There has been quite a controversy in Israel recently surrounding the decision by the Supreme Rabbinical Court to overturn the conversion of a woman who converted nearly fifteen years ago. The court said she had not lived up to her obligation to adhere to strict ritual Jewish law, so they retroactively stripped her of her chosen religion.
This episode is particularly painful as it took place so close to the holiday of Shavuot, which begins this Sunday night. On this holiday we read the Book of Ruth, a story about the first official convert to Judaism. Ruth became a Jew with the simple declaration to her mother-in-law: “Your people will be my people; your God, my God.” And in the eyes of God, that was enough.
In light of all this, JOI’s Rabbi Kerry Olitzky penned an article for the website On Faith, a joint venture of The Washington Post and Newsweek. The article makes the argument that, in a day and age when people are switching religions more than ever before, the legitimacy of a person’s conversion should not be defined solely by a supreme court, but more by the person’s life after they have converted. This woman in Israel had raised a Jewish family, lived a Jewish life, but because she was not as thorough in her belief as the strict orthodox council, they voided not just her religion, but also the religion of her children. Kerry writes:
It shouldn’t matter if a conversion ceremony was elaborate, or a simple declaration followed by righteous deeds. Religions should be open to everyone searching for meaning, and Shavuot is a good time for Jews to recognize and appreciate all those who have chosen to become part of the community.
Whether you celebrate the holiday with all night study groups or a plate of cheese blintzes, all of us at JOI want to wish you a happy and healthy Shavuot.