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Sunday, May 04, 2008

If this evil decree is allowed to stand...

This past week I read a news story (another link here) that tripped all of my fuses.  It was about a decision handed down by Israel's High Rabbinic Court that, if allowed to stand, will destroy the lives of thousands of people.

Here's the Cliff Notes version:

Last year a married couple consisting of a man who was Jewish from birth and a woman who had converted to Judaism came before a lower Rabbinic court in Ashdod seeking a divorce.  The court initially granted the 'Get' (religious bill of divorcement), but for some reason took it upon itself to question the woman about her level of observance after the 'Get' had been given.

It turns out that after going through her conversion the woman did not continue to live an Orthodox lifestyle.  So the court issued another decision stating that the 'Get' that had just been granted was not required.  The reason being that since she had not maintained an observant lifestyle, they declared her conversion invalid.  Since a non-Jew does not need a 'Get'; ipso facto this woman did not need one. 

The case was appealed to the Rabbinic High Court in Jerusalem and an unprecedented decision was handed down.  In addition to upholding the Ashdod Rabbinic court's ruling about the woman's conversion being invalidated retroactively (making her children non-Jewish and unable to marry in Israel except to other non-Jews), the high court also INVALIDATED EVERY SINGLE CONVERSION signed by the head of Israel's conversion authority, Rabbi Chaim Druckman since 1999!

This politically-motivated, disgusting decision will mean that literally thousands of Israelis who were converted to Judaism by Rabbi Druckman (after an extensive course of study and verification of sincerity/lifestyle change), along with their children, are no longer Jewish and have been relegated to a legal and religious purgatory in the periphery of Israeli society.

I am a religiously observant Jew from birth who has accepted the yoke of Torah and all of it's commandments upon myself and my family.  But that does not mean I will bow to the Israeli Rabbinate's Vatican-like stranglehold on Jewish life in Israel. 

Therefore I am making the following declaration here and now before as many witnesses who care to read it:

If this evil decree is allowed to stand I will do everything in my power to champion a system of Dati Leumi (Nationalist Religious) courts and institutions to oversee all areas currently under the auspices of the Rabbinic High Court, thus making that court redundant and moot.

Furthermore, if these monsters are still in power when my children are old enough to get married, I will encourage them (my children, not the Rabbis) to go abroad to have a Halachicly kosher wedding rather than be subjected to the disgraceful and condescending humiliation imposed upon all Israelis by the Haredi-controlled Israeli Rabbinate at what should be the happiest moment of their lives.

I swear these things here and now in front of all of you.

Not surprisingly, My Obiter Dicta has a much more scholarly take on the topic, explaining how this is the Anti-Zionist Haredi Rabbinic leaders jumping on an opportunity to censure all 'Zionist Rabbis' and thwart their influence on religious life here in Israel.

On a related topic... as usual, Imshin nails it.

Posted by David Bogner on May 4, 2008 | Permalink


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Thank you Trepp for this post and above all for your pledge.

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | May 4, 2008 1:14:27 PM

whoa there. you assume that this was politically motivated. nothing in your post suggests this, and is in fact a serious accusation which needs to be supported, well.
you also assume that a rz bet-din -- your people -- would never do anything like this. and if they would, would you then seek to destruct that bet-din system and form another system that you find palatable? how about if 'your' bet-din did something else you find unconcionable? what then?
part of the mizrachi platform is, or at least was, to remain a part of the larger zionist movement in spite of all, and to serve as its religious conscience. to leave when things dont suit you just seems like a bail-out. if you think that the rabbinic court system was 'stolen' from the rz by hareidim, then, by god, take it back. (and you might want to consider why and how hareidim were able to do this to begin with.)

Posted by: fred | May 4, 2008 2:46:25 PM

Ilana-Davita... Not one of my more enjoyable posts.

fred... By the tone of your comment I suspect that you feel you have many of the answers you have asked me to provide. For the record, I do feel that this ruling is all about politics but I am not going to recount the history of the Israeli Rabbinate in order to support my feelings. You (or anyone else) can go to the 'My Obiter Dicta' post I linked to at the end and get a far more erudite summary of the high points of this argument. He also links to other sources. I also never suggested that the Religious Zionist Rabbinate (if one were officially formed and empowered) would be above politics and/or corruption. However, with the proper checks and balances (including transparency) in place one could at least state that a RZ Rabbinic Court would share the goals of the majority of the population. At present, the Rabbinate seems to be advancing an agenda of a very small minority of the people and literally saying 'to hell' (or to Gehenom) with the rest of the country.

