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Tuesday
Nov112014

WHO IS A JEW? WHEN WILL THEY EVER LEARN?

Just as you cant put a square peg into a round hole, you cant tell someone who isnt Jewish that he really is a Jew. There is no room here forcompromiseorconsensusbecause were not conducting negotiations between two sides. Theres only one side authorized to determine according to Judaism who is part of it and who isntand thats the Holy Torah, as expressed in the Shulchan Aruch, not some decision by this or any other government of Israel.

Translated by Michoel Leib Dobry

1.

Weve already become used to public firestorms in recent years over the issue of conversion. Once it was the mass conversion of non-Jewish soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces, then there was the conversion of minor children without their accepting the yoke of Torah and mitzvos, and later there were these one-time campaigns promoting wholesale conversions of one type or another. This time, however, it appears that were talking about the mother of all threats against the protective wall of Yiddishkait. 350,000 Gentiles who emigrated to Eretz Yisroel from the former Soviet Union are threatening to undergoquickie conversionswithout accepting the yoke of Torah and mitzvos. The main thing is to be registered as full-fledged Jews in the population bureau of the Israel Ministry of the Interior. This means that in another generation or two, we wont be able to know who is a Jew and who isntat least not according to the existing lists of information we make use of today.

This specific decision by the government of Israel will permit any municipal rabbi to perform his own conversion. The immediate consequences are that any rabbinical figure can be given control over the gates of entrance to the Jewish People. He decides whom he wants to convert and what the criteria are. Last week, the Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Eretz Yisroel, Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef, expressed his intense opposition to the new law, claiming that its entire purpose is to enable two particularly lenient rabbanim, who presently serve as the rabbis of local councils, to make conversions as they see fit. Their past history includes a whole series of extremely problematic conversions, and now they wish to solve the problem of the 350,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union who want to register as Jews through the very conversion courts they are planning to set up.

The governments decision is essentially a direct continuation of the promises made by several leading politicians during the last Knesset election campaign regarding the wholesale conversion of hundreds of thousands of Gentiles. As you may recall, the chairman of the Bayit Yehudi Party ran his campaign on this issue, and he made countless campaign promises together with the leaders of other parties seeking votes within the Russian immigrant community, such as Yesh Atid and Yisrael Beiteinu. The proposal that was eventually accepted, given the namethe deciderssuggestion”, had been submitted by Rabbi Chaim Druckman, who initiated the proposal drafted and approved by the Cabinet. It came as a compromise between the originalConversion Lawoffered by MK Elazar Stern (HaTnua) and the demands of the chief rabbis who vehemently opposed the legislation.

The most significant change that Rabbi Druckman managed to make in the original law was the excision of a clause recognizing Reform conversions. “The original law was terrible and negative from three major aspects,” Rabbi Druckman explained. “The first was the total removal of the conversion process from the chief rabbinate of Eretz Yisroel, whereas in the governments proposal, the chief rabbi of Eretz Yisroel is the one who signs on each conversion certificate.”

In contrast, the spokesman for the Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Eretz Yisroel, Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef, stated thatas we have been aware of in the past, the approved government decision on the issue of conversion is unacceptable to the chief rabbinate. It deceives the convert, and it causes injustice to those undergoing conversions. The Rishon LTziyon, the chief rabbi of Eretz Yisroel, Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef, will request holding a discussion in the chief rabbinical council at the next meeting, where they will determine the paths of action in light of the decision.”

In a letter issued by Rabbi Yosef, he wrote thatthe governments decision places the chief rabbinate and all rabbis in Eretz Yisroel and the world in a situation where they will have difficulty recognizing these conversions. Therefore, there is no possibility of support from the rabbinate for the government proposal on the issue of conversion. While this is less severe than the Conversion Law, this is by no means sufficient, and I already told Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in our conversation that itssix of one, a half dozen of the other.’”

2.

En route to passing this government-sponsored legislation, designed to strip the chief rabbis of their authority to sanction conversions and transfer it to any local rabbi according to his personal philosophy and outlook, its sponsors forgot one crucial fact: Only Yiddishkait can decide who is a Jew and who isnt. In other words, neither the Knesset nor the government of Israel can issue a declaration on who is considered Jewish; only someone authorized to make a Halachic ruling according to Jewish law can do that. And who is a Jew? Only someone who is a part of Judaismand only Judaism, the authentic Judaism of Moshe Rabbeinu, Dovid HaMelech, and Mordechai HaYehudi can make that determination. As for all those bleeding hearts who claim that the rabbinate is not fulfilling the commandment ofAnd you shall love the stranger,” they apparently never opened up the Laws of Conversion, which state that when a Gentile comes asking to convert, you dont effortlessly fling the gates open for himquite to the contrary. First, he must prove that he truly wants to become a part of the Jewish People, only then do you open the door for him. Furthermore, none of this can happen without an acceptance of the yoke of Heaven, i.e., an uncompromising commitment to Torah and mitzvos.

In this saga, some run-of-the-mill Knesset Members decided that they have the authority to determine who is a Jew. One government minister declared last week that they tried to solve the conversion problem by reaching an agreement with the chief rabbis. However, when these efforts proved unsuccessful, they decided to draft their own legislation to deal with the issue. He apparently forgot that were not talking about coalition negotiations or budget talks. We dont have two sides here seeking to hammer out a settlement to solve a problem by consent. This is because the chief rabbis would not agree to the proposal, and the reason is quite simple: According to Shulchan Aruch, it is impossible to accept these conversions. If these converts are in fact not halachically Jewish, no government decision of any kind can turn them into Jews.

However, anyone who still needed proof of the calamity created by this legislation got what he wanted with the speedy announcement by the Reform Movement that it welcomed the Cabinets approval of the proposal. The Reform Movement noted that it would continue with its own conversion program, in the hope that the state of Israel and its institutions would eventually recognize them as well. “The governments decision is the moment of truth for the religious-Zionist rabbis, who until now have refrained from taking any significant action in the area of conversion,” it proclaimed. “In the coming months, it will be made clear whether the rabbisfaces are turned to the entire Israeli public or towards extremist forces within the Orthodox establishment.” Even the Itim Organization, identified with the Reform Movement, welcomed the decision, stating thatthe governments decision is an important declaration of principles and a ray of light for the converts.”

Even before the Cabinet approved the proposal, Prime Minister Netanyahu invited the chief rabbis for a meeting in his office. This took place when the original Conversion Law submitted by MK Elazar Stern was still being considered. The prime minister was trying to push for the compromise offered by Rabbi Chaim Druckman, removing the clause granting authority to the Reform Movement for making conversions, while transferring the process to all municipal rabbis. “Just as the government cannot interfere in the countrys health system without the doctorsconsent, similarly, it cannot interfere in the conversion process without the approval of the chief rabbis,” the rabbanim told the prime minister.

The truth is that there were several government ministers who have become confused recently, thinking that they have power no less than the Sanhedrin. Theyand only theyshould be the ones to establish the position of Judaism in such matters, as per their judgment. The government proposal that was eventually approved had been submitted by two Cabinet members: Justice Minister Tzippi Livni and Economics Minister Naftali Bennett. Maybe next time theyll announce their candidacies for the chief rabbinate.

Just as you cant put a square peg into a round hole, its impossible to tell someone who isnt Jewish that he really is a Jew. There is no room here forcompromiseorconsensusbecause were not conducting negotiations between two sides. Theres only one side authorized to determine according to Judaism who is part of it and who isntand thats the Holy Torah, as expressed in the Shulchan Aruch, not some decision by this or any other government of Israel.

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