MKs, rabbis to discuss conversion difficulties

In Tzohar Shavuot program, politicians and rabbis will discuss difficulties Ruth would face today in conversion.

Torah in TA (photo credit: Deborah S. Danan)
Torah in TA
(photo credit: Deborah S. Danan)
The Tzohar rabbinical association is planning an extravaganza of intellectualism, spiritualism and Torah study for the traditional all-night learning sessions of Shavuot, which falls out on Saturday night and Sunday.
A mix of speakers and educators will deliver talks on everything from workers’ rights to Jewish unity, assimilation to whether or not the biblical figure and Jewish convert Ruth would have succeeded in converting in Israel today.
Rabbis, MKs, rabbis who are also MKs, rebbetzins, social activists and other assorted public figures will be part of the program, which will span the country from Haifa to Tel Aviv.
The national religious organization has reached out to secular and religious communities alike, through local authorities, community centers and neighborhood organizations, and is expecting a healthy mix of the different sectors of the population to attend its programs.
Kadima MK Otniel Schneller will be speaking on a panel in Haifa Saturday night on the issue of Jewish education and Israeli society.
“The question is, are we educating our youth toward greater unity or greater segregation?” Schneller said in a conversation with The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
“Unfortunately at the moment, we’re raising a very ideologically divided generation which sees things in black and white,” he continued. “I want there to be more nuance, and for us to emphasize the common denominators which bind us all, that we’re Jewish, we’re Zionistic, we’re democratic.”
Schneller, who is modern Orthodox, said that a greater emphasis on openness to “the other” was necessary in the national education system.
“We need to get the religious education framework to start teaching more theater and literature, and the secular education system to teach more about Judaism, about the Mishna – not so that they necessarily keep more mitzvot, but so that they can relate better to the other,” he said.
Rabbi Boaz Ganot, head of Tzohar’s Community program, said that the concept of combining Torah study with current affairs for Shavuot study sessions was particularly appropriate for this festival.
“The Torah was given to the entire people of Israel, and therefore it is relevant to everyone,” he said. “The themes of the evening – social justice, dealing with the other, conversion – these are all issues which challenge us today. These are themes relevant to Ruth [whose story is read in synagogues on Shavuot].”
Ganot said that in modern Israeli society, there were many dividing factors, such as culture, social background, economic status and religion, but that the purpose of the Shavuot study program was to focus on the similarities, not the differences.
“Some things can’t be changed, but the way we relate to one another, how we approach and deal with each other and our attitude toward those not like us can be changed, and we need to increase the motivation to get closer and not to make ourselves further apart,” he said.
Habayit Hayehudi MK Uri Orbach will be speaking about the encumbered issue of conversion in the country today, comparing it to the situation that Ruth encountered when she converted to Judaism.
“Unfortunately the severe difficulties encountered by those who would like to convert is causing the phenomenon of intermarriage in Israel to get worse,” Orbach told the Post.
“It’s easy to be non-Jewish in Israel, so if a potential convert is dissuaded by the obstacles presented by the bureaucracy of the conversion system here, there is not too much to motivate him to convert,” he argued. “This doesn’t bother the secular community too much, and the haredi [ultra- Orthodox] community doesn’t marry outside itself anyway, but for everyone between these poles, it’s causing an extremely dangerous situation regarding intermarriage and the next generation of Jewish youth.”
Meanwhile, renegade Shas MK Haim Amsalem will speak about a matter dear to his heart: the unity, or lack thereof, of the Jewish people.
To be one nation, he said, we have to solve a few really urgent issues.
“The first is the issue of national service,” he told the Post. “If there is a feeling on the part of some that they are being exploited, if there is a situation in which some people are doing the hard work, are putting their lives at risk for the sake of the nation while others are not, then this can’t be called ‘am ehad,’ one people,” the MK said.
“There must be a common partnership in the responsibilities of serving and contributing to the state,” he continued.
“Those who are learning [in yeshivot] should be allowed to learn, but for all the rest, they must do some form of military or national service.”
Like Orbach, Amsalem will be focusing on the issue of conversion as well.
“If we’re not helping those who truly want to join the Jewish people, then we’re just strengthening the divide among ourselves and strengthening the fragmentation of society,” he said.