Posted by: treppenwitz | May 4, 2008 2:57:22 PM

Yes, I can well imagine that!
However I can't help to feel sorry for all those people as well as their children. I suppose this really means they all have to convert again. It is appallling.
I am also worried about the implications for secular Jews who will once again have every reason to feel religion has nothing to offer to them. The "moderate" observant Jews (I do realise the term is awkward) need to make their voices heard. Thanks for doing it.

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | May 4, 2008 3:19:41 PM

Yup, its things like this which completely turned me off the thought of ever converting. I thought about it seriously at one point, but realised there would be absolutely no point. Some might say that yes, unless you're doing it for yourself you shouldn't do it, but would it have been so bad if I'd done it so my kids would have been Jewish? I don't know. One thing is for sure - it will never happen now!

Posted by: Katherine | May 4, 2008 3:36:24 PM

When the issue came up last year, just months before my conversion, I asked the rabbis who made up my bet din about it. It was explained that once a person converted, it was wrong to question them. Once a person accepted the 613 mitzvot and went to the mikveh: a convert was a Jew(there were other things, such as promising that I would do everything in my power to help other Jews in need, etc).

This wiping away the status of thousands of people tears at my heart. I'm still learning but it seems to me that a person's observance is not something that can be quantified by the number of mitzvot performed.

How can strangers, like those in the lower rabbinical court know what is in a woman's heart when she lights the Shabbat candles and accepts the peace and gift of Shabbat?

How can strangers know the uplifting a person feels as the kitchen is prepared for that first Pesach and a feeling of liberation is felt and makes the tedious labor seem like nothing?

How can strangers know what it feels like to bake Challah for the first time?

How can strangers know it is like trying to keep kosher when it is a three hour trip to buy kosher meats?

How can strangers possibly know what it feels like to prepare to build a sukkot for the first time? Or to fast for the first time on Yom Kippur?

Or to really, really feel for the first time when singing V'Shamru, that you are a part of b'nei Yisrael?

I feel as though I can understand the pain of those thousands of converts who have awoken and basically told they are no longer Jews. There are some who will not accept my conversion because it was a Conservative one.

Shavuot is fast approaching. It is said, every Jew stood at Sinai, including future generations, and said "We accept and we will do".

Pictures of Israel and of a bimah led me to say like those at Sinai, "I accept and will do".

Each of the thousands of converts who have been told they are no longer Jews had to say "I accept and will do". The stranger who nullified their conversions cannot possibly know what is in each heart and soul.

Posted by: shira0607 | May 4, 2008 3:45:44 PM

This court decision is extremely disturbing, but I don't know if it's right to jump to conclusions about it's background and certainly not to make it into a divisive "chareidi vs. dati-leumi: thing. There could be whole dimensions to this that we aren't even aware of from the media. Also, whatever individual judges might be basing decisions on, I don't see any reason to uniformly slander a very large group of Jews (chareidim), by suggesting that they are as a group calloused and uncaring about suffering imposed on others, and furthermore would corrupt halacha by grinding political axes in the Beis Din (a severe accusation). Whatever the background, this decision is certainly shocking, but I think it would be best to hold off on condemnation until the full details and circumstances are really established, or if we possibly don't have access to the full story, or at least hear both sides for themselves, then not to jump to conclusions. The point that this is very disturbing is clear in any case, but bad blood, hostility, and slander between equally religious and generally idealistic groups of Jews is just as disturbing to me. Even if what you are describing is true, bringing political agendas into halacha is simply corruption, but it's not fair to condemn thousands of people for the actions of a few, especially when there is no reason to assume that they would support something like this.

Posted by: Yosef | May 4, 2008 3:53:26 PM

Bitter experience has shown that most chareidim do not consider themselves and the Relgious Zionists to be "equally religious" - nor do they particularly praise religious Zionist "idealism".

Yes, it is politics.
Go read My Obiter Dicta.

People who blithely "slander very large groups of Jews", as you put it - shouldn't expect any more courtesy when The Rest of Us dismiss them.

Posted by: Ben-David | May 4, 2008 4:19:02 PM

This hareidi Jew is sorry you feel that way.

Posted by: Yosef | May 4, 2008 4:49:31 PM

At the end of the day Hashem judges each of us based on our deeds and what is in our hearts, not by the type of kippa we wear. We should also not do that to each other. A person is judged as an individual.

