Israeli Halakhic Conversion Institute
Israeli Halakhic Conversion Institute"Ami"

The recent Israeli Supreme Court ruling affirming citizenship under the Law of Return for those who undergo domestic non-halackhic conversions was roundly condemned by many preeminent Orthodox organizations, including Agudath Israel and Rabbinical Alliance of America, and by the president of the Conference of European Rabbis. A law which undermines Halackha by recognizing non-Jews as Jews is obviously something that no Orthodox rabbi, or any Jew committed to Halakha, can countenance.

In the face of this all, senior Open Orthodox Rabbis Marc D. Angel and Avi Weiss, came out in favor of the Supreme Court ruling:

“Recognizing their (non-Orthodox) conversions in Israel will deepen the relationship between Israel and the majority of Jews in the Diaspora who are not Orthodox… Perhaps the greatest threat to Israel is the lack of unity of our people. The Supreme Court decision has the potential to bring us closer, allowing Jews from all streams to feel part of the destiny of Am Yisrael.”

It is largely in response to such breaches by the Open Orthodox denomination that this Statement on Orthodoxy was issued a few months ago.
It is shocking that Rabbis Angel and Weiss believe that a court decision which in effect divides the Jewish People, by endorsing a new non-halakhic category of Jews that Orthodox Jews cannot accept, is viewed as a unifying force by these two rabbis. The Supreme Court ruling will help precipitate a schism in the Jewish People the likes of which we have never encountered, and it will serve to chip away at the definition of Jewishness that has united our people since Sinai. How anyone identifying as Orthodox, much less two rabbis, can argue with a straight face that this ruling will bring all Jews closer together, is beyond me.

Furthermore, the assertion that the Supreme Court ruling represents “allowing Jews from all streams to feel part of the destiny of Am Yisrael” is something with which no person who is serious about Halakha can concur. It is akin to lauding a ruling allowing ham to be served at Jewish events, since it will make all Jews, including those who do not keep kosher, comfortable. Throwing sacred and weighty standards out the window in the pursuit of comfort and inclusiveness does not quite work when it comes to Torah.

Rabbis Angel and Weiss (have the audacity to) cite Rav Yosef B. Soloveitchik in support of their position:

“Why accept the Supreme Court decision? Our teacher Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik wrote not only about the Covenant of Sinai, but the Covenant of Egypt, also called the Covenant of Fate. We part company with our Conservative and Reform colleagues on many halakhic matters going back to Sinai, but our fate as a people unites us; the enemy makes no distinction between levels of observance or denominations. We survive and thrive as a people together.”

As a student of Rabbi Soloveitchik’s closest disciples, I was extremely aggrieved to read such ideas, which wholly contradict Rabbi Soloveitchik’s own words on the subject.

In a 1970 telegram sent to the Israeli interior minister, the Israeli chief rabbis and the leader of the Religious Zionist party in the Knesset, regarding the definition of conversion in legislation being prepared at the time, Gedolei Hador (term for Greatest Sages of a period) Rabbi Soloveitchik and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein wrote:

We forcefully demand that you strongly insist on inclusion of language in the law that will include the clear condition that only converts who have been converted according to Halakha shall be registered as Jews. Without this clear condition, the legislation may be falsely interpreted and will include counterfeit conversions carried out by people unauthorized by Torah law from directing matters pertaining to conversion. The registration of fraudulent converts is likely to cause a public desecration of the fundamental Torah law of conversion and create an obstacle to the unity of the nation.” (published in Hatzofeh on February 19, 1970)

In an interview in Maariv published on October 28, 1977, Rabbi Soloveitchik stated regarding the “Who Is a Jew” issue for the purposes of the Law of Return:

“The law must be corrected to read, “[A Jew is one who has been converted] according to Halakha.”

When asked by the interviewer about the concern that this will engender conflict with the non-Orthodox movements, the Rav (as Rabbi Soloveitchik was reverently called) replied:

“In my opinion, this is not ‘creating conflict’. I also detest conflict. However, this hate of strife does not mean that one must compromise principles.”

(These selections appear in Community, Covenant and Commitment: Selected Letters and Communications. The book was in fact edited by a colleague of Rabbis Angel and Weiss.)

Rabbi Soloveitchik’s words totally contravene the ideas expressed by Rabbis Angel and Weiss above.

During the next several days and weeks, we should expect other Open Orthodox leaders to join the chorus endorsing the Supreme Court decision; I anticipate that all sorts of fluffy, vague and illogical arguments will be offered to support this ruling against Halakha. It is largely in response to such breaches by the Open Orthodox denomination that this Statement on Orthodoxy was issued a few months ago.

Let us pray that the Knesset pass laws defining conversion that are consistent with that which Rabbi Soloveitchik and Rabbi Feinstein firmly insisted upon half a century ago, so that the State of Israel affirm its Jewishness in the true sense of the word.

Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer is Chairman of the Rabbinic Circle of the Coalition for Jewish Values," a public policy institute. He is on the editorial board of Jewish Action magazine and a staff writer for the Cross-Currents website. He is a member of the RCA and NY Bar, and an account executive at a large Jewish organization based in Manhattan