Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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26 Adar II 5765 - April 6, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Steps to Stop Court Quickie Conversion Concession

By E. Rauchberger, B. Kahn and G. Lazer

MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni sent a letter early this week to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon demanding that he have the government table a bill ensuring that conversions are performed according to halochoh, and blocking the High Court's recent ruling in favor of quickie Reform and Conservative conversions performed outside of Israel.

"The majority ruling by the High Court to recognize quickie conversions is making a mockery and disgrace of one of the substantial issues in every state with democratic rule, namely who is eligible to become a citizen of the state," he wrote. "The Reform, Conservative and others do not operate in accordance with the law books or any criteria in the least. They have no clear criteria [for appointing rabbis] and in effect anyone who calls himself a rabbi can act in this sensitive and critical issue of converting members of other religions or no religion whatsoever to the Jewish religion. Once they are converted it automatically makes them eligible for aliya and citizenship in the State of Israel."

In his letter Rabbi Gafni cited Paragraph 6.2 of the coalition agreement, which says that the status quo on religious issues may not be altered. He noted that the High Court judges themselves stated that if the government is firm in its opposition to these changes in conversion practices it should amend the law.

After six years of legal proceedings the High Court, led by Judge Aharon Barak, ruled seven to three last week in favor of recognizing the so-called conversions performed abroad by Reform and Conservative rabbis. The court did not address whether Reform and Conservative conversions done in Eretz Yisroel would be recognized.

The case was brought before the High Court by a group of immigrants who studied in Israel, then traveled to chutz la'aretz where they were immediately converted by heretical clergy, and then came back to Israel and asked to be registered as Jews. They made no pretense of being part of the communities where they converted. The legal basis of their appeal was that the clergy that converted them are recognized in their home country as Jewish clerics. The High Court has so far not recognized Reform and Conservative clerics in Israel where there is an official, government- recognized rabbinate, but it has recognized those clerics in chutz la'aretz where they have the same legal standing as genuine rabbonim. Based on the Law of Return the State refused to register them as Jews on their national identification cards (te'udot ze'ut) or to consider them Jews.

The Interior Ministry defines these fictitious conversions as "jaunt conversions" since they are typically carried out by taking quick trips abroad to convert in order to obtain Israeli citizenship.

Although according to halochoh a Jew is either born of a Jewish mother or converted properly—including the acceptance of Taryag Mitzvas—Reform and Conservative rabbis, like the special conversion courts in Israel, accept just about anyone who wants to become a Jew, not inquiring into whether he or she genuinely intends to observe mitzvas.

"The court must not interfere in matters related to Jewish halochoh, which are liable to cause a rift in the people due to conversion not according to the tradition of our forefathers throughout the generations," said Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger. "Conversion is not an economic concept of absorption rights. Conversion is a distinctly halachic issue. The High Court decision will have far-reaching consequences," he said, adding that the Chief Rabbinate would not recognize "jaunt conversions."

Following an announcement, Rabbi Metzger convened an emergency meeting of the Chief Rabbinate Council on Monday to issue a directive to disregard the High Court decision.

"During thousands of years of Diaspora riddled with constant torment and suffering, the Jewish people kept its uniqueness as a people and its identity was carefully preserved," read a statement issued by Chief Rabbinate Council following the meeting. "The High Court decision is liable to cause confusion and pose a genuine threat to the unity of our people, including the possibility of a rift and division in [Am Yisroel]. Foreign workers are liable to come into our midst as a result of facile recognition of their rights." The Council called on the court system to proceed with great caution in taking responsibility for matters reserved for halochoh. The statement also says that the Knesset should legislate a law guaranteeing that conversions are only performed according to the Torah as passed down to us from one generation to the next.

MK Roman Bronfman (Yachad) asked the Attorney General to instruct Rabbi Metzger to honor the High Court ruling.

Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar announced he intends to propose to the Knesset that the right under the Law of Return not be given to anyone who converts. "The High Court decision effectively recognizes fictitious conversions and will exacerbate the problem of those eligible under the Law of Return who cannot marry according to [Jewish law]. It is merely a matter of time before the High Court recognizes fictitious conversions performed in Israel as well. This decision splits the Jewish people."

