Sounding the clarion call on conversion

He is a towering authority in Orthodox Halacha, a great authority on Maimonides, a yeshiva head in Israel, a former principal of Jews’ College....

August 13, 2015 20:45
3 minute read.
Rabbi Nahum Rabinovitch

Rabbi Nahum Rabinovitch. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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‘Probability and Statistical Inference in Ancient and Medieval Jewish Literature” is the title of a doctoral thesis that earned its author a doctorate at the University of Toronto.

Prior to that he had gained a master’s degree in mathematics at John Hopkins University.

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The recipient was the 87-year-old Rabbi Nahum Rabinovitch who this week led a new rabbinical court that converted a small group of youngsters to Judaism.

He is a towering authority in Orthodox Halacha, a great authority on Maimonides, a yeshiva head in Israel, a former principal of Jews’ College, London that ordained ministers of religion for the Jewish communities of the British Commonwealth.

Among his many pupils was Lord Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks, the former British chief rabbi.

A few months ago I attended a convocation of Bar-Ilan University which bestowed an honorary doctorate on the rabbi, alongside President Reuven Rivlin. No person in the halachic world can dare to question the man’s intentions or devotion to the Almighty. This pious giant on our scene is not a “rebel” who has suddenly come out to confront the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.

This is a figure of historic proportions who has decided to take a bold and courageous step together with outstanding authorities at his side, to correct a grievous wrong committed against hundreds of thousands of immigrants to Israel who have come here under the Law of Return and have then been denied a friendly path to Judaism.


This call of Rabbi Yaakov Medan, a great rosh yeshiva and a partner and disciple of Rabbis Yehuda Amital and Aharon Lichtenstein of blessed memory, and Rabbis Shlomo Riskin and David Stav, two municipal rabbis of key communities – both leading figures on the Israel and international scenes – is not only directed at the chief rabbis of Israel. It is a cry of anguish and deepest concern addressed to the prime minister of Israel – the nearest there is today to the leader of the Jewish people. Surely he has both a moral and legal obligation to establish a system in Israel that will grant full citizen status including regarding personal status to every person entering the gates of Israel under the Law of Return. Surely a leader of the Jewish people must act forcefully to unite the various sects and factions and create an urgent program to save the Diaspora from ultimate extinction.

Rather than stand aside for transient political considerations, surely the prime minister would benefit from the rabbis’ wisdom by inviting all of them or their leader for a meeting to discuss the issue at hand. I am convinced both he and the public in both Israel and the Diaspora would benefit from such an encounter.

The situation on conversion in Israel is deteriorating from day to day. The IDF’s Nativ program for conversion during active service has never been at a lower ebb. Fewer than 50 percent of the candidates fail the tough oral exams that appear to be crafted so as to discourage conversion. The number of children born in Israel to parents who have not converted exceeds tens of thousands. Child conversion should be at the top of our national agenda in this field and it should not have necessitated the act of Rabbi Rabinovitch to sound the clarion call loud and clear.

He has stated in recent days that he will not be stymied by the reactions to the step taken, but he would surely prefer a true change of heart in Jerusalem rather than continue saving lives for Judaism in the manner done this week.

This is also a moment in history for the Jewish communities in the North America to make their voices heard. A few days ago the prime minister addressed them on a matter of grave concern to the security of Israel. He called upon them to unite behind him; this is the opportunity for North American Jewry to call to him to unite behind Rabbi Rabinovitch and his colleagues.

Surely the prime minister owes this to the Jewish people.

The writer is a former head of the Mossad and chairman of the Triguboff Institute

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