Sunday, September 7, 2008

Shavei Israel - Proselytizing or discovering Jews?

Guest Post: Recipients and Publicity's comment to "Conversion - Chinese descendants of Jews":

Controversial actions by Shavei Israel in the name of Zionism and Judaism.

The following article about "Children of Hidden Jews Come to Israel" in the latest Jewish Press is quite worrisome and puzzling. It seems it is just another hare-brained idea to bring olim to Israel without giving careful scrutiny to the Halachic issues of their REAL HALACHIC Jewish status and the obvious need for Halachicly valid conversions, none of which are even mentioned in the article, making it seem that a collection of doubtful people who may or not be Halachicly Jewish were collected in Poland and brought over to Israel as if they were some type of "Bnai Akiva" youth group who needed an Israel-experience boost, when it is far from it. Read the article and note some questions about it that follow the article:
Jewish Press: Children of Hidden Jews Come to Israel September 5, 2008

Twenty-two young Poles who recently discovered their Jewish roots completed a special seminar – the first of its kind – organized on their behalf by Shavei Israel in Jerusalem.

The three-week program was held entirely in Polish, and participants traveled throughout Israel, studied Hebrew, and learned about Jewish history, culture and religion.

According to Michael Freund, founder and chairman of Shavei Israel, a number of the participants have decided to remain in Israel and continue their studies, while others are going back to Poland with the hope of playing a more active and central role in the Jewish community.

“In light of the positive feedback that we received from the participants, we plan to continue organizing similar seminars next year as well, in the hope that it will lead to a strengthening of Jewish life in Poland and ensure that the younger generation of Polish Jews remains connected to their Jewish heritage,” Freund said.

Currently, there are approximately 4,000 Jews registered as living in Poland, but experts suggest there may be tens of thousands of other Jews in Poland who to this day are either hiding their identities or are simply unaware of their family heritage. In some instances, due to their experiences during the Holocaust and under Communism, some Polish Jews chose to sever all connection with Judaism and to hide it from their children and grandchildren, who are now beginning to discover the truth.

In other cases involving Jewish children adopted by Catholic families or institutions during the Holocaust, the adoptees or their descendants have begun to uncover their Jewish roots. In recent years, a growing number of such people, known as the “Hidden Jews of Poland,” have started to return to Judaism and to the Jewish people, with many contemplating aliyah.

Shavei Israel currently has two full-time emissaries in Poland: Rabbi Boaz Pash, who serves as chief rabbi of Krakow, and Rabbi Yitzhak Rapoport, who is the rabbi of Wroclaw (formerly Breslau). For more information visit:
[see JPost for more complete article]

So much for the article.

Here are a few troubling questions:

Firstly, see the Shavei Israel website and it becomes quite obvious that they have set themselves up to perform nothing less than the job of the Mashiach who Judaism teaches will gather up even Jews who are lost but not everyone will be brought out of the woodwork, (see the Rambam end of Hilchos Melachim)

Indeed it is such a complex task that the Rambam is not kidding when he says that this will be one of the huge jobs fit for the Mashiach himself at the end of time before rebuilding the Bait HaMikkdash, so why is a modern-day Zionist organization getting involved in doing this? Maybe the answer is BECAUSE they are a modern-day Zionist organization and often times they do more harm than good in their zeal to bring "everyone" home to Zion.

Secondly, perusing their website one sees types of people who probably converted to Judaism now acting in this task that they now foster of encouraging "hidden Jews" to come out of hiding. Who gave them this taks for doing Klal Yisroel's work? Should they be doing this at all and the way that they that they openly push and advertise to attract "hidden" people, meaning that it must be proseltysing to non-Halachik Jews (most of whom are HIDDEN by choice) to take them out of hiding? But the Halachik questions relating to giyur kehalacha are monumental.

Thirdly who is the founder and leader of this organization? He is quite a moern fellow and not a rabbi or scholar of Judaism. His biography on the "Staff Page" at reads:
"Michael Freund- Founder and Chairman of Shavei Israel

He writes a syndicated column and feature stories for the Jerusalem Post, Israel's leading English-language daily, and he previously served as Deputy Director of Communications & Policy Planning in the Prime Minister's Office under Benjamin Netanyahu. A native of New York, he holds an MBA in Finance from Columbia University and a BA from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University."
Much here that makes one wonder about the the effort he is pushing, but in our times he will surely raise lots of money for a cause like this. He learned at the knee of Binyamin Netnayahu and has an MBA. He is obviously very idealistic but he skates on thin Halachic ice.

Fourthly, it's very tricky, because Shavei Israel does have some very learned and talented rabbis, albeit mostly all Religious Zionist and modern, with connections to the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, as they explain that they facilitate conversions for Anusim. See
"The program is approved by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and is under the supervision of the relevant government ministries. All of our graduates go before a Jerusalem Beit Din (rabbinical court) under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate, where they undergo a formal conversion or return to Judaism. Since the institute started to work, before 8 years, more than 500 students have completed the program and cast their lot with the people of Israel. There is tremendous demand for such classes, and we hope to expand the program in the coming years.

Machon Miriam is named after the late Dr. Miriam Freund-Rosenthal of blessed memory, who served as National President of Hadassah and strongly believed in reaching out and helping Jews wherever they might be. It was thanks in part to her inspiration that Michael Freund, her grandson, founded Shavei Israel."
Now while this is all very grand and noble but this is NOT enough for a green light to go on the campaigns they have launched so openly and broadly in EJF-Rabbi Leib Tropper/Dr. Tom Kaplan fashion!

Having some success with few people should not become a license to go out and solicit wholesale conversions in a kind of "empire building of hidden Jews" way.