Chief Rabbi Amar said that the decision would result in having to keep careful lineage records listing those who were born of Jewish mothers and those who were converted according to halochoh. "The people who would suffer from this first and foremost are the same people battling against the Torah, who are liable to find themselves outside of Am Yisroel. It would be better if the Knesset determined by law that conversion is only . . . according to din Torah. But in light of the current political situation and in order to limit fictitious conversions, there is no alternative other than to cancel the Law of Return for all who convert."

The Knesset is scheduled to hold an intersession plenum on Wednesday to discuss the High Court decision.

A minority of the bench, Judges Turkel, Procaccia, Levy and Gronis, held recognizing the conversions would leave the country's border wide open since anybody presenting a "conversion certificate" would be recognized as a Jew in the State of Israel. Judge Edmund Levy quoted Israel's first Prime Minister who said, "The Law of Return is not one of the immigration laws that determine under which conditions the State accepts immigrants and which kinds."

On the other hand High Court President Judge Barak maintained the State must recognize Reform converts as Jews in every respect. "It remains entirely unclear why we must limit the recognition of conversions performed outside of Israel to those converts seeking to join the congregation that converts them," he wrote in the decision. "We can appreciate the need to avoid the exploitation of conversion outside of Israel [but] why show prejudice against conversions by other streams in Judaism toward which we should adopt—based on the State's stance as well—a position of equality?"

Judge Barak includes Reform and Conservative as integral parts of the Jewish people. "In saying `a recognized Jewish community,' we mean an established and active community . . . belonging to one of the streams recognized by the world Jewish population. Maintaining this requirement will ensure that conversion is not exploited in order to acquire economic rights without a desire to join the Jewish people."

In the minority opinion Judge Edmund Levy writes, "The State of Israel has been transformed into a place that draws immigration and therefore the broad interpretation of `Jew' as used in the Law of Return, will likely create a track to sidestep the immigration laws, allowing its use not only by those who truly want to join the Jewish people but also others whose motivations are suspect. This scenario is liable to involve serious repercussions, for the practical meaning will be that the State of Israel will be compelled to come to terms with the fact that various figures based abroad who are not under the supervision and control of any of the state authorities would be the ones to determine who will enter Israel and be its citizens. This outcome is very far- reaching."

Similarly Judge Asher Gronis wrote, "The opinion of the majority provides the communities outside of Israel with `the key to enter Israel . . . ' There will be no way to supervise in any real way the conversion ceremonies. The possibility of receiving instant citizenship through the Law of Return in an easy and nonobligatory manner could precipitate serious and ugly developments in this matter . . . "

Judge Turkel urged his colleagues on the panel not to issue a ruling on the matter and instead to leave it in the hands of the Knesset to legislate guidelines for recognizing conversions performed outside of Israel.

According to the chairman of Vaad HaRabbonim Haolami LeInyonei Giyur, "The High Court ruling will open up sifrei yuchsin in Am Yisroel." Five years ago, when another High Court ruling on fictitious conversions was about to be handed down, maranan verabonon issued instructions to place the responsibility for opening sifrei yuchsin in the hands of Vaad HaRabbonim.

Vaad HaRabbonim notes that sifrei yuchsin are already constantly being compiled and the recent High Court decision triggered dozens of calls from individuals interested in registering themselves out of a recognition of the importance of the matter in maintaining the purity of Kerem Beis Yisroel. "The conversions of the heretics, i.e. the Reform and Conservative, are not even worth the paper they are written on. The High Court decision will merely cause a total separation between the government and the rabbinical system," said the Vaad Chairman.

"Nobody authorized the High Court to interfere in halachic matters," read a Vaad HaRabbonim statement. "The High Court wants to determine who is a citizen, but it does not have the ability to interfere and determine who is a Jew, which only the holy Torah determines, as we received it on Mount Sinai. The High Court judges must recognize their place and look for other solutions for the hundreds of thousands of non-Jews who came to Eretz Yisroel. Unfortunately the High Court decision will cause serious demographic problems in Eretz Hakodesh when the cities are flooded with hundreds of thousands of non-Jews trying to filter into Kerem Beis Yisroel."


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