The son of the late Jewish theologian and Holocaust
survivor Emil Fackenheim plans to fight a decision by a
Jerusalem Rabbinical Court Judge to retroactively annul his
conversion of 27 years.
In August of 2008, Yossi Fackenheim, who was converted to
Judaism at the age of two by an Orthodox Rabbinical Court in
Toronto, had his conversion revoked by Rabbi Yissachar Dov
Hagar, a judge on Jerusalem's Rabbinical Court.
Hagar's decision was made during divorce proceedings
between Yossi and his former wife Iris, who were married as
Jews in Jerusalem by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel in 2001.
The two came before Hagar to finalize their divorce. But in
the midst of the divorce proceedings Hagar told Yossi that
there was no need for a get (divorce writ) since Yossi
was not Jewish as his mother was not Jewish at the time of his
birth. She later converted to Judaism.
Orthodox Jewish law does not recognize marriages between
Jews and non-Jews.
Hagar ignored various documents provided by Yossi including
a copy of his conversion certificate, an official recognition
of Yossi's conversion by Jerusalem Rabbinate Marriage
Registrar Rabbi Yitzhak Ralbag issued before the marriage and
a document issued by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel recognizing
In response to Hagar's decision, the Rabbinical Court
administration said, "during Mr Fackenheim's divorce
proceedings it became clear that he converted while still an
infant, before he was able to make a conscious decision to
"It also became clear during the proceeding that Mr
Fackenheim never adhered to an Orthodox lifestyle. The
rabbinic court decided that since Mr. Fackenheim's personal
status was unclear, a get would be issued to the wife.
However, no official decision was made regarding Fackenheim's
A witness who was present during the divorce proceeding but
who preferred to remain anonymous said that the presiding
rabbinical judge conducted the court session in a "surreal"
"First, the man was dressed like a Hassidic Rebbe, with a
satin robe and a huge fur hat, and not like all the other
rabbinical judges with simple black coats.
"Then the judge began to ask Yossi what he does for a
living. Yossi told him that he was a Shakespearean actor. The
judge responded that Shakespeare was anti-Semitic. We all
thought he was referring to a Merchant of Venice. There was an
attempt to convince him that in other plays Shakespeare came
off as philo-Semitic.
"But we quickly realized that he was not referring to
Shakespeare's work. He said that all goyim are anti-Semites.
Then he turned to Yossi and said, 'you aren't Jewish either.'
The implication was clear."
At the request of Iris's attorney, Jacob Segal, Hagar
agreed to draft a document that permitted Iris to remarry. But
Hagar added an appendix clarifying that Yossi was not Jewish
and called him "Yossi the Convert" since "we do not know who
are your mother and father," according to Yossi.
Yossi, who is presently in Britain working on a Masters
degree in acting, told The Jerusalem Post by telephone
that he intended to fight to "get my Jewishness back." But he
said that he was still unsure which avenue to take.
He said he was deliberating between appealing to the High
Rabbinic Court and filing a petition with the Supreme Court.
Yossi, who had no children with Iris, was concerned that
too much media exposure might endanger the conversions of his
siblings, also converts, and the status of their children.
In a letter of complaint to the Rabbinical Court, to the
court ombudsman and to Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, Yossi detailed
Hagar's degrading treatment.
The court ombudsman, former judge Eliezer Goldberg, has
opened an investigation of Hagar's courtroom behavior, said a
source who was asked to give testimony.
Yossi said that after it had become clear to Hagar that his
conversion had been conducted while he was still an infant,
the rabbinic judge began asking him questions.
"I told him [Hagar] that my father and mother adopted an
Orthodox lifestyle," recalled Yossi, "but that after my mother
became ill with Alzheimers our religious adherence wavered."
Yossi said that he did not recall if he and his family were
leading an Orthodox lifestyle at the time of his 13th
birthday, which, according to Jewish law, is the age at which
a male becomes responsible for his actions.
"I am dumbfounded and hurt by Rabbi Hagar's behavior," said
Yossi. "I am a Jew and I was raised as a Jew in a Jewish home
where I received Jewish values throughout my entire life.
"My father, Professor Emil Fackenheim, may his memory be
blessed, was a Holocaust survivor and devoted his entire life
to healing the wounds created by the Holocaust. He stood for
Jewish continuity and preventing assimilation.
In the wake of the Holocaust, Emil Fackenheim, who served
in Canada as a Reform rabbi, created the concept of the "614th
commandment," which posited that "one should not give Hitler a
"To despair of the God of Israel is to continue Hitler's
work for him," argued Prof. Fackenheim, who received a PhD in
Jewish philosphy from the University of Toronto.
He believed that people of Jewish heritage have a moral
obligation to observe their faith and thus frustrate Hitler's
goal of eliminating Judaism from the earth.
Fackenheim's son Yossi said the treatment he received at
the hands of Hagar was a direct transgression of this