The Conversion Law and the 'Decisor's Proposal'

Proclamation by the hundreds of young Orthodox Israeli rabbis of "The Way of Faith" movement.

Rabbi Baruch Efrati

Judaism הרב ברוך אפרתי
הרב ברוך אפרתי

There is no halakhically committed religious Zionist who is not pained by the recent insult to the soul of our nation, the Torah.

We are faced with the efforts to pass a law that is diametrically opposed to the halakhic guidance of the greatest Torah decisors (poskim) of recent generations, headed by Rabbi Kook zts"l, a law enabling conversion that will not demand  mitzvah observance, and that legitimizes Conservative and Reform conversions.

This law will divide the nation in two, cause a de facto separation of state and religion and erase the authority that was put in the Chief Rabbinate's hands, the office symbolizing a tie to sanctity in the very existence of a Jewish state.

All those who love G-d and His Torah, from every sector, those who witness this heresy towards halakha as well as to the authority of Rabbis of the Oral Law,  hereby proclaim:

The Jewish state has one and not two rabbinates, just as there are not two Jerusalems.
The Chief Rabbinate is the sole authority responsible for converting those who wish to join the Jewish People. Only the Chief Rabbinate may lead, initiate, ratify and decide on every issue in this sphere, in accordance with the decisions made by the greatest of today's halakhic decisors.

No Knesset law proposed by those ignorant of Torah (amei haaretz in Hebrew, ed.), nor one coming from the most respected of intellectual forums, can take the place of our Chief Rabbinate. We do not change halakha when there are problems with current reality. The Torah is not raw material, it is a mold, it has a shape, it is the source of God-given instruction to which reality must conform, not the other way round.

Every man who has the spirit of G-d in him, knows that the Jewish state has one and not two rabbinates, just as there are not two Jerusalems. We have one center and we must sacrifice ourselves on its behalf.

We are not in the American exile where religious anarchy reigns, we do not want  private forums of rabbis and a reality where everyone does as he wishes with respect to national affairs, as if there is no spiritual center to the State of Israel. We merited a state, with a mezuzah on its gate, and there is no substitute for that mezuzah.

When Rav Kook zts"l placed the mezuzah on the gates of our state and founded the Chief Rabbinate, he was gravely serious about the significance and meaning of this mezuzah. Religious Zionism must not dare to remove that mezuzah and throw it into the streets.

The claim of the architects of the "Conversion Law", that there is mass intermarriage today, is an invention. In fact, many Israelis do not marry non-Jews today only because there is no conversion without mitzvah commitment in Israel. In fact, the opposite is true – as soon as they convert everyone who served in the IDF and knows how to sing the Israeli national anthem, all the non-Jews here will undergo a fictitious conversion and many naive Jews will marry them and create a situation of mass intermarriage. It is anti-halakhic mass conversion that will lead to intermarriage. There is a problem today, but at present it is nowhere near as terrible as generally thought.

In addition, we know that many women convert and do accept the yoke of Torah commandments. The main problem is the men who are not interested in proper conversion, but that will lessen in future years because the children of a non-Jew and a Jewish woman are halakhically Jewish. There is no basis for the apocalyptic vision drawn by the Tzohar rabbinic group and the religious organizations funded by the New Israel Fund, as if there will be a nation of Israeli goyim. It is exaggerated, plain and simple.

Whether the intermarriage problem will arise in the future or not, the liberal rabbis' stand that we must abrogate the regular laws of conversion in order to solve problems, is astounding. Using this logic, why not eliminate the seven days of ritual cleanliness? (ed. note: Observance of the laws of family purity includes a waiting period of seven days after menstruation is over) That will make mikva immersion more popular, preventing heavenly punishment for all the non-observant women who will then flock to the mikva. How easy it will be to keep the mitzvah. Only five days of separation (the minimum days for the menses, ed.) and everything is allowed!

Is that the halakhic way? To twist and cancel challenging halakha or is our way to educate the public, leading them to fear of  G-d that accompanies every simple mitzvah?

Religious Zionism must ask itself: what am I? Am I a person with a kippah placed on my head by circumstance, led astray by liberal groups without the backing of the greatest halakhic decisors  and no accountability, trying to achieve an easy and popular solution to problems? Do I not represent something, am I not part of a group committed in every sense of the word to the Torah and its decisors, even when the secular do not applaud my opinions?.

Who are we? What does our religious Zionist identity mean? This is a test case.

At present there is another suggestion, called the "decision-makers' proposal" (the decision makers are the Cabinet, changing the law into an administrative decision, ed.). They wish to allow a forum of religious Zionist rabbis to lead conversion and counsel the rabbinic judges. This, however, makes the Chief Rabbinate a rubber stamp, without real authority, that will have to certify every conversion – or be forced to by the courts. In order to reach a compromise, they agreed to have authority taken from the Chief Rabbinate and moved to this new forum of rabbis.

This idea is the product of good intentions and G-d fearing and important rabbis are behind it, but in my opinion, it is a terrible suggestion that damages the Chief Rabbinate no less than the original law. Here, too, we will see mass conversion of non-Jews who do not accept the yoke of mitzvot, because a city rabbi needs only two more rabbis to form a conversion court – and they can be lenient ones (and we already know who they are) - and no one will be able to stop them because of the liberal and legal support the judicial system will afford them.

If there is no one Chief Rabbinate, there is no statewide Torah, and no halakhic Jewish identity to all the civilian systems in the state. It leads to the same result as the original law, so that this compromise is a mistake that we must try to prevent.

Remember, thousands of rabbis, and the Chief Rabbinate, have proclaimed over and over that they will not recognize any conversions that are not under the sole aegis of the Chief Rabbinate. Both the law and the proposal will create converts whom no one will recognize.

We must, if there is any possibility of preventing the law to pass, also remove the "decisors' proposal" form the agenda and give the Chief Rabbis and the institution of the Rabbinate their fitting recognition. That is the only way to avoid splitting the nation, to save the Rabbinate, and prevent our religious Zionist identity from becoming a laughingstock.

We must cease fearing reality. What are we afraid of? Since when do we sacrifice our greatest values as though we were the frightened Jews in exile? We must be men of integrity and holiness, and support the Rabbinate at any price – and may G-d do His Will.

We believe that there is a G-d in heaven who conducts the world and we must rely on Him, not fold up the most essential flags of religious Zionism and Torah. Let us imagine that we had to evacuate Maaleh Adumim tomorrow and hand it over to the enemy, would we agree to compromises? We would fight with every drop of our strength, we would never give up, and certainly not offer to leave half of the community in exchange for something else, God forbid. That is how Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook (son of the first Chief Rabbi and dean of Merkaz Harav Yeshiva) acted, that is how Rabbi Avraham Shapira (late Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi, dean of Merkaz Harav Yeshiva) acted, as did Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu (Sephardic Chief Rabbi).

What is forbidden and will bring disaster on the nation – must be fought out loud without fear, and certainly not bartered in partial arrangements. Our rabbis stood fast for integrity and justice, for holiness and for standing fast to prevent giving up on issues that damage our meriting the Divine Presence.

The Divine Presence is not for sale or partition There are values which do not allow for compromise, period. Eretz Yisrael, Torah, the holiness of the People of Israel. The Rabbinate founded by Rabbi Kook.

We have a large and varied public, with different ideas in many fields. But when it comes to conversion, we must unite around the Torah, around the great halakhic decisors (poskim), around the status of the Chief Rabbinate which is being sorely denigrated. May G-d give us the wisdom and true integrity in the hearts of those who are in need of it.

Written for Arutz Sheva, translated by Rochel Sylvetsky