Saturday, June 7, 2008

Israeli Supreme Court to rule on validity of rejected conversions

Jerusalem Post reports on June 6, 2008

Do the rabbinical courts have the right to reject conversions approved by independent religious courts recognized by the state and the chief rabbis of Israel? That question will now be decided by the High Court of Justice as a result of a petition filed Thursday by attorney Susan Weiss of the Center for Justice for Women, who represents 15 petitioners.

The High Court will have to decide whether to accept or reject decisions made by haredi-controlled rabbinical courts that nullified the Jewishness of a woman who converted 15 years ago and all conversions conducted by Rabbi Haim Druckman, the head of the Conversion Authority in the Prime Minister's Office, since 1999.

The rabbinical court rulings has triggered infuriated reactions by religious Zionist political and spiritual leaders who regard the special conversion courts headed by Druckman as more tolerant than the haredi-controlled rabbinical courts. [...]

The petitioners in the case brought by Weiss include the woman whose conversion was nullified and her three children, the Na'amat women's labor Zionist movement, the WIZO-Women's International Zionist Organization, the Emunah National Religious Women's Organization and several NGOs trying to improve the situation of women in the rabbinical courts.

The petition is aimed at Dayan (Religious Court Judge) Avraham Attia, a member of the Ashdod Rabbinical Court, and Dayanim Avraham Sherman, Hagai Eiserer and Avraham Scheinfeld of the Higher Rabbinical Court.

The case began when the Danish-born woman and her sabra husband filed for an uncontested divorce in the Ashdod Rabbinical Court. According to Weiss, the matter should have been a simple one since the couple had agreed in advance on the divorce terms. Instead, Attia asked the woman a question or two about her religious observance and then ruled on February 22, 2007, that the woman was not Jewish because her conversion had been invalid. Since she was not Jewish, she could not have been married in a religious court and therefore did not need a divorce.

"Attia devoted eight pages of the nine-page decision to a crass diatribe against the woman and Rabbi Haim Druckman," Weiss said. "He used language unfit for any person, let alone a dayan."


In an interim decision, the Higher Rabbinical Court granted the couple a divorce but added that this did not reflect on the question of whether the woman was Jewish. Then, in February, during a conference including dayanim and others, Sherman, the presiding dayan in the appeal hearing, distributed a draft of the court's final 49-page decision. The decision itself was handed down only two months later.

The court ruled that the Jewishness of the woman and her children was in doubt and needed to be re-examined, that the family should be added to the list of people who may not marry for the time being, that all Druckman's conversion decisions since 1999 should be canceled, and that marriage registrars not register a convert who does not look observant from his or her external appearance.

According to Weiss, the language used in the Higher Rabbinical Court decision was also insulting. She included several quotes such as, "These [special conversion] courts are responsible for the fact that nothing will be left of the Jewish people," and, "The rabbi whose name begins with sin," a play on words because the word "chet" means "sin" while the letter "chet" is the first letter in Druckman's first name, Haim.

Weiss told The Jerusalem Post that the woman whose conversion was nullified approached the the Center for Justice for Women in the wake of the Higher Rabbinical Court decision. However, because the rabbinical decisions went much farther than the case of the woman itself by delegitimizing a court system established by the state and endorsed by the two chief rabbis, she finds herself defending the special courts and, by extension, the religious Zionist movement itself.

According to Weiss, the case highlights many of the faults of the rabbinical courts. "They have no concept of due process or fairness, and they display no sensitivity to those who come before them," she said.


  1. Shavua Tov. Exactly as I predicted.

    Lest someone comment about how wrong it is for a secular Supreme Court to interfere in a halachic debate, remember the following: The rabbinic courts are state courts. The rabbinic appointments are political appointments. That means ALL of them, including Rav Sherman and his cohorts on the one hand (and the gaon Rav Daichovsky's being kicked out) and Rav Druckman and the Conversion Courts on the other hand. ALL of them are part of the same government body, in which the right hand (Rav Sherman) has been shooting the left hand (Rav Druckman).

    The Israeli Supreme Court has every moral and legal right to examine whether this government body is acting fairly and correctly.

