Not surprisingly, articles and opinions are still being written regarding the ruling by Israel’s High Rabbinical Court to retroactively annul conversions – as well as look into all the conversions overseen by Rabbi Haim Druckman of Israel’s Conversion Authority. The decision is only a few months old, but it’s touched off a firestorm of controversy that appears to have no end in sight.
Writing in the Jerusalem Report, Rabbi David Ellenson, President of the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, makes the claim that annulling a conversion has “virtually no precedent in classical rabbinic tradition.” In upholding the decision, Rabbi Avraham Sherman “has called into question the Jewish status of 40,000 Israeli converts.” The practice, Ellenson says, is a 20th century invention. To illustrate his point, he brings up a similar case from 1970 in which the child of a woman who was found to have remarried without a proper divorce was denied a marriage license on the grounds that he was illegitimate. The resolution, which included annulling the conversion of the woman’s first husband, was “wildly hailed for the desired result it achieved.”
But one keen legal mind, Amnon Rubinstein, then dean of Tel Aviv University Law School, warned of the precedent now allowed – namely that a conversion could never be deemed permanent. Rubinstein believed the decision was “neither in accord with the highest traditions of Jewish law nor in the best interest of the Jewish people.” How right he was, says Ellenson.
Sherman surely has a right to his ruling. However, it is a tragedy that his decision is at this moment enforceable as law in Israel. It fails to take into account the collective interests of the Jewish people and the State of Israel in the modern era. All efforts should be made to repeal its legal authority.
Ellenson makes a great point. It’s unfair to tell a convert that if they aren’t up to strict, Orthodox standards, they aren’t Jewish. But many Orthodox, according to a piece in the Washington Post, believe God won’t stand for a “lack of religious devotion,” and that’s why Jews were originally expelled from the land of Israel.
“There’s something more important than the state of Israel and Zionism,” said Moshe Gafni, a member of Israel’s parliament who represents the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party.
There is something more important – it’s allowing Jews, whether born or newcomers, Reform or Orthodox, to practice the religion in a way that is meaningful to them. Israel is a thriving, modern democracy and it’s a step in the wrong direction to give a minority the power to forcibly remove a person from their chosen religion. Many people, especially immigrants, are flocking to Israel and Judaism – it’s time to embrace their desire to join our Big Tent and not make it harder for them to do so.
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