Posted by: Yosef | May 4, 2008 4:51:45 PM

Shira: Your eloquent sentiments, and your reference to שבועות (Shavuot) have rekindled a memory.... Many years ago, we attended the wedding of a couple -- one of whom was a convert. I honestly can not remember the exact circumstances -- suffice it to say, a less-than-polite/educated relative of the born-Jewish spouse made a less-than-complimentary comment about conversions in general -- but I DO remember the response of a well respected scholar in whose presence the comment was made, "From the house of Ruth, we have דוד המלך (King David), and it is from the house of דוד המלך that we will have מושיח (Moshiach). I, for one, expect great things from your marriage. May you together build a בית נעמן בישראל (bayit ne'eman b'yisrael/a blessed union)."

It is beyond me how, as we approach Shavuot, Ruth's legacy is being given such short shrift.... [sigh]

Posted by: zahava | May 4, 2008 4:52:44 PM

Yosef: We seem to have cross-posted.

At the end of the day Hashem judges each of us based on our deeds and what is in our hearts, not by the type of kippa we wear. We should also not do that to each other. A person is judged as an individual.

This statement really is at the heart of Trep's rant. How can a broad-based nullification of an ENTIRE group's status POSSIBLY take into consideration the thousands of individuals whose lives will be disrupted -- and likely destroyed -- by this ruling?

In the heart of the author of this post, is the worry of how this ruling will impact the individuals whose lives will be shattered if this decision is upheld....

Posted by: zahava | May 4, 2008 5:03:05 PM

...Vatican-like stranglehold...

Sorry, David, you lost me here.

Posted by: Meg | May 4, 2008 5:39:17 PM

The obvious concern Dave expressed in his post is clearly heartfelt and does him credit, as indeed to hurt people in this way, geirim especially, is such a grievous sin in the Torah. That it's really important to avoid this type of close-mindedness in any context is the main point I wanted to make. Factionalism is the root of so many tragic problems we have today.

Posted by: Yosef | May 4, 2008 5:47:43 PM

Ilana-Davita ... Don't thank me... I'm a giver. :-)

Katherine... Converting is a very big step. And the whole reason the Rabbis are supposed to be so tough on potential converts is because THERE IS NO GOING BACK! Seriously, you are going from 7 commandments to 613. You might have been the best non-Jew on the planet when it came to your 7 laws... but if you aren't serious about trying to keep the 613, you fail in an eternal kind of way. They don't want to set people up for that kind of failure. Yet here are these buffoons contradicting even that by saying, "Hey wait a minute... we CAN turn back the clock!". They can't have it both ways. Either it is a done deal... or it isn't.

shira0607... That is sort of my point. I doubt the three arrogant 'Rabbis' who made this decision took even a fraction of a moment to consider the thousands of individual lives they would be destroying. They simply wanted to attack Rav Druckman and this was the most expedient way to do that.

Yosef... Normally I would agree with you about the whole jumping to conclusions thing. But when the leaders of the Haredi establishment make a monstrous ruling that will impact literally nobody in their community... I have to call a spade a spade. My condemnation is of the men and the institution they represent. If there were even a few 'Dati Leumi' Rabbis salted in among the long black coats in the Israeli Rabbinate I would have no place to criticize, now would I. Lastly, "it's not fair to condemn thousands of people for the actions of a few" could just as easily be describing what these three Rabbis did to thousands of sincere, committed Jews just because of one woman who made the mistake of admitting to being human. And at the end of the day it is only the big black hats that have the power to destroy lives in such a callous way. With such a position comes responsibility. They don't seem to understand that.

Meg... VERY bad choice of words. I apologize. Let me try to explain. We Jews do not subscribe to the same hierarchy as Catholics when it comes to centralized authority. We have no conduit to G-d and we have no single person who is G-d' representative on earth. Even in our Talmud there are multiple schools of thoughts on nearly every issue and those schools struggle to reach clarity. When I said ...Vatican-like stranglehold... I was talking only about the fact that the Haredi Rabbinic leaders have set themselves up as Popes to a people who do not need or want a papacy.

Posted by: treppenwitz | May 4, 2008 6:01:13 PM

I think of the thousands of potential mamzerim created by this despicable ruling and my heart breaks...and my blood boils. I'm so sad and ANGRY at the same time. So many lives needlessly ruined!

I don't think these "rabbis" know or even care that not only are they turning potential converts and nonreligious Jews off from Judaism, they're also turning off religious Jews like me.

Posted by: RR | May 4, 2008 6:49:24 PM

Re: Zahava's comment above: "It is beyond me how, as we approach Shavuot, Ruth's legacy is being given such short shrift...."

Give them a few years, I'm sure the High Rabbinic Court could come up with a way to invalidate Ruth's conversion too. עמך עמי ואלקיך אלקי doesn't go as far as it used to.

Posted by: Mich | May 4, 2008 8:12:11 PM

I wouldn’t imagine spending some 2+ ('hard') years, and then have one ruling obliterate my commitment. I’ll stick with the debatable 7 and hope to have a place in the world to come.

