Disenfranchised Jews

Plenty has been written about the propriety of the decision of Israel’s Rabbinical Court to revoke or call into the question the conversions of thousands of Jews-by-choice. While there isn’t much new to report, there was an interesting article recently in the Jerusalem Post of one particular conversion annulment.

Yossi Fackenheim, son of a famous Jewish theologian and holocaust survivor, was converted to Judaism at the age of two by an Orthodox Rabbinical Court in Toronto. His conversion was recognized by the Jerusalem Rabbinate Marriage Registrar when he and his wife were married, and he had a supporting document of recognition from the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. Yet when Fackenheim and his wife came before the Jerusalem Rabbinate to obtain a get (divorce), Rabbi Yissachar Dov Hagar said it was unnecessary because Fackenheim isn’t actually Jewish. He came to this conclusion because Yossi’s mother wasn’t Jewish when he was born, ignoring the fact that she converted soon after his birth and the family adopted an Orthodox lifestyle. Furthermore, since Yossi was converted as an infant, he accepted the conversion as binding at his bar mitzvah. Until he faced this one Rabbi, he had always been considered a Jew.

It dampens the spirit every time a new story surfaces about members of the community who are disenfranchised, but something Yossi was quoted as saying in the article caught my eye since it speaks directly to why this is so hurtful. He said:

“I am a Jew and I was raised as a Jew in a Jewish home where I received Jewish values throughout my entire life.”

This sentiment is applicable to more than just those who have converted to Judaism – the same can be said about children of intermarriage, particularly those whose mothers have a different religious background but are raising a Jewish family. If we want to truly strengthen the Jewish community, we should welcome in all those who have a connection to Judaism and have chosen to live their life as a Jew. In Yossi’s case, its mind boggling that the court would not accept the conversion of both the mother and her son, and supporting documents, as evidence. Invalidating someone’s status because they don’t meet impossibly high criteria will only serve to fraction the Jewish community.

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