Main concern of Chief Rabbinate: No abhorrent practices

Non-Orthodox rabbis don’t realize they play with fire with their easy conversions, weddings and divorces.

November 12, 2013 22:25
3 minute read.
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men.

Haredim lots of haredim 521. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

On Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, during the Mincha prayer we read the biblical admonitions against abhorrent practices (forbidden unions and sexual practices): “All who do any of those abhorrent things – such persons shall be cut off from their people. You shall keep My charge not to engage in any of the abhorrent practices that were carried on before you, and you shall not defile yourselves through them: I the Lord am your God” (Leviticus 18:29- 30).

In my view the Chief Rabbinate in their rulings on conversion, marriages, and divorces make these admonitions their overriding concern.

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The Torah warns us bluntly: “Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, for it is by such that the nations I am casting out before you defiled themselves.

Thus the land became defiled; and I called it to account for its iniquity, and the land spewed out its inhabitants” (ibid. 24-25).

Why do we read of these extreme penalties on Yom Kippur? The Torah says “No one misbegotten shall be admitted into the congregation of the Lord; none of his descendants, even in the tenth generation, shall be admitted into the congregation of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 23:3). The “misbegotten,” or mamzer, referred to here is not the offspring of non-Jewish women nor of sexually active unmarried Jewish women. The misbegotten or bastard is specifically the offspring of a union of a type forbidden by Leviticus, or of adultery, which carries a death penalty: “If a man is found lying with another man’s wife, both of them – the man and the woman with whom he lay – shall die. Thus you will sweep away evil from Israel” (ibid. 22:22).

Rabbis view a possible mamzer with the same seriousness as they do adultery. For example, actual death penalties for adultery were virtually non-existent because the smallest doubt would completely exonerate the parties. Likewise a true, certain mamzer would also be virtually impossible. The smallest doubt would completely clear the mamzer so he could marry in Israel.

Former chief rabbi Shlomo Goren, of blessed memory, in a famous case found five reasons to rule that the children of a woman’s second marriage could marry in Israel. Many thought, based on Deuteronomy 23:3, that these children could never marry in Israel since their mother had an earlier marriage in Israel, left the country without a proper divorce, and remarried and had new children.

The Torah views marriage as extremely sanctified: Hence a man “leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, so that they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Likewise the Torah views true conversions as extremely sanctified: “There shall be one law for the citizen and for the stranger who dwells among you” (Exodus 12:49). So, too, divorces: “A man takes a wife and possesses her. She fails to please him because he finds something obnoxious about her, and he writes her a bill of divorcement, hands it to her, and sends her away from his house” (Deuteronomy 24:1).

Non-Orthodox rabbis don’t realize they play with fire with their easy conversions, weddings and divorces. Sad to say, but non-Orthodox allowing easy conversions, weddings and divorces would make for confusion regarding the proper status of mothers and fathers and would thus surely contribute to an increase in the abhorrent practices that would put our people in danger of another exile, Heaven forbid, much as God exiled the wicked nations before us.

It is the very strictness of Orthodox conversions, weddings and divorces that enables the leniencies of declaring offspring of a Jewish mother to marry in Israel notwithstanding Deuteronomy 23:3. The Orthodox rabbinate seeks foremost that the Jewish people obey the Torah: “And when Moses finished reciting all these words to all Israel, he said to them: Take to heart all the words with which I have warned you this day. Enjoin them upon your children that they may observe faithfully all the terms of this Teaching. For this is not a trifling thing for you: it is your very life; through it you shall long endure on the land that you are to possess upon crossing the Jordan” (Deuteronomy 32:45-47).

The author is a professor of economics and accounting at Ariel University Center of Samaria and is taking exams for the rabbinate given by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.

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