If I may ask (dumbly), what is so special about having a Jewish wedding particularly in Israel when it can be done elsewhere the same way?

Posted by: Rami | May 4, 2008 8:57:28 PM

Thanks. :)

Posted by: Meg | May 4, 2008 9:11:32 PM

oh! The reason I ask (it obviously special to have a wedding there) but I've read of Jews who travelled a long way to have a wedding in Jerusalem but were not successful in doing so.

Case in point - If a Jew takes away the soul of another Jew there is nothing left.

Posted by: Rami | May 4, 2008 9:24:40 PM

Scratch my comment above- I messed up. It just hit me that I didn't think it through correctly and mistakenly thought that invalidating conversions would create mamzerim. It doesn't- it creates non-Jews, as you pointed out.

Sorry about that- I should have taken another minute to think about it before I hit the send key.

Nonetheless, this ruling is still horrible and shockingly unjust.

Posted by: RR | May 4, 2008 10:08:26 PM

Funny....here and there I mull moving back to Jlem. And then something like this comes up and I am reminded "oh yeah, that is why I left".

Give me sin city any day.

Posted by: Gila | May 4, 2008 10:36:07 PM

RR: You can relax about the mamzerim issue--the children of women converted by the discredited R. Druckman are not mamzerim, they're just non-Jews. (Mamzerim are davka the children of a Jewish woman and a man not her husband.)

Sadly, one sees rabbis treating each other shamefully in public a lot these days. The recent "accord" between the Israeli Rabbinate and the Rabbinical Council of America resulting in a finite list of Orthodox rabbis deemed qualified to perform conversions that will be recognized by Israel is another case in point. When rabbis do these things to EACH OTHER in public, how can a poor helpless convert hope to 'scape whipping?

As an Orthodox convert (who lucked out by converting with a member of the Rabbinate's Little List), my reaction is to sit back and wait a bit to see what happens. At the end of My Obiter Dicta's post was the following paragraph:

"The Dayyanim with whom I spoke surmised that the result will likely be a tremendous Hillul HaShem, compounded by having the anti-religious Supreme Court adjudicate this case. However, the court will likely emancipate the Minhal le-Giyyur from the supervision of the regular Shas/Degel Ha-Torah/Agudat Yisrael dominated Battei Din."

It would be quite a coup for the Israeli Supreme Court (who I suspect boasts of even less confidence of the people than the beards at the Rabbinate) to be R' Druckman's converts' Knights in Shining Armor. If they do succeed in imposing any reform at all on the Rabbinate, I'll bake 'em a big cake and deliver it personally, with my compliments.

Posted by: Shimshonit | May 4, 2008 11:08:36 PM

If you are serious, there are people who are working to do just that: change the system. But it is an uphill battle. Have you heard of Rabbanei Tzohar?

Posted by: Rivka with a capital A | May 4, 2008 11:44:38 PM

"Normally I would agree with you about the whole jumping to conclusions thing. But when the leaders of the Haredi establishment make a monstrous ruling that will impact literally nobody in their community..."
The hareidi world is quite diverse in reality. Whoever the rabbis are that made this decision, it might be a stretch to call them "leaders of the chareidi establishment". I'm not really sure there is any unified chareidi establishment. Also, I happen to know many chareidi geirim, so you are wrong to say it would impact no one in their community.
"I have to call a spade a spade. My condemnation is of the men and the institution they represent. If there were even a few 'Dati Leumi' Rabbis salted in among the long black coats in the Israeli Rabbinate I would have no place to criticize, now would I."
Why wouldn't you? If something is wrong it is wrong no matter who is doing it. Also, have you done any research into this story beyond blogs and ynet?
"Lastly, "it's not fair to condemn thousands of people for the actions of a few" could just as easily be describing what these three Rabbis did to thousands of sincere, committed Jews just because of one woman who made the mistake of admitting to being human."
That was the whole point of my original post. Since what is so shocking here is that this apparently has happened, I don't see how it's appropriate to turn around and do the same thing to anyone else. If we have a problem with closed-mindedness and factionalism, which we clearly do, then the solution does not lie in more of the same.
"And at the end of the day it is only the big black hats that have the power to destroy lives in such a callous way. With such a position comes responsibility. They don't seem to understand that."
I find the comment about the "big black hats" to be hateful. Any dayan is in a position of frightening responsibility. The hat has nothing to do with it. If the allegations from these articles are true, then there has been an awful abuse of power and chillul Hashem. But that is a result of individual action, not something that all people who wear black hats got up and collectively did one day. You are smearing hundreds of thousands of people with such statements. Do you really think that Chareidi Jews are so terrible that they would advocate en masse such a decision (if the story is actually being reported in all its dimensions, which I doubt)?
I am not posting to defend the indefensible- I find this decision, if it is what it appears to be here, horrifying. I do want to suggest that it is worthwhile to think more deeply about what really is disgusting here- I think Zahava articulated it well earlier- and make sure to disown such callousness anywhere it's found. But it starts with ourselves.

