Rabbi Prof. Dov Fischer
Rabbi Prof. Dov FischerCourtesy
A great deal has been published on these pages and elsewhere explaining the long- and short-term flaws and dangers in Minister Matan Kahana’s proposed conversion “reforms.” I particularly point readers to my two articles here and here and to Rav Reuven Taragin’s excellent piece here. These thirty (30) points comprise the bottom lines:

1. The Conference of European Rabbis (CER) will not recognize any conversions done in Israel that fail to gain the Chief Rabbinate’s acceptance.

2. Rav Warren Goldstein, Chief Rabbi of South Africa, will not recognize any conversions done in Israel that fail to gain the Chief Rabbinate’s acceptance.

3. The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) main conversion court, Beth Din of America, under the halakhic guidance of Rav Mordechai Willig, will not recognize any conversions done in Israel that fail to gain the Chief Rabbinate’s acceptance.

4. The Rabbinical Council of California, RCA’s regional conversion court covering America’s western region, will not recognize any conversions done in Israel that fail to gain the Chief Rabbinate’s acceptance.

5. The Chicago Rabbinical Council, RCA’s regional conversion court covering America’s midwestern region — i.e., the middle region of the United States — will not recognize any conversions done in Israel that fail to gain the Chief Rabbinate’s acceptance.

6. The Rabbinical Alliance of America (Igud HaRabbonim) will not recognize any conversions done in Israel that fail to gain the Chief Rabbinate’s acceptance.

7. Agudath Israel of America will not recognize any conversions done in Israel that fail to gain the Chief Rabbinate’s acceptance.

8. The Haredi community of Israel monolithically opposes the Kahana proposed conversion “reforms” without any equivocation.

9. Rav Chaim Druckman, the leading rabbinic figure on this issue in Israel’s “Religious Zionist” community, akin to “Modern Orthodoxy” or “Centrist Orthodoxy,” will not recognize any conversions done in Israel that fail to gain the Chief Rabbinate’s acceptance. The political leader of the Religious Zionism party, Betzalel Smotrich, advocates the same position.

10. Avigdor Liberman, who manifestly has been at war for years with Orthodox Jewish political parties across the spectrum, supports Matan Kahana’s “reforms” and warns the Chief Rabbis of Israel that they are mere government clerks subject to being deposed if they insist on promoting and enforcing an interpretation of Orthodox conversion procedure that differs from the interpretation of the secular Knesset’s current hair-thin majority coalition.

11. Yulia Malinovsky, a Liberman lieutenant in the Knesset on this matter, likewise supports the Kahana proposed conversion “reforms” and publicly states the Chief Rabbis are there as paid government employees who can be fired at will by the Knesset if they do not comply with the secular Knesset hair-thin majority’s instructions on how to conduct the conversion aspect of Jewish law.

12. The Israeli Supreme Court (Bagat"z) has a history of accepting appeals that immerse it in the middle of religion-state entanglements — for example, ordering the Chief Rabbinate to accommodate demands by women litigating for the right to sit for Chief Rabbinate ordination exams.

13. At least 33-40 percent of people in America who present themselves as “Jewish” are in fact not Jewish, not eligible to be counted in minyan nor to be married by an Orthodox rabbi nor to have their children bar-mitzva’d or bat-mitzva’d at an Orthodox congregation, nor to be buried in an Orthodox congregation’s cemetery. This exceptional demographic chaos extends even to non-Jews who today are ordained reform rabbis. The demographic breach in Jewish unity is so severe that two separate “Jewish people” now exist in America.

14. Because of the chaos of Judaic lineage in America, all mainstream U.S. rabbonim (Orthodox rabbis) — with no exception whatsoever among the normative mainstream — now conduct private lineage investigations under the radar, so as not to offend, in all cases when they are asked to conduct a marriage, a bar- or bat- mitzvah, or to allow a burial on consecrated cemetery land, when approached by newcomers from outside their orbit who cannot otherwise immediately document Judaic lineage.

15. Although a person born in the United States automatically becomes an American citizen and remains a U.S. citizen for life even if he or she later perpetrates the most egregious and violent of financial crimes, robberies, and murders and never can be stripped of citizenship on such grounds, Title 8 of the U.S. Code imposes on law-abiding immigrant newcomersseeking citizenship a serious course of significant study for an extended period of time, culminating with serious examinations, in order to be conferred American citizenship. At a minimum, applicants must be at least age 18, permanent residents in America with a “green card” the previous five years and capable of demonstrating such continuous residence in the U.S. during that period (or three years of continuous living in the United States with an American citizen spouse), may not have traveled abroad for more than six months continuously during the waiting period, demonstrate good moral character, demonstrate an attachment to the principles and ideals of the U.S. Constitution, be able to read, write, and speak basic English, demonstrate basic knowledge of U.S. history and government, and take an oath of allegiance to the United States.

16. All societies and nationalities impose demanding standards on outsiders seeking to gain admission into a nation’s citizenry, higher than anything required of people already bearing citizenship status. Citizenship will not be stripped from law-breakers but will be denied to aliens who have broken laws and thereafter apply for citizenship.

