Rabbi Avi ShafranThe writer is the Director of Public Affairs for Agudath Israel of America. He is also a contributing writer to Cross-Currents, an online journal of Orthodox Jewish thought and opinion.
The proposed Israeli conversion-reform legislation known as the Rotem Bill – now on hold for several months – became a sort of Rorschach test for many Jews’ fears.
The bill was introduced by Yisrael Beiteinu, a nationalistic and not infrequently anti-religious political party representing a largely secular immigrant constituency. The legislation’s essential aim is to ease the conversion process for non-Jewish Israelis – like thousands of immigrants from the former
To advance the bill, Yisrael Beiteinu garnered the support of
When the bill it passed its first procedural hurdle, a hue and cry rose up from Reform and Conservative leaders in
The lion’s share of fear-mongering, as usual, has the hareidim themselves as the bogeymen. Rabbi David Stav, the head of a liberal Orthodox group in
And on July 16, the New York Times featured an op-ed that began with the baseless image of a “small group of ultra-Orthodox, or hareidi, rabbis” deciding that “almost no one” is Jewish; smeared hareidi religious authorities by associating them with a disgraced rabbi; called unnamed hareidi rabbis “demonstrably corrupt”; and fantasized how, should the Rotem bill become law, a Jewish Israeli walking down the street could be suddenly summoned to a court and have his Jewishness revoked.
Vying a few days later for the Best Insult Award was a respected Jewish columnist for the Forward, who characterized Israeli religious courts as a “rabble of rabbis… a counterfeit product, pretenders to a piety they daily demean.” And that’s before he even got to the “arrogant hypocrisy” part.
Both writers are personal friends of mine (something I know will be true even beyond this writing). But their harsh words made my recent Tisha B’Av – when Jews mourn the toll taken by intra-Jewish ill will – particularly, painfully poignant.
My friends, of course, would defend their hysterics by claiming that the heat emanates from a deep desire for Jewish unity, a concept they seem to understand as requiring the Orthodox to sit back and watch quietly as the Jewish People becomes a gaggle of “Jewish Peoples.” They fail to perceive Jewish unity’s real mandate here.
What most violates the ultimate oneness of the Jewish People are multiple definitions of the word “Jew” – what results from a smorgasbord of conversion standards.
When the heterodox Jewish movements first appeared on the scene, Jews who remained stubbornly faithful to the entirety of the Jewish religious heritage decried the abandonment of the Jewish mission and warned of the dreadful toll that would result from “conversions” lacking halachic validity. The decrying was roundly condemned as impolite (or worse) and the warning dismissed as the death rattle of an expiring obsoleteness.
But commitment to Jewish religious law hasn’t gone away, and it won’t ever. What is more, in
Which fact fuels the frustration and even anger in parts of the non-Orthodox world. So apoplectic are some at the prospect of halacha continuing to govern conversion in Israel, they have apparently taken the disturbing step of asking members of Congress to interfere in another sovereign state’s internal consideration of a piece of legislation.
Thought Experiment: Imagine
All of that, sadly, is already happening here in the
Whatever one thinks of the Rotem Bill, it raises an important, if uncomfortable, question: Is exporting American Jewish chaos to
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[Rabbi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath
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