Posted by: Yosef | May 5, 2008 2:17:06 AM

So many real problems and what do they choose to focus on.

Posted by: Jack | May 5, 2008 11:43:38 AM

this decree is even worse than the capitulation with regard to Shmitta. Thank you David for bringing it to our notice.
Just who do those guys think they are at all? Some lower court decides something, (and you can guess what their level of sholarship is), then all the way up the line they get back-up 'cos no-one wants to look "liberal".
I was always told that anybody can say "forbidden", but it takes a big sage to say "permitted".
Someone wrote about the "discreditted" Rabbi Druckman. If I had to make a short=list of CREDITTED people in the rabbinical constellation, he'd be up in top few, in my uneducated opinion, as I don't really follow rabbinical politics, or is there something I don't know? Hope not.
Thanks again David.

Posted by: asher | May 5, 2008 1:05:11 PM

Asher: I was also raised with the idea that a real תלמיד חכם (talmid chacham/sage scholar) not only doesn't dismiss something out of hand, but will take the time to investigate the related issues with an eye to, where permissible, finding the means to say "yes" rather than "no."

Your comments, and our proximity to פסח (Pesach/Passover), remind me of a lovely שיעור (shiur/lesson) given by a beloved teacher about "The Four Questions" of the סדר (Seder). This particular Rav maintained that the status of the four sons was the result of how the parents had raised each of them: the חכם (chacham/wise) son was wise because his parents explained everything so that he should know, and be enabled to learn yet more; the רע (Rah/wicked) son was not really wicked, but uneducated because his parents couldn't be bothered to teach him; the תם (Tam/simple) son was simple because his parents underestimated his ability to understand/learn/be curious; and the שאינו יודע לשאול (Sh'aino yodayah l'shol/one who can not ask) is in this position because the parents have (yet) to model the behavior of "asking to understand."

Thus, the Rabbi contended that real purpose of the four questions is to remind parents, upon whose shoulders the responsibility of םדר (Seder) -- like חינוך (chinuch/education) -- that the best way to elicit preferred behavior is by modeling that behavior themselves.

Just something to think about....

Posted by: zahava | May 5, 2008 1:53:00 PM

Not protesting such horrible decisions is quite reprehensible, Yosef. When something is important enough, one makes the time to do something about it.

Two words come to mind when I think about the entire situation: oy vey.

Posted by: tnspr569 | May 5, 2008 4:57:14 PM

So let me try to understand something here - so is the message from the lower rabbinical court (the one who questioned the wife re: her Get) - if one wants to convert to Judiasm, they must always and forever lead a religious lifestyle or else they are not real Jews despite that their conversion is legal.

If you are Jew, you are a Jew - no matter if you are observant or not. And if legally you choose to become part of our Heritage, our nation, after accomplishing your goals and commitments for the legal part of conversion, the rest is your business.

Posted by: jaime | May 5, 2008 5:24:47 PM

WADR, Trep, you're a little late to this particular funeral. A certain subsection of the charedi leadership, if you can call it that, has been blundering about like a bull in a china shop for at least a year now, issuing decrees and bans with no regard either for actual halacha or for the people injured by their rulings. See Blog in Dm, Life-of-Rubin, and Rabbi Harry Maryles' blog for some rather egregious examples, as well as for many horrific issues that continue to be swept under the rug.

Although I must admit, cavalierly nullifying the gerut of thousands of converts would seem to be a new low.

BTW, as you know, I am far from being a charedi-basher.

Posted by: psachya | May 5, 2008 6:57:05 PM

I had a terrible thought, what about those who converted during their army service?????
I remember you hosted some of them a while ago.

Posted by: asher | May 6, 2008 6:37:00 AM

Rami: The story you showed contained (at least for that case) an answer to your question. The bride was Israeli, and the wedding was to take place (probably took place) near her home town.
This is not to say Israel isn't special, or that people might not have religious reasons for getting married there.

Posted by: Channah | May 6, 2008 6:01:11 PM

Thanks Channah. I'm confused. Trying to understand something I shouldn't. I take back my comment! :-)

Posted by: Rami | May 6, 2008 9:35:58 PM

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