Rabbinic courts accused of obstructing conversions

Prof. Benjamin Ish-Shalom accusses the courts of contributing to intermarriages for thousands of Israeli Jews.

By HAVIV RETTIG GUR
March 20, 2007 23:19
2 minute read.
Rabbinic courts accused of obstructing conversions

Rabbi Mordechai Eliahu 8. (photo credit: )

 
X

Dear Reader,
As you can imagine, more people are reading The Jerusalem Post than ever before. Nevertheless, traditional business models are no longer sustainable and high-quality publications, like ours, are being forced to look for new ways to keep going. Unlike many other news organizations, we have not put up a paywall. We want to keep our journalism open and accessible and be able to keep providing you with news and analyses from the frontlines of Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World.

As one of our loyal readers, we ask you to be our partner.

For $5 a month you will receive access to the following:

  • A user experience almost completely free of ads
  • Access to our Premium Section
  • Content from the award-winning Jerusalem Report and our monthly magazine to learn Hebrew - Ivrit
  • A brand new ePaper featuring the daily newspaper as it appears in print in Israel

Help us grow and continue telling Israel’s story to the world.

Thank you,

Ronit Hasin-Hochman, CEO, Jerusalem Post Group
Yaakov Katz, Editor-in-Chief

UPGRADE YOUR JPOST EXPERIENCE FOR 5$ PER MONTH Show me later Don't show it again

Rabbinic courts handling conversions are unnecessarily obstructing the willing conversions of thousands of non-Jewish olim, thereby contributing to intermarriage for thousands of Israeli Jews, according to Institute of Jewish Studies chairman Prof. Benjamin Ish-Shalom. For this reason, Ish-Shalom told The Jerusalem Post this week that the institute, a government agency charged with teaching non-Jewish olim for conversion, has suspended its cooperation with the rabbinic courts and called for the appointment of 50 new conversion judges who will support, rather than hinder, the conversion process. "The heart of the problem isn't just 300,000 non-Jewish olim," Ish-Shalom said, "but some 100,000 young families, mothers of birthing age, students, youth, soldiers, children, the population that will shape the identity of the next generation. There are tens of thousands of youth born in Israel to mothers who are not Jewish. They are growing up here, going to high school, will go to the army, and will not be Jewish. "This could cause tragedy here if someone doesn't take care of this issue," he maintains. The institute, known popularly as the Joint Institute for Conversion, was founded seven years ago in the wake of the Neeman Commission, which was formed to address the question of Israel's conversion policy. It runs 10-month educational programs that allow non-Jewish olim to study Judaism from a pluralistic perspective. The studies draw on the Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform streams of Judaism, and concludes with an Orthodox conversion at the state or (in the case of soldiers) IDF rabbinical courts. But "many systems who are part of this project, first and foremost the rabbinic courts, aren't working out of an understanding of an emergency that calls on us to deal with the particular needs of this population," Ish-Shalom believes. This lack of understanding is evident in decisions by courts that institute officials deem "irrelevant" to conversion, such as a demand that women agree to wear skirts, or that men agree to pray daily for the rest of their lives as a precondition for conversion. This attitude is not in keeping with the urgent situation, or with the requirements of halacha, Ish-Shalom told the Post. Furthermore, he adds, the dayanim (rabbinic judges) who issue such demands are not following the policies and decisions of leading halachic authorities Rabbi Hayim Druckman and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar." Furthermore, institute officials told the Post that there is no such problem with the IDF chief rabbinate, which has been working in cooperation with the institute on a project that has led to the conversion of some 2,000 soldiers. Last week, Ish-Shalom sent a letter to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announcing that the institute would stop sending participants to the state rabbinical courts. In a meeting held with Amar, Institute officials said he agreed to "consider positively" the request for new conversion courts and the appointment of rabbinic judges who share the more lenient perspective on halachic conversion. For Ish-Shalom, while adherence to halacha is paramount, a lenient halachic attitude is the difference between disaster and success. "Throughout Jewish tradition, there have been opinions on halacha that were more strict or more lenient. On conversion, we know that [Talmudic sage] Shamai sent potential converts away, while [fellow sage] Hillel taught them and brought them into the fold of the Jewish people. "Hillel's position was dominant for most of Jewish history. It isn't that Shamai's view isn't a legitimate view in halacha," Ish-Shalom believes, "but at a time when the situation is so dire, halacha says there is room to be lenient." At the end of the day, he concludes, "whoever is strict on conversion is being lenient on intermarriage."

Related Content

Jisr az-Zarq
April 3, 2014
Residents of Jisr az-Zarqa beckon Israel Trail hikers to enjoy their town

By SHARON UDASIN