A Well Trodden Path Out of the Conversion Law Impasse

November 4, 2014

Mikve_naia_3EnglishSince the conversion reform law of MK Elazar Stern passed its first reading, tensions have been rising between proponents and opponents of the law. The most succinct exhibit of those tensions is that Chief Rabbis Yitzhak Yosef and David Lau told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday that the chief rabbinate would not recognize conversions performed by municipal chief rabbis under the terms of the proposed legislation. Rabbi David Stav, in turn, heavily criticized the chief rabbis, adding that „The person running the chief rabbinate today is Arye Deri. He decides who is a Jew and who is not, who is a rabbi and who is not.“

Stav further threatened that the law could pass and new conversion courts could effectively operate without the chief rabbis’ cooperation. This may be his strongest attack on the Chief Rabbinate of Israel to date; it is an outright declaration of war.

We are at an impasse. But there is a good and healthy way out.

Read the rest of my Op-Ed at the Jerusalem Post, or Click to See a Scan of the Article and Read the rest of this entry »

Respecting, Caring for and Helping the Convert

October 28, 2014

Mikve_naia_3EnglishFamous Tanach expert Rav Yoel Bin Nun once said he is saddened when people sing the popular song vesamachta bechagecha vehayita ach sameach, which is rather surprising, since all the song is about is to repeat the mantra, lifted from parts of two biblical verses, that convey “you shall rejoice on your holiday and be gladdened.” What can be sad about that? Rav Yoel Bin Nun explained that his sadness stemmed from a misuse of the verses, as the thing which is to gladden us is (Deuteronomy 16:14-15):

And you shall rejoice in your feast, you, and your son, and your daughter, and your manservant, and your maidservant, and the Levite, the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are within your gates. … and you shall be gladdened

When we rejoice together with the poor, the weak, the downtrodden, the lost souls and those who wish to be part of our holy nation but have no Jewish parents or siblings with whom to celebrate the holidays, then we shall legitimately be gladdened. (Rav Yoel Bin Nun would want us to sing the first verse in its entirety. I tried it, but it is hard to fit to the tune 32px-Sert_-_sad_smile.svg.)

This is one of the many instances in which we are enjoined to help, support, protect and respect the convert. Following in the wake of a scandal in Washington DC, in which cameras were allegedly installed in a women’s mikve, a number of articles have been penned in support of converts, particularly female converts, and the challenges they face in the course and procedures of conversion. In this post, I would like to address one of those articles, A Bill of Rights for Jewish Converts by Bethany S. Mandel. In a different post, I address A Modest Proposal for Women’s Conversion by Michal Tikochinsky. Read the rest of this entry »