Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

19 Av 5761 - August 8, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











The issue of "Who is a Jew?" Storms Germany
by Yisroel Freedman

An Interview with Rabbi Abba Dunner, Secretary General of the Conference of European Rabbis about Modern German Jewry

Jewish communities in Germany are in an upheaval. Mass emigration from the CIS to Germany is on the rise. The German government's indiscriminate policy of opening its gates, without quotas or time limitations, is disturbing the status quo of the local Jewish population. Under current German Law, anyone who is Jewish, or even a gentile who has a Jewish relative, is able to procure permanent residency in Germany. This fact is causing World Jewry to be on the alert.

At the European Rabbinic Conference, which took place a number of months ago in Munich, Germany, the rabbonim aired their concerns about the spiritual danger that could result from these circumstances. Recently, Paul Spiegel, president of the Central Council of German Jews, has joined the cry against the potential danger. In wake of Spiegel's step, we approached Rabbi Abba Dunner, the dynamic Secretary General of the Conference of European Rabbis who has dealt extensively with the painful problem:

How did the problem occur?

The problem is with Germany's immigration policy. The German Government allows anyone who calls himself Jewish, or one who has a Jewish relative in Germany, to immigrate and to receive permanent status. As a result, Paul Spiegel, President of the Central Council of German Jews, has approached the authorities asking them to allow only Jewish immigration -- of those who are Jewish according to halocho. To date, the German criteria is similar to the Israeli Law of Return, with similar results. There is a strong fear that a deluge of Russian gentiles will flood the Jewish communities in Germany.

Why do they pose as Jews? What motivates them to do this?

First, this is simply their only way to immigrate. Likewise, Jews are known for their benevolence. They (the immigrants) perceive that by joining the Jewish community they will receive charity assistance from Jewish communal funds which will cushion their absorption. Until recently, this had (only) occurred in Eretz Yisroel. Now this threatens the kehillos in Germany as well. The intermingling of Jews and Gentiles within the kehillos was unique to the Reform and Conservative. There wasn't any penetration (of gentiles) in the Orthodox kehillos. But now this situation threatens to affect the religious kehillos as well.

There isn't anyone who could suppress this phenomenon within the kehillos?

Regarding this matter, there is a problem with the local rabbis. This is not the place to elucidate this matter, since one would have to speak extensively about it. About a year ago, the Conference of European Rabbis established a European beis din for Germany, headed by the dayan, HaRav Chanoch Ehrentreu shlita in order to deal with matters of gittin and geirus. We informed Israel's Chief Rabbinate that any get or conversion that had not been performed by us is not valid-- since Germany does not have a rav who could arrange a get or officiate at a conversion.

However, the Jewish Community in Germany is not generally known as such a committed community. Therefore, why are they interested in driving away the non-Jews? Why did the Jewish Community suddenly start speaking up about the halachic definition of being Jewish?

I heard expressions of fear among the Jews in the kehillos because of this immigration. Because of the enormous quantity, there is a fear that these Gentiles will take over the kehillos. The local Jews' impetus for taking action is, perhaps, different from our fear of the spiritual danger.

What numbers are we talking about?

I saw the numbers of the German Foreign Ministry. According to their forecast, in another three years, there will be 180,000 Jews in Germany -- according to the present definition and according to immigration policy. These circumstances are bound to create difficult, unsolvable halachic problems. Automatically, the Reform movement will attempt to implant themselves. With them, there's no problem to deal with the conversions in their way. This is dangerous.

But the German government, because of its dark historical past, has found it difficult to discriminate between Jew and "Jew," fearing the public opinion of world Jewry.

It is therefore important that one's claim to be a Jew shall be a Jew according to halacha. It must come within Judaism's guidelines. I recently sent a letter to Paul Spiegel in the name of Rav Moshe Rose and Rav Avrohom Moshe Dunner, offering any necessary assistance to solve the problem and to thwart the danger. They are in need of encouragement for there are many, even in Israel, who have vocally objected to slowing down this phenomenon.

Are you also working in a positive, practical manner to increase Jewish awareness in Germany?

There are high concentrations of Jews in the main cities- - Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Dusseldorf. However, the government distributed the immigrants according to convenience and concerns of absorption ability. One must emphasize that there are full-fledged Jews amongst them, and we are on the lookout for them. We want the children. Look, in Berlin we have great influence. A yeshiva with a maggid shiur was founded there for Russian children. I personally gave a shiur there. Rav Ehrentreu also gave a shiur there. There is a tremendous thirst for the dvar Hashem, an unexplainable thirst. In Frankfurt, we plan to establish a girl's institution. These Jews that suddenly merited a feeling of freedom, wish to return to their Jewish heritage and one must provide for them.

In addition, we are planning weekend seminars. Throngs of people are interested, coming to hear the best of the lecturers from Israel and Europe. The success rate is incredibly high. Any place that we are active, we are successful. There is an incredible thirst. If we don't act, a claim will be made against us that we didn't do enough. These precious gems are located on the crossroads. One just needs to gather them.

Where does one obtain activists for the Jewish kehillos in the Diaspora?

In truth, not everybody is able to be an activist. Not everyone, from his own perspective, is allowed to act. A seminar will soon be opened for 30 suitable bnei Torah. We will teach them the methods of activism, which will continue for two years. It is absolutely essential to have training in how to be a rav or community leader. They will go out throughout Europe. Their spiritual contribution will be enormous, both in asei tov, and sur meiroh -- building a barrier against dangerous situations, like the one that presently threatens the German kehillos.


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