Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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28 Nissan 5760 - May 3, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
When the Parents of the Converts Need Converting

by N. Ze'evi

Eleven justices of the Israeli Supreme Court recently heard arguments on the question of recognizing "non- Orthodox conversions."

The session lasted three hours, and dealt with the ruling of Jerusalem District Court judge, Vardi Zeiler, who has recognized scores of Reform "conversions" performed in Israel and abroad. The bogus recognition allows the "converts" to register as Jews with the Interior Ministry and be categorized as such on their identity cards.

By the same token, four petitions were filed with the High Court by the Reform, Conservative and Naamat organizations, asking for recognition of non-Orthodox conversions in Israel and abroad, mainly of adopted children.

Throughout the session the judges made a number of astonishing questions. They asked about the very implication of converting an infant or child who still has no mind of its own, and wondered why the battei din "force" adoptive parents to live a religious lifestyle when they seek to convert an adopted child.

The judges claimed that ensuring that the parents lived according to halacha was "exploiting of the situation," and accused the Rabbis of "imposing" religion on the parents. Justice Eliyahu Matza asked: "Don't you think that conversion has no meaning except a technical one with respect to day-old infants which childless couples have brought from abroad? Does the infant know if it wants to be Jewish or Catholic?

The petitioners claim that the Rabbinate wants to "convert" the parents at the same time, and to make them Orthodox. The Rabbinate tests the parents in Judaism. Is that legitimate?" Justice Matza asked.

The comments of judges that the dayanim supposedly want to "convert" the parents and "exploit" their request to convert an adopted child for "religious coercion" testifies to the judges' own shocking ignorance.

No one wants to force parents to accept the mitzvos or to do teshuva. In such cases, it is necessary to know the extent of the religious observance of the adopting parents, for the purpose of the validity of the conversion of the adopted child.

The acceptance of the mitzvos is an inseparable part of the entire conversion process. In the case of a ger koton, a minor, it is also necessary for an additional reason. The willingness of a beis din to handle the conversion of a minor who lacks a mind of his own, stems from the halocha of zachin l'odom shelo be'fonav. For this purpose, one must know in advance, that the conversion process will be a zechus for him and not a factor which will be detrimental for him. Will the koton grow up as a Jew who will observe the mitzvos, or will he grow up outside the pale of halacha and accrue punishments for transgressions? For this reason, the beis din must examine the sincerity of the conversion and the extent of the merit that will emerge from it. The vantage point of the beis din is whether parents intend to give the adopted child a religious education and raise him according to a religious lifestyle.

During the court session, the state representative, Attorney Gansin, claimed that conversion must be uniform, and under governmental aegis.

Today, this power rests in the hands of the Chief Rabbinate. According to British Mandatory Law, which remains in effect until today, the Jews in Israel belong to what is called "the Jewish community," which is headed by the Rabbinate.

According to Gansin, the Conservative and Reform petitioners want a similar status for their institutions, even though the law doesn't recognize them.

Regarding this, Justice Mishael Cheshin commented that the Rabbinate and the rabbonim have, by dint of a Knesset law, become in 1980s, secular state institutions. He noted that not one law enacted since the establishment of the State, mentions the term "a Jewish community."

"Don't you think that it is anachronistic to say that if in 1939, they spoke about the Jewish community, that it is possible to speak about it now, in the year 2000 too?" Cheshin asked.

It has become clear, that precisely that very same "state" authority which was vested in the Chief Rabbinate, is now a stumbling-block in its path. A Supreme Court Justice can argue that the Rabbinate is considered "a secular institution of the government," and as a result cannot claim authority in matters of religion as the heads of the Jewish community.

No less interesting is a remark made at that very same session, when a number of judges agreed with the opinion that the Jews in Israel are no longer a community.

Justice Dalia Dorner said: "There are things which due to the very founding of the State have been discontinued. Prior to the establishment of the State, we were a community. But afterward, we became the nation of the land (am ho'oretz)."

Yes, as simple as that.

To a certain extent, it is difficult for us to dispute that determination. Secular judges, who don't know a thing about Judaism and halacha, and who openly support casting off the yoke of Torah, have the pretensions to decide on issues that bear on the purity of the genealogy of the Jewish Nation.

Indeed, "Prior to the founding of the State we were a community, and now we have become am ho'oretz." Just like that.

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