17. In the United States there has emerged a subculture of non-Orthodox rabbis who present themselves as “Orthodox rabbis,” replete with documented “Orthodox ordination” certification, including but not limited to certification conferred academically by an “Open Orthodox” “rabbinical seminary,” and these clergy include people who advocate for conducting same-sex marriage and Jewish-Christian intermarriageand in fact conduct such ceremonies. These self-presenting “certified Orthodox rabbis” likewise actively conduct pseudo-“Orthodox conversions” to Judaism in ceremonies that no mainstream Orthodox community recognizes as valid.

18. In March 1983 the Reform Movement officially adopted a new policy of “patrilineal descent,” defying and flying in the face of 3,000 years of Judaic practice and law that always has defined Jewish lineage authenticity solely by the birth mother’s religion. This policy deviation was adopted in the face of massive membership losses at Reform temples as the rate of Reform intermarriages in America with Christians has risen towards 80 percent, with more than half comprising Jewish men marrying non-Jewish women who then bear children who are non-Jewish by definition. Today “interfaith families are the majority of the movement,” meaning that more than half of all Reform temple members are intermarried to Christians. (See, e.g., public speech by Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of Union for Reform Judaism, in “Community,” the monthly Jewish newspaper of Louisville, Kentucky: November 23, 2018 — p.9 — Left column (¶ titled “Audacious Hospitality” = 4 paragraphs from bottom) https://jewishlouisville.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Community-112318-28-pages-web.pdf

19. In past decades, particularly before 1983, Israel’s Chief Rabbinate was not mandated as central to Jewish conversion in Israel. However, in the face of Jewish lineage chaos now rampant and beyond control or oversight in the United States forty years since Reform adopted patrilineal descent, Israel’s Chief Rabbinate necessarily emerged as a centralized unifying force for maintaining uniform standards of Jewish lineage authenticity in Israel, the world’s only Jewish-majority country, protecting those standards from decentralized corrupting forces, and working in tandem with international rabbinic agencies like the Rabbinical Council of America to assure world-wide adherence to common mutual conversion standards.

20. The present 120-seat Knesset numbers a 62-vote majority coalition. Four of those votes derive from an Arab Muslim party, Ra’am. Without those four votes, the governing coalition cannot pass Minister Kahana’s proposed conversion “reforms.” Accordingly, any secular Knesset enactment of Minister Kahana’s proposed revisions to Judaic theological practice and procedure in defining who is a Jew can be attained only by securing the critical four Arab Muslim votes needed by the secular governing coalition to enact the religious legislation by majority vote.

21. There are an estimated 400,000 people in Israel who, although not Muslim and typically of Jewish patrilineal descent, do not fall lawfully within the legal definition of Judaism because they were born to non-Jewish mothers. Rabbonim may not conduct their marriages. Shuls may not bar- or bat-mitzvah their children. Cemeteries that adhere to traditional Judaic practice and leagal requirements may not bury them. Most of that group hail from Russia or Ukraine, typically descending from a Jewish father or grandfather. Approximately half of them will not be determinative in procreating further non-Jewish generations because, as fathers, their religious status determines nothing. Of the other 200,000 or so, those who are past their fertility phase likewise will not procreate more non-Jews in Israel.

22. The process of converting to Judaism is a legal procedure governed by codified and interpreted law, as is all Judaic practice. It is not merely an act of theological faith. Judaic conversion uniformly is codified and established pursuant to thousands of years of legal precedent and documented authoritative legal rulings by generational jurisprudential scholars trained in this specialization. Important foundational sources of these laws include but are not limited to those codified in Shulchan Arukh (Code of Jewish Law), Yoreh Deah, Ch. 268. As with all legal fields, persuasive and compelling minority opinions, both substantive and procedural, have been recorded for posterity, even as universally recognized majority opinions determine actual practice. (This parallels other areas of Judaic practice, such as where codified majority practice deems fowl as akin to beef under laws of meat and dairy, although persuasive dissenting opinions would treat fowl more like fish.) Just as an alien applying for American citizenship must pledge fealty to the U.S. Constitution, and no dissenting local district judge can fabricate a unique set of naturalization laws that would apply to prospective citizens applying only within that judge’s federal district, so it is that one and only one uniform code of laws rooted in precedential majority opinions applies for aliens entering the Jewish people’s citizenry.

23. The sine qua non of Judaic naturalization — i.e., conversion — is kabbalat ol mitzvot shamayim (accepting the yoke of the Torah commandments, including but not limited to those integrated in the Written Law (the five books of the Torah), additional commandments integrated in the remainder of the Tanakh (Bible) like those in Isaiah 58:13, laws found throughout the Oral Law (the Mishnah and Gemara, comprising the Talmud), the Codes of Law including primarily the Shulchan Arukh, and several centuries of Mesorah (Tradition-based practices) derived primarily from authoritative rabbinic responsa published primarily over the past five centuries. As part of that acceptance, the prospective convert must affirm his nor her acceptance of the foundational basis for these practices: that they stem from G-d’s Word at Mount Sinai and as dictated by G-d further to Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses our Teacher) during discrete periods amid the Jews’ forty-year peregrinations through the Sinai Desert. At the time of naturalization, the prospective convert must sincerely accept these foundational beliefs and premises of the Judaic community.

