(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Conference of European Rabbis announced this week that it would not recognize converts who were converted by rabbis in Israel, singling out Rabbi Haim Druckman, head of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate's State Conversion Authority.
"We oppose the phenomenon of Israeli rabbis shuttling to Europe especially to perform a conversion and then shuttling back," said Rabbi Moshe Lebel, Rabbinical Director of the Conference of European Rabbis (CER) in a telephone interview from Moscow. "These rabbis are not familiar with the reality in Europe," he added.
"I know of several cases where Druckman and other Israeli rabbis performed conversions for people who lived in communities in places like Germany and Scandinavia where it was almost impossible to adhere to a religious way of life. There was no minyan [prayer quorum], no kosher butcher, no mikveh [ritual bath]." The CER's decision comes just two weeks after a judge who sits on Israel's High Rabbinical Court, the most senior rabbinical body in the state, cast doubt on the validity of conversions performed by Druckman in Israel.
The judge, Rabbi Avraham Sherman, accused Druckman of numerous charges, including forging court documents and accepting converts without demanding that they adhere to Orthodox Jewish practice. Sherman also accused Druckman of misusing conversions to solve the problem presented by the arrival of about 300,000 immigrants from the Former Soviet Union to Israel who are not considered Jewish according to Jewish law, but who are eligible for automatic Israeli citizenship according to secular Israeli law. Jewish leaders consider these immigrants a potential danger to the continuity of a Jewish majority in Israel. However, according to most rabbinic opinions conversion is not authentic unless the potential converts accept upon themselves an Orthodox Jewish lifestyle.
In addition to authorizing conversions in Israel, Druckman has also performed dozens of conversions in European communities where there was no recognized rabbinical court. In the wake of Sherman's accusations, the CER has decided to invalidate all conversions performed by Druckman or other Israeli rabbis operating like Druckman in Europe.
"In Israel the argument can be made that non-Jews who convert continue to live in a state with a Jewish majority in which the dominant culture is more or less Jewish," said Lebel.
"But in Europe it is of utmost importance that the potential convert belong to a strong Jewish community after his or her conversion. The convert needs the support of the community to remain religious and observant."
In sharp contrast to the CER's stance, the Rabbinic Council of America, the largest rabbinic organization in North America, came out in defense of Druckman. It issued the following statement on its Internet site over a week ago: "The RCA finds it necessary to state for the record that in our view the (CER) ruling itself, as well as the language and tone thereof, are entirely beyond the pale of acceptable halachic practice, violate numerous Torah laws regarding converts and their families, create a massive desecration of God's name, insult outstanding rabbinic leaders and halachic scholars in Israel, and are a reprehensible cause of widespread conflict and animosity within the Jewish people in Israel and beyond. The RCA is appalled that such a ruling has been issued by that court.
"Given the very public nature of the challenge posed by the ruling in question, we call on the Chief Rabbis of Israel to reaffirm their support of the Conversion Authority and its leadership in clear and unambiguous terms at the earliest possible time. Until that will happen, each passing day will cause reprehensible anguish to halachic converts, irreparable harm to the fabric of the Jewish people, and a considerable debasement of the good name of Torah, halacha, and tradition."
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