Sunday, May 18, 2008

Conversion crisis update

Summary and update of the present situation by Jerusalem Post

Religious affairs: G-d only knows where this will lead

A high-ranking source in the rabbinical courts said this week that the recent controversy over conversions, pitting rabbi against rabbi, has devastated the rabbinical establishment.

"I don't know if we will ever fully recover from this fiasco," he said.


But Sherman's most severe accusation was apostasy. He said that Druckman intentionally converted gentiles, even though he knew they would never adhere to Halacha, willfully transgressing the God's will.

This was a blatantly evil act, no matter how you looked at it, argued Sherman. If Druckman seriously believed that the gentiles he was converting were being transformed into full-fledged Jews, then he was committing the sin of placing a stumbling block before the blind. The instant these converts emerged from the ritual bath, God would expect them to eat only kosher food, keep Shabbat and adhere to a multitude of other commandments.

If these converts would not adhere to the Orthodox law, claimed Sherman - who said Druckman knew they would not - these converts would receive heavenly punishment like any other wayward Jew.

On the other hand, if Druckman's conversions were not valid, as Sherman claimed they weren't, Druckman was permitting gentiles to intermarry with kosher Jews, a colossal assimilation disaster that would destroy the purity of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel.

Either way, Sherman said, Druckman was unfit to preside as a judge. And since a panel of three kosher rabbinic judges was an integral and necessary part of the conversion process, any gentile whose conversion was overseen by Druckman had never really converted.


Sherman's attack also received the backing of the haredi daily, Yated Ne'eman, which has been spearheading a campaign against the Conversion Authority for years. Haredi rabbis are fundamentally opposed to the creation of a separate rabbinical body that specializes in making conversions as easy and user-friendly as possible. Rather, these rabbis believe that conversions should not be encouraged, but should be performed only in extraordinary situations, when the prospective convert is sincerely interested in embracing all Orthodox strictures.

But many secular Jewish leaders and religious Zionist rabbis see mass conversions as the best solution to the threat of intermarriage posed by the presence of about 300,000 non-Jewish Soviet immigrants and their offspring. These immigrants are fully integrated in public schools, the IDF, the universities and the labor force. Even secular Jewish leaders who do not accept Orthodox strictures in their day-to-day lives are strongly convinced of the danger to Jewish continuity posed by these gentiles if they are allowed to meet Jewish Israelis, fall in love and get married without being converted.

Religious-Zionist rabbis believe it is possible to encourage conversion among non-Jewish immigrants while maintaining the highest halachic standards. These rabbis have to juggle two competing goals: converting as many non-Jews as possible to prevent intermarriage, while uncompromisingly adhering to the demands of Jewish law which dictate that a prospective convert must be willing to embrace Orthodoxy.

Haredim, in contrast, are convinced that conversions can never be the solution to the threat of intermarriage, because for the vast majority of gentiles, adopting a strictly Orthodox lifestyle is simply not realistic. The only guarantee against intermarriage, argue the haredim, is maintaining strict separation from secular Israeli society.

Sherman's decision, though more aggressive in its wording, was just another salvo in the ongoing argument over conversions between haredim and religious Zionists. But it also defined more clearly the delineation between the warring camps, and it placed Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar squarely on the side of the religious Zionists.

Although Sherman's rabbinic invective focused mainly on Druckman and his former deputy, Rabbi Yosef Avior, the attack was also indirectly aimed at Amar, who is the overriding halachic decisor supervising conversions performed by the Conversion Authority. If, as Sherman claimed, thousands of converts were passing through the Conversion Authority in a non-kosher way, without any intention of adhering to Halacha, Amar could not escape culpability.

Immediately after the publication of Sherman's decision, Amar released a terse press release saying that he backed Druckman, and that all conversions performed by Druckman or by the authority would be recognized.

However, so far, Amar has refrained from addressing Sherman's specific accusations, one of which is that Druckman signed off on documents attesting to the fact that he was present at conversions when in reality he was not.

As a result, dozens of city rabbis who have read Sherman's claims against Druckman are hesitant to register converts for marriage. City rabbis, who as part of their job also serve as marriage registrars in their respective cities, are responsible for determining the Jewishness of couples who come before them with a request to marry.

Several rabbis told the Post this week that if a convert came to them to register for marriage they would have to consult with Amar first.

A near anarchic situation has been created in which one arm of the official, state-funded rabbinate, the High Rabbinical Court, is attacking another, the Conversion Authority - while the chief rabbi, who is the ultimate authority of both, is torn in half, and has yet to issue a definitive stand on the issue.



  1. Jerusalem Post articles should be read with skepticism. Their family of publications includes:

    1. Jerusalem Post Christian Edition
    2. Jerusalem Post whose subscribers have become increasingly Evangelical Christians because assimilated Anglo American Jews have shown decreased interest in Israeli affairs.
    3. The Jerusalem Report which is an independent editorial magazine.

