulting with the Reform people. Mrs. Struk was also among those who succeeded in stopping the decree and delaying a vote before the Knesset. In the compromise worked within the coalition, the government’s version of the legislation won’t be as bad as the legislation proposed by MK Stern, designed to give full recognition to the Reform movement. However, there’s no way of knowing what Bennett and his cohorts are preparing for us. They have already taken several steps towards Reform Judaism, which they see as its ideal partner.

2.

Knesset Member Stern has been privileged to acquire one tremendous merit from Heaven. For the first time since last year’s Knesset elections, the rabbanim of the ultra-Orthodox and religious Zionist sectors have managed to unite. Two weeks ago, many prominent rabbinical figures from the knitted-kippa community gathered in the office of Eretz Yisroel’s chief Sephardic rabbi, HaRav Yitzchak Yosef, for a joint discussion on methods for halting this dangerous statutory initiative. Among the participants was Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, who has tried long and hard to stand up against the chairman of the Bayit Yehudi Party and his efforts to create further damage to the country’s conversion system.

In the end, Mr. Bennett was forced to stand behind the rabbanim and put the proposal on hold. The threat made by the chief rabbis, that they would resign if the law passed, made it quite clear that this was a line they were not prepared to cross. From the point of view of ultra-Orthodox Jewry, official recognition of the Reform movement in Eretz Yisroel would compel the more observant sectors of the population to produce texts on genealogy as a means of redefining “Who is a Jew.”

To understand the new legislative initiatives the Bayit Yehudi chairman is trying to advance, we need to go back to his proclamations from before the elections. Bennett didn’t hide his opinions. He repeatedly said, “There are hundreds of thousands of immigrants today from the former Soviet Union who are not Jewish according to Halacha, however, it is possible to convert them in a much easier fashion… Yet, the institution of the rabbinate is killing them. For example, you have someone who emigrated from the Ukraine, serves in the army, lives like a Jew, wants to be a Jew, and is ready to do a series of activities in order to become a Jew. However, he’s not prepared to be humiliated and [then] rejected. I say: Come, let’s bring them in to us. Who will fight for this today? Only we will.”

Here’s another statement Bennett made often during last year’s campaign: “Who will ensure that the country will be Jewish and Zionist? Who will ensure the conversion of the hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the former Soviet Union who today are not allowed to convert? Who will make certain that the majority of the traditional Sephardic community will receive a Jewish Zionist education, not a chareidi education? Who will ensure this? Only we will.” But above all, there was Bennett’s real election promise: “The party will make it possible for a young couple that wants to get married to see a Zionist rabbi, and not a non-Zionist rabbi.” And when Bennett says “non-Zionist,” he means an ultra-Orthodox rav who will make certain to maintain the protective walls of Judaism and not marry couples without first ascertaining their status as Jews.

As a result, no one can really come with any complaints against Mr. Bennett. After all he had made certain promises, and now he wants to fulfill them. The real question is: Where were all these rabbanim until now? Maybe they hadn’t supported him openly, but neither did they make any effort to block his road to electoral victory, or at least impose conditions for their support.

3.

The problem did not begin with Knesset Member Stern’s legislative proposal or even with the weakness of the Bayit Yehudi Party and its leaders. The Knesset’s legislative system takes positions on Judaism that are far too independent. Therefore, as long as MKs fail to internalize that they are not the authority in determining Torah matters, we will continue to have a serious problem with their agenda of social activism on religious issues. This system is trying to eat away at the country’s holiest institutions, offering a perilously new interpretation of the basic principles of Torah. Regrettably, many of the politicians in Eretz Yisroel fail to understand the difference between an Israeli and a Jew. Again and again, we hear about the efforts to redefine who is a Jew according to the national definition of a citizen of the state of Israel. The fulfillment of Torah and mitzvos is no longer the formula for belonging to the Jewish People; instead it’s the fervent devotion to the nuances of Israeli culture.

It was regarding this issue that the Rebbe wrote to David Ben-Gurion in 5719: “It is precisely in Eretz Yisroel that there exists the danger that a new generation will grow up, a new type bearing the name of Israel but completely divorced from the past of our people and its eternal and essential values; and, moreover, hostile to it in its world outlook, its culture, and the content of its daily life; hostile – in spite of the fact that it will speak Hebrew, dwell in the land of the Patriarchs, and show growing enthusiasm for the Tanach.”

This letter was a continuation of the Rebbe’s reply on the issue of converting children to Judaism who were born of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother. “This is in reply to your letter regarding my opinion on the registration of children of mixed marriages, when the father is a Jew and the mother a non-Jew who did not undergo conversion before the birth of the child,” the Rebbe wrote him.

The Rebbe related to Ben-Gurion’s question whether to show leniency in the conditions for conversion in the Jewish homeland: “The above applies not only to children whose parents or guardians declare their desire to register them as Jews, but to whoever comes forward to declare his wish to change his status in order to enter the Jewish community. Such a declaration has no force whatsoever unless he actually fulfills, or has fulfilled, the appropriate conversion procedure as laid down in the Jewish codes of the Shulchan Aruch.”

In addition, the Rebbe noted several points at the conclusion of his correspondence. Among these points, the Rebbe wrote the following:

“The question of registration, or however it may be described, is not a matter confined to Eretz Yisroel alone. It goes without saying – as explained in your letter – that no one may raise a barrier between the Jews of Israel and those of the Diaspora. On the contrary, all our brethren, wherever they may be, have constituted one people, from the moment of their emergence in spite of their dispersion in all the corners of the world. Consequently, the solution of the problem must be one that is acceptable to all members of the Jewish People everywhere, one that is capable of forging and strengthening the bounds between unity of all Jews, and certainly not one that would be cause, even the remotest, of disunity and dissension. Accordingly, even if you may argue that the present conditions in Eretz Yisroel call for a special study of the abovementioned question, those conditions do not restrict the problem to Eretz Yisroel, but, as noted, constitute a matter of common concern to every Jew everywhere.”

“The belonging to the Jewish People was never considered by our people as a formal, external matter. It has always been defined and delineated in terms of the commitment of the whole being of the Jew, something intimately linked with his very essence and innermost experience. Accordingly, any movement which disregards or belittles any of the procedures in this connection degrades the feeling of belonging to the Jewish People and cannot but be detrimental to the serious and profound attitude toward the Jew’s inner link with his people.”

“To ease the conditions of transition and affiliation to the Jewish People – particularly in the special circumstances of Eretz Yisroel, surrounded by countries and peoples unsympathetic towards it (that is an understatement) – is to endanger considerably the security of Eretz Yisroel.”

 

 

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