    The Supreme Court may very well order marriage registrars in Israeli cities (most of them charedi) to marry converts without giving them problems. Some will complain that this violates their religious freedom, but that too is bogus. They too are government functionaries, and most obey the law. If any city rabbi feels he needs to refuse such gerim on principle, then let him resign his position. On this, at least, the Badatz is fully in the right.

    The next step, IYH, is for the dismantling of this terrible system and the introduction of civil marriage. This is for the good of Torah in Israel, because only in this way can people choose their rabbis and Torah leaders freely and honestly, rather than through political wars like the current one.

    Let those who choose Rav Sherman and Rav Elyashiv go to their courts and be married by them. Let those who choose Tzohar and Rav Druckman go to their courts and be married by them.

    Let's see who Am Yisrael really goes to for Torah.

  2. The Israeli Supreme Court already ruled to accept Reform and Conservative Conversions.
    (Feb. 2002).

    The Supreme Court, so far has not ordered Rabbis to marry people who are not Jewish k'halacha.

  3. Rav Sherman's worst mistake was that he acted like a dictator who mde one sweeping decision.

    The correct path should have been for his and his bais din to rule that EACH and EVERY case of the conversions done by Rav Drukman's batei din must be examined on a CASE BY CASE basis no matter how much time it takes and that no further conversions be carried out until it could be established what the status was of each of the 24,000 converts truly was.

    After all, Rav Sherman must have missed his Chumash class when H-shem wanted to destroy Sedom. Instead Avrohom, the first ger, asked what if ... 50, then 40, then ... 10 righteous people could be found and Sedom be spared. Chazal teach that H-shem had to stop this conversation with Avrohom Avinu lest Avraham persuade H-shem to spare Sedom on account of even one or perhaps none.

    At any rate, as the old legal idiom goes (at least in the English-speaking world) JUSTICE MUST NOT JUST BE DONE, IT MUST ALSO SEEN TO BE DONE, and Rav Sherman and his bais din have now opened a huge can of worms because people can now come and say that he was not acting justly (even if he had the best of intentions to apply true Halacha and save Klal Yisroel in mind) it still seems like Rav Sherman and his two co-judges acted too toughly without mercy and without doing what Avraham did, plead and ask maybe there are ten righteous converts among the larger group, but he went on the offensive and insulted rabbis like Rabbi Drukman based on their religious Zionist Hashkofa and declared war on them rather than seeking the way of peace via a more just solution.

    Sadly the Middle East does not work that way because it is closer to the home of the Shiite Ayatolas of Iran and the Sunni Saudis of Saudi Arabia who rule by fiat and there is no questioning of the ruling class on pain of death, so it seems that too many rabbonim in Israel and elsewhere are working like this too and they think they are doing "the L-rd's work" when they are acting more like Ayatolas and Mullahs instead. What a pity.

    One wonders what would have been the reaction of Rav Sherman when H-shem wanted to destroy Klal Yisroel after the Chet Ha'egel (the Sin of the Golden Calf) but it was Moshe Rabbeinu who pleaded with Him NOT to because "WHY SHOULD EGYPT SAY THAT YOU TOOK THEM OUT INTO THE WILDERNESS TO KILL THEM" -- so we see that "what the world says" is an important factor and that Moshe Rabbeinu himself deployed this argument and it was a strong enough argument to change G-d's mind from punishing the Children of Israel for worshiping a Golden Calf instead of worshiping Him instead.

    So now, because Rav Sherman has acted like a dictator, and made the rabbinate in general look like uncaring to the suffering of the converts in Israel, a whole slew of attacks and arguments will continue and it will not become better until people like Rav Sherman learn that they must practice ahavas Yisroel to Rav Drukman and that each must treat each other with honor (not like Rabbi Akiva's students who were killed for dishonering each other) and then that every human being is important, and people must not be treated like cattle or worse and that each and every human being, even if they are safek Jews, and perhaps because of that must come before a bais din and that while Rav Sherman accuses Rav Drukman of not being careful with the conversion process, Rav Sherman cannot say this is he comes across looking arrogantly and angrily down at Rav Drukman and his people.