24. There is no normative precedent for aliens that waves a prospective American citizen’s obligation to pledge unequivocal fealty to the U.S. Constitution. There is no normative precedent for aliens that waves a prospective Jewish convert’s obligation to pledge adherence to the codes of Judaic practice, faith, and procedure.

25. A child — a boy under age 13 or a girl younger than 12 — may convert to Judaism under similar and even somewhat easier procedures, necessarily more lenient by virtue of the youth’s lesser capacity to bear certain obligations or to fathom fully the scope and depth of certain commitments undertaken. Procedurally, therefore, the minor may renounce a childhood conversion to Judaism, signaling that renunciation within a reasonable window of time upon reaching the age of majority — or may manifest continued adherence to the commitments made during the childhood conversion.

26. A baby, still intellectually incapable of undertaking any commitment at all regarding Judaism or anything else, may be converted to Judaism by a rabbinic court upon the application and sponsorship of the parents or other guardians rearing that baby, subject to those guardians committing to rear that baby in accord with the obligations and commitments a cognizant and sentient applicant would undertake. Thereafter, that baby may renounce the conversion to Judaism transacted during infancy, signaling that renunciation within a reasonable window of time upon reaching the age of majority — or may manifest continued adherence to the commitments made during the conversion at infancy.

27. Inasmuch as the child’s naturalization, like that of an adult, is rooted in a sincere commitment to adhere scrupulously and life-long to Judaic practice, the converting child must live in a home parented by Jews who themselves maintain weekly Sabbath observance, kosher diet, and other lawful Jewish practices. Thus, although foster and adoptive parents can play such roles, non-Jewish parents cannot practicably play that role, nor can Jewish parents who do not provide assurance of continuing Sabbath adherence and kosher dining.

28. Changes in governmental legislation, even when enacted cautiously, inevitably are susceptible to unintended consequences. For example, early American efforts to assure equal pay, health care, and non-discrimination for homosexuals in the workplace now have resulted in photographers, bakers, florists, and other creative professionals prosecuted and driven into bankruptcy when they refuse, upon request, to direct their unique artistic skills to enhance an LGBTQ affair that violates their faith, beliefs, and religious practices. Public schools in certain jurisdictions now require unisex bathrooms for children, and curricula inculcate same-sex and transgender education and culture. Women’s college sports increasingly are dominated by biological males who have “transitioned.” Efforts to overcome racial discrimination now extend to demands for “reparations” to be paid even to well established Blacks by White people whose forebears arrived in America as second-class immigrants long after slavery had ended, even as Critical Race Theory is written into school curricula and text books, changing course syllabi to teach false historical narratives and “woke math.” Likewise, “one-time amnesties” for illegal and undocumented immigrant aliens now see American municipalities allow as many as 800,000 non-citizens to vote in local elections.

29. In similar vein, none can predict the scope of future Israeli Supreme Court intervention in matters of Knesset-enacted conversion substantive law and procedure if conversion jurisprudence is transferred from the Chief Rabbinate’s central oversight to that of the secular Knesset. Indeed, none could have anticipated the Israeli Supreme Court would entangle itself in whether the Chief Rabbinate can be coerced into having women or others sit for its rabbinic ordination exams. Moreover, with a reform rabbi now elected to the Knesset for the first time, as well as with other intensely anti-religious Knesset parties and members sitting in parliament, the Kahana proposed conversion “reforms” can lead — although presently unimaginable — to consequential future roles for anti-religious secularists in shaping the substance and procedure of Judaic conversions in Israel.

30. As an example of how the law of unintended consequences can play out in matters of life cycle and personal status, enacted Israeli marriage law historically has aimed to prevent Jews from marrying outside the halakhic framework within Israel’s geographical borders. Simultaneously, in accord with the laws of comity of nations, Israel recognizes marriages conducted abroad. Therefore, secular Israeli Jews seeking a contra-halakhic marital framework often marry in nearby Cyprus. Through more than half a century, it was unforeseeable that an American polity, the state of Utah, would allow people to marry via Zoom under the rubric of its state courts while the joining spouses Zoom physically from Israel. Unanticipated by Israel’s lawmakers, it thus now is possible for Jews to marry “overseas” contra-halakhically, gaining the benefits of the comity of nations, even while they reside within Israel’s geographical borders.

These thirty (30) points comprise the bottom lines of what is at stake and at play as the Knesset takes up Minister Matan Kahana’s proposed conversion “reforms.”

Rabbi Prof. Dov Fischer is Contributing Editor at The American Spectator, adjunct professor of law at two prominent Southern California law schools, Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Coalition for Jewish Values, rabbi of Young Israel of Orange County, California, and has held prominent leadership roles in several national rabbinic and other Jewish organizations. He was Chief Articles Editor of UCLA Law Review, clerked for the Hon. Danny J. Boggs in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and served six years on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. His writings have appeared in The Weekly Standard, National Review, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Jerusalem Post, Israel Hayom, and The Jewish Press. Other writings are collected at www.rabbidov.com .

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