Over the years I do not recall having publicly responding to a talkback on my blog. Most are ad homonym attacks that barely relate to the content on my posts. I am making an exception as this Talkback from Rabbi Riskin, whom I criticized in my previous blog, is well thought out and, is not from an anonymous reader.
I would also add that the issue of conversion legislation has, as far as the media is concerned, largely been on the back burner as the government and the major Jewish denominations, are seeking to find solutions with which we can all live.
Finally, since Rabbi Riskin has a large and serious following in the religious-Zionist community (I too self-identify as a Religious-Zionist along with my Masorti Movement) I feel that it is important to get beyond spin and hyperbola. In the end, I expect that Rabbi Riskin and I share a similar goal, even as we may disagree as to how we ought to achieve it. This would be to bring Jews closer to Moreshet Yisrael, and to live in peace with one another and with others around us.
In order to make the issues clear to the reader, and in order to be fair to Rabbi Riskin, I shall include Rabbi Riskin’s full remarks at the end on this blog.
To my Colleague Rabbi Riskin,
I am grateful to you for having taken the time to read my post and to react to many of the specifics.
I am still dumbfounded that you continue to hold by your statement that "Traditional Jewish law" requires Orthodox rabbis for conversion to be valid. Indeed you may feel that way about conversions. Indeed many Poskim will agree that only Orthodox rabbis are acceptable for a valid conversion. But "traditional" sources do NOT mention Orthodox anywhere. Indeed, many sources allow for a Beit Din of Hedyotot (lay people). I ask that you present a single source (Talmud, Rishonim, Achronim) who make such a demand. Indeed, Orthodox, as a movement, did not come into existence until relatively late. It was established as a reaction to the Reform (and to some degree the Conservative) movement. I would also point out there are Gedolim today who do not outright reject Masorti conversions (e.g Rav Ovadya in a responsum recently published in a Haredi journal).
I am certain that you too know of rabbis with Orthodox ordination that would not be fit to participate in a Beit Din. My approach is far closer to our tradition than your position: I ask that the participating rabbis on the Beit Din observe Halacha and that they are Yirei Shamayim. Denominational labels, while they do have a place in our community structure, ought not to be the deciding factor.
With regard to the Rotem bill, it NOWHERE, despite your assertion to the contrary, states "that a City Rabbi''s conversion could only be nullified if it were to be proven that there was something fraudulent in the conversion process."
Nor does it say ANYWHERE that " the conversion bill would not in any way change the status of non-orthodox conversions conducted in the Diaspora, which the Israeli Supreme Court has already decided would enable the convert to enter Israel under the "law of return". Indeed the bill does not even mention the Diaspora community.
And surely you must know that the Knesset has the authority to overturn Israeli Supreme Court decisions (unless they are related to Basic law) and Rotem has stated his desire to change which conversions are acceptable.
You write "What you did not seem to realize was that according to the Rotem bill, conversions would no longer be the exclusive aegis of the Chief Rabbinate; City Rabbis in Israel would have the power as well. "
Poppycock!!! The bill clearly, and unequivocally, states that the conversions of municipal rabbis are subject to the approval of the Chief Rabbi.
You may be correct about a revised bill - but I for one, am not holding my breath. Hard to image that MK Rotem will garner much support from the Diaspora community with whom he lost all credibility after promising to withdraw his bill if he did not obtain the support of the Masorti and Reform leadership . How is one to now accept his word.
But even more problematic was the kerfuffle brought about by his statement: “I don’t need their [the Diaspora leadership] support. I don’t like it when people tell me that their support for the State of Israel hangs on this. This is what I was told. ... I don’t like those kind of threats.
I challenge your neighbor MK Rotem to find anybody in the Masorti leadership who has wavered in his/her support for the State of Israel. Many have been frustrated by various government policies but this does not equate with support for the State. Many members of the RCA, the rabbinic organization in which you are viewed as a leading figure, were highly critical when their own conversions were rejected by both the Rabbinate and by the Interior Ministry after the RCA leadership entered into an agreement with the Chief Rabbinate that greatly limited the freedom of RCA rabbis to perform conversions that would be accepted by the State. (This, it seems may change in light of the pressure from Rabbi Seth Farber and the organization ITIM).
This very Chief Rabbinate that would take on even broader powers under the Rotem bill has already demonstrated its desire to be a sort of papacy – directing the rabbis, and rabbinic organization, around the world. This is the very same Chief Rabbinate that you have so often criticized.
Now I know you think that we may actually be diminishing the power of the Chief Rabbinate by opening the doors to the municipal rabbis. But the Rotem bill gives full authority on conversion matters to the Chief Rabbinate. There is no good
way to explain this away.
Again, I wish to make it clear that I deeply respect your wisdom and your accomplishments. But the spin your place on the Rotem bill is dizzying.
Rabbi Andrew Sacks
The above blog comes in response to the letter below. As the letters are all in the public domain there is no issue of confidentiality or sharing private correspondence. Below is Rabbi Rislin’s response to my Blog which was a response to a Dvar Torah Rav Riskin published in the Jerusalem Post and in other newspapers worldwide.
Dear Rabbi Sacks
I appreciated your letter in response to my article on conversion as well as the very nice things you said about me. However, if there is anyone who has the facts wrong, I believe with all due respect it was you.
You state that for me to have said that to be considered halachically Jewish, one has to have been converted before a religious court of 3 Orthodox Rabbis is "silly" makes you the individual who is totally out of touch with reality and the facts of halacha. By their own admission, the overwhelming majority of Reform and a goodly number of Conservative Rabbis whom I know and even respect do not themselves presume to keep the laws of the Shulchan Aruch. To say that 3 lay people from non-orthodox denominations or even 3 non-orthodox Rabbis who very well may have rejected laws of the Shulchan Aruch in their own practice are acceptable by traditional Jewish law as judges to oversee conversion certainly has not been the case for the last 250 years; I dare say it would never have been accepted by halachically committed communities.
Moreover, the proposed Rotem bill (in its most up to day reading) stipulated that a City Rabbi''s conversion could only be nullified if it were to be proven that there was something fraudulent in the conversion process. It further stipulated that the conversion bill would not in any way change the status of non-orthodox conversions conducted in the Diaspora, which the Israeli Supreme Court has already decided would enable the convert to enter Israel under the "law of return". Hence, the Rotem bill would not have endangered the present situation. What you did not seem to realize was that according to the Rotem bill, conversions would no longer be the exclusive aegis of the Chief Rabbinate; City Rabbis in Israel would have the power as well.
Having said all of this, I am grateful for your correct correction that under the law of return, anyone who had one Jewish grandparent, even from a paternal line, receives "of right" Israeli citizenship. Obviously "great grandparent" was a typo.
Finally, I believe we will soon be surprised with the revised Rotem bill which I truly believe the entire Diaspora community will gladly embrace.
Respectfully Shlomo Riskin Rav Riskin’s original Dvar Torah may be found at:http://www.jpost.com/JewishWorld/Judaism/Article.aspx?id=235405