Sure, genuine seekers of Halachic conversions should be treated with dignity and respect afforded to all geirei tzedek, but it is dangerous, foolish and ultimately self-defeating to do this en masse, in production-line wholsale fashion sending out emissaries, to seek our hidden Jews here-there-and-everywhere looking under every nook and cranny, doing what they call in Yiddish "climbing up smooth wall" routines ("kricht af glatte vent") and looking for jobs in an exertion of effort that could be better spent educating and reachinhg those who are 100% Halachic Jews who need Torah education, rather than doing things that have the potential of assisting people who may not have the staying power and long-term desire to be part of Klal Yisroel.


  1. I am not so sure that I agree with recipients and publicity on this issue.

    There is a major difference between doing kiruv on people who are Jewish or that there status is a suffik to actively mekarving non Jews who are married to Jewish spouses.

    There is also a difference between let us say converting a Russian where the situation is that many of them are converting for social purposes and the Bnei Menashe who were brought up yearning to live there lives religiously as Jews in Israel.

    I can go on however you have to show me where it says in halacha that you cannot proselytize a suffik Jew.

  2. All of this talk about the question over advisability on whom to convert got me thinking regarding the Russian olim about whom many of them may have non halichic motivations on why they would want to convert.

    I was thinking that if civil marriage was permitted in this country, it would take away the motivation of many of this group to convert with the exception of the sincere ones. Now that I have run my mouth off again does anybody have any feelings regarding this?

  3. There are 1.5 million people already in Israel whose paternal ancestry is Jewish. There are another 5 million who have patrilineal Jewish ancestry AND who can document a claim to property in the land of Israel.

    Another 375 million people of patrilineal Jewish descent reside in the Middle East.

    They are called Arabs.

    Why do "Zionists" seek out Chinese, Hispanic, Portuguese, Russian and Polish olim who claim paternal Jewish ancestry while at the same time rallying to exile the 1.5 million Arabs who already live there?

    Not only do Syrian, Palestinian and Jordanian Arabs claim Jewish ancestry from Avraham Avinu but they can PROVE it via their DNA samples which matche that of Jewish Cohanim.

    If paternal Jewish ancestry counts, then 375 million Arabs in the Middle East also have a right of return.

    Why is it that the only "Jews" Micheal Freund and the Evangelical Christians who fund him are interested in are those who were Christians before coming to Israel??

  4. "the adoptees or their descendants have begun to uncover their Jewish roots. In recent years, a growing number of such people, known as the “Hidden Jews of Poland,” have started to return to Judaism and to the Jewish people, with many contemplating aliyah."

    In other words, in the case where Jewish boy who was hidden during the war marries a Polish gentile woman and has children, those children are "Jews" according to Mr. Freund and are entitled to be assisted in their "return" to Judaism.

    My education is not the greatest, but I thought everybody knew that only the child of a Jewish woman is a Jew. Has this changed?

  5. Exploiting the loophole in Israel's Law of Return for not having "giyur kehalacha" in it.

    It was interesting that in the article about the Polish "hidden Jews" published in the latest Jewish Press, which is really just a press release from Shavei Israel that the JP, as is their style, has published, there is not a single word about Halacha and geirus. Not even the broader generalized terminology of "Jewish law" and "conversions" yet when one clicks on to the Shavei Israel website there are many links about that all the work they do is in accordance with the Israeli Chief Rabbinate and that they facilitate real conversions.

    This is often the two-facedness, in other words hypocrisy (often self-created) of many Israeli governmental, kiruv and outreach type organizations. To win friends and influence people -- and of course to set the ground for major fund raisng appeals with the unsuspecting Jewish public being softened up by these kind of media campaigns, and after all, Michael Freund head of Shavei Israel is described on their website as "Deputy Director of Communications & Policy Planning in the Prime Minister's Office under Benjamin Netanyahu" so he knows the whole PR game and how even press releases that pose as "articles' can be used as self-created "endorsementa" allowing for outright proselytising.

    When the Holocaust destroyed Europe's Jewish centers, the survivors who came to Israel were all Halachik Jews. When Arab nationalismn and antisemtism made life in Islamic lands impossible for Jews forcing them to come to Israel, they were 100% Halachic Jews. But then funny things started to happen. The fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of antisemitism brought forth people who wanted to take advantage of the well-established Israeli state. Evryone knew that the Jews of the USSR had non-Jewish relatives. The State of Israel and its secular elites, in a an ongoing fit and manifestation of POST-Zionism allowed the forbidden by opening the gates to people who should have been denied entry for the simplist of reasons, they did not qualify by the standrds of Israel's own key 1950 Law of Return that could and should have easily excluded questionably Jewish Russians, Poles, Chinese, Indians and whatnot because they did not meet even Ben Gurion's original criteria for Israeli citizenship based on core classical Jewish indentity.

    The fatal loophole in the law that was compromised, was that the Law of Return, while talking of Jewish matrilineal descent, did not have in it the qualifying proviso of "giyur kehalacha" a "convert according to Halacha"!

    And so the crack was opened and began a flood-gate. In poured the Russians, Falashas, so-called "Anusim", and now Shavei Israel and others like them take further advanatge in the name of "Zionism" and "Judaism" and on their website even "conversion" but it will not be long before even these games will be dropped and anyone who thinks they are "Jewish" will decide they have the "right" to immigrate to Israel.

    For the record, it was none other than the last Lubavitcher Rebbe who waged the strongest and longest political war to get the Israeli government to add the "giyur kehalacha" addendum as part of religious party's pre-conditions for joining the Shamir government. The uproar and counter-attacks against Chabad were furious, but the religious party's did not succeed, either by not insisting enough or being rejected, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe backed off at that time. Pity.


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