    This is like a cycle of abuse and only adults can stop it and it is no surprise that a lot more voices will be heard on this subject, some not so good to many people, before this whole drama can be resolved, which is not happening any time soon.

  4. "The correct path should have been for his and his bais din to rule that EACH and EVERY case of the conversions done by Rav Drukman's batei din must be examined on a CASE BY CASE basis no matter how much time it takes"

    We calculated that it would take about 60 years for the Beit Din to evaluate 29,000 conversions at the rate of two per day (4 hours per case for review, interviews and ruling). This assumes a support staff of many hundreds to gather evidence and testimony and to write up the rulings in addition.

    Meanwhile 3 generations would pass and the collateral damage to those affected and their offspring would only increase exponentially.

    I hate to use the lettuce analogy, but when we are faced with a huge case of spinach and we find three leaves to be buggy, we have to assume that the whole load is buggy until we verify each leaf one by one is clean and free of insects.

    I am not saying C"V that people are lettuce or spinach, but after it was found that a certain number of conversions were not done k'halacha, it is assumed that they were all improper.

    What happens we you add a case of buggy spinach to the chulent pot of the Jewish people? (Many Sephardim put braised spinach in the hamin, I realize this is a cultural reference that might get lost in the translation).

    You destroy the WHOLE thing!

    The proper procedure is to assume, they are all not good until you verify that each one is good. Not the converse which is to assume that all are good until you investigate each one and discover that many are bad.

    The damage that is caused by permitting questionable converts to marry with Jews destroys the Jewish people.

  5. What happens we you add a case of buggy spinach to the chulent pot of the Jewish people? (Many Sephardim put braised spinach in the hamin, I realize this is a cultural reference that might get lost in the translation).

    You destroy the WHOLE thing!

    No you don't.

    The bugs are an isser baria, which is a RABBINIC addition. If your bug analogy was shifted to spinach with three drops of treif mixed in with cholent, there wouldn't even be a question d'rabbanan – the pot and the food would be 100% kosher.

    Past the foolish analogy, you should instead look to mamzerut and related problems. When you do you'll find halakha tells a rav to be very careful NOT to uncover mamzerut, NOT to look for it, NOT to expose it.

    One more thing.

    All that assumes these conversions were no "k'halacha."

    To assume that, one must ignore major Sefardi poskim who in fact rule openly that conversions where the convert will not be 100% Orthodox are not only kosher, but are a chiyuv to do – especially when the potential convert wants to marry a Jew.

    You should be very careful declaring what is and is not "k'halacha," especially when you have never learned poskim.

  6. This just reinforces my reasoning to dismantle the Rabbinate. A beit din must have full autonomy do give psak din according to its conscience or it is not a beit din. If you want to have church and state you will get just that. Dancing is a two way street and you cannot always control who leads the tango. In this case it will be the supreme court.

    My answer to Jersey girl is yes, I would like to see a state for all of the Jews. A Jewish state just does not work, because what you get is state run Judaism.

  7. Dear Shmarya,

    "The bugs are an isser baria, which is a RABBINIC addition."

    The Torah prohibits us from ingesting even a single bug (Vayikra 11:44-45; see also verse 20) "you shall not contaminate yourselves through any teeming thing that creeps on the earth."

    The bugs in spinach leaves are whole bugs (hint- they are moving). Batel b'rov does not apply to bugs.

    "If your bug analogy was shifted to spinach with three drops of treif mixed in with cholent, there wouldn't even be a question d'rabbanan – the pot and the food would be 100% kosher."

    No, we are forbidden to eat even a single whole bug. It is a d'oraisa prohibition.

    Bugs are not treif they are in the prohibition against eating creepy things.

    The offspring of a Gentile woman and any Jew (even a mamzer) will not produce a mamzer. Why do you believe that the annulment of conversions will produce mamzerim?

    When you mention major Sephardic Poskim .... are you referring to Sephardic poskim who lived and ruled in a time and place where it was a death penalty offense to convert to Judaism (ie the Rambam) or are you referring to a modern Sephardic Posek in a free country where one does not suffer any social penalty by converting to Judaism or in fact such as is the case in Israel benefits GREATLY by converting?


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