    This article, seems to represent more of a HOPE (for the destruction of Rabbinic Judaism) than a reality.

    Among my extended family in Israel, even the most secular (who are QUITE non religious) are cheering the Sherman Psak. They are sick of living in crime ridden neighborhoods populated by anti Semitic goyim.

    Not one person I know in Israel (and I have been on the phone quite a bit lately) is shedding a tear that anti Semitic pigs who have made life in many Israeli neighborhoods unbearable could be sent back to where they came from.

    The only people who seem to be upset about this are Americans, Evangelical Christians and Jews who have a vested interest in sanctioning intermarriage.

    Perhaps any of the above should go live in Bat Yam, Ashdod, Askelon, Haifa, Taveria etc to try to live with these "gerim Tzadekim".

    My friend who lives there said to me this morning "After your sister is raped (G-d forbid), your brother beaten in the streets (G-d forbid), there are swastikas on the shul, insult is added to injury when you know that the government is supporting these people as "Jews" while genuine Jewish children go to sleep hungry, THEN TELL ME HOW WRONG IS RAV SHERMAN???"

    Right now among residents of neighborhoods populated by Russians, Rav Sherman will be celebrated right next to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai ztl at the Hilula this year. Seriously.


  2. And to those in America who fear that Jews in Israel will accidentally intermarry with non Jews in Israel I will quote my cousin from Israel who called this morning:

    "No one who is Jewish is going to marry with them unless they are LOOKING to intermarry. You know we are not in the Geulah, we are still in Galut. Anyone who WANTS to intermarry is going to, there are plenty of guest workers, tourists and other non Jews in Israel if a person goes for that sort of thing.

    To say that these people are "Jewish" is crazy. They walk around eating pork and showing Jewish people the pictures of Jesus and Mary they have in their pockets. You can't make these people Jewish.

    Why can't Americans understand this?"

  3. Jersey Girl says: "Among my extended family in Israel, even the most secular (who are QUITE non religious) are cheering the Sherman Psak. They are sick of living in crime ridden neighborhoods populated by anti Semitic goyim."

    Since Jersey Girl has already openly informed us all that she is of Moroccon parentage, it is no surprise that she seems to think that the chorus coming from all manner of Sefardim "cheering the Sherman psak" as if FIGURATIVELY SPEAKING they were lehavdil Palestinians cheering on Saddam's scuds falling on Tel Aviv, so that this is quite obvioulsy nothing to do with Halacha but is more of a reflection of the cultural divide and known animosity between the "have not" Israeli Sefardim and the highly succesful Russian olim, among whom happen to be a huge number of non-Halchic Jews as well. As for gangs on the street, the Sefardim invented them, like groups that belonged to the the "Black Panthers" in Israel (see )long before the latest crop of Russians even set foot there.

    Let's try to be totally fair for one minute, and not paint the Sefardim as the "unsung heros" of Israel, which they are far from being, and the Russian Jews with their associated non-Halachic brethren as demons deserving to be exorcised as if they were iredeemable "filth" which they are not because on the human level, the Russians as a whole have a huge advantage over the Sefardim and that is why they are of such benefit to the state of Israel: They are generally highly educated, well versed in science, mathematics and technolgy and are able to adapt to the manner of functioning in a Western democracy and making for successful memebers of an advanced technological society in the information age, whereas the Sefardim of Israel tend to be not like this: They are more traditional and have a stronger love of Judaism and tradition but they tend to be less amenable to modernisation and often fall into their old superstitious ways and they are very jealous of the Russians who have come from Communist system in the former USSR but have progressed quickly in modern Israeli society whereas the Sefardim tend to languish in poverty and anger due to their past cultural sterility of having lived in the objectively backward Arab lands.

    These are some things that need to be recognized before one veers off into discussions about how "great" the Sefardim are in relation to the "bad" Russians.

    And as for comparing Rav Sherman to Shimon bar Yochai, as Jersey Girl does, I think that she conveniently is jumping the gun and forgetting that Lag Ba'Omer was when the plague that killed Rabbi Akia's students stopped, and the Jewish sages say that one major reason they died out was that they did not honor each other (lo nehegu kovod ze beze) and it would seem (based on the criticism of leading rabbis such as Rav Aharon Lichtenstein) that the way Rav Sherman went about denigrating Rav Druckman in order to arrive at his pre-ordained view in any case (Rav Sherman's and Rav Eichenstein's people have been fishing for a while to come up with a convenient excuse to do what they did and they found it) but to personally attack and defame Rav Druckman and others like him (based on ideological and not Halachic reasons) sounds more like the horrid behavior of Rav Akiva's students towards each other, that tragically brought about their death and the subsequent mourning during the Sefira, rather than the example of Rav Shimon bar Yochai and his son who exemplified living in peace in the confines of a narrow cave for 13 years.


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