Feb 15, 2011

Conquering the Conversion Conversation

You know me -- I really try to ignore all of the "who is a Jew" convert business because it saturates the news in Israel and the U.S. at all hours of every day every few weeks or months. Something happens, there's an outcry, and then it settles down, we go about our business, and then something else happens. I don't like to dwell on the negativity that swirls around conversion in the U.S. versus Israel, but lately it seems to really be taking on a life of its own.

There's the outcry that it's easier to have a "liberal" (i.e., Conservative or Reform) conversion and make aliyah than for the Orthodox convert who went through the process outside Israel. Personally, this seems pretty ridiculous, and it will drive converts to go Conservative and live a happily Conservadoxish life. It defeats the purpose of trying to get converts to go on that happy Orthodox path of truth and light (sarcasm, folks).

Then there is the story about the Modern Orthodox Canadian convert who has been denied immigration, even though he had an Orthodox conversion and is married to an Israeli Jew! The policy has always been that if you're a convert and married to a halachic Jew, it's like a golden ticket for aliyah. So what gives? Oh, right, he converted with rabbis who are on the International Rabbinical Fellowship (read: heretical rabbis who want to overthrow the Rabbinical Council of America's domination of the Orthodox conversion process in the United States). I'll admit that I am a little troubled by the fact that this individual had an Orthodox conversion and continued to work on the Sabbath and not fully observe, which is a requirement of the post-conversion life, but in reality, they converted him, he's Jewish, that's that (maybe this bothers the power that be in Israel, too?) What he chooses to do is up to him (this, of course, is a simplification -- post-conversion you're watched like a hawk).

On that note, this little morsel from the tail-end of the story surprised me, I'll admit, but it makes me feel pretty solid with my conversion.

For immigrants from North America, the Chief Rabbinate is only recognizing conversions carried out by the Rabbinical Council of America, a primarily ultra-Orthodox group.
I guess that means I'm ultra-Orthodox? Oy to the vey.

For all intents and purposes, there is a list that is regularly updated list that includes all of the batei din accepted by Israel for the sake of conversion. Of course, this is for Orthodox conversion, but the point of all of this hullabaloo is that Reform and Conservative conversions have the potential to be less problematic when it comes to moving to Israel -- what happens when you're there is a different story. But wouldn't this encourage people to have a Reform conversion in the U.S. or anywhere else, make aliyah, and only then have an Orthodox conversion? In Israel itself? Is that good enough?

What's my point? My point is that this is all the usual, run-of-the-mill junk that is out there regarding whose conversion is good enough, whose is the best, whose is accepted, and who should go back and restart the game of geirus. It's hard, and it's tough, and it's mind-bogglingly frustrating, but it's the reality of the situation right now. As Harold Kushner surely would say, it's how we respond to it that makes a difference. We cannot control the powers that be, nor can we control who says whether our conversions are good enough. What we can control, however, is how we react to the situation -- with grace and dignity and patience or with anger and disengagement and giving up. I encourage everyone to choose the former. To get angry only fuels the fire of those who surely would say that only a born-Jew is good enough to be a Jew.


Esther said...

I'm sorry Chaviva, but from my perspective, this whole discussion about who is and is not a Jew is really a form of racism plain and simple (even if all the people involved are ostensibly of the same race.) The debate implies that there is something within the blood and bones of Jewish people that is different and presumably superior to other people. We all know that this sense of superiority is pervasive within frum circles and provided a justification to outsiders for all sorts of anti-semitic thinking. Furthermore, it tears up people's lives needlessly. We've all heard of cases of people who were brought up in an observant homes only to have questions arise about their maternal grandmother's legitimacy making them virtually marriageable.

Objections to this type of primitive tribal nonsense ought not be internalized. Rather than keeping a stiff upper lip about this garbage, people should speak up because it's the kind of poison that can rot a whole system from the inside.

Rivki @ Life in the Married Lane said...

Lol on the ultra-Orthodox bit, Chavi! It reminds me of a conversation I once had with my (not-frum) brother. He brought up a rumor he had heard somewhere, and when I said, "ick, no one does that," he said, "It's the ultra-Orthodox who do it." I said, "I AM the ultra-Orthodox, bro."

Well, there are plennnnty of people frummer than I, but on the whole Jewish spectrum, I'm pretty frum.

That said, let me posit a potentially unpopular opinion: Perhaps the Orthodox converts undergo more scrunity before aliyah because more is expected of them as Jews.

rivkayael said...

I read the article. I'm not sure that there's no room to work if you are in the armed forces. He said that he observes Shabbat. Perhaps he does stuff but does not violate melachot? We have no idea if he was under the guidance of a rav, the same way frum MDs would be under the guidance of a rav on minimizing chilul Shabbat in the hospital.

At least in Israel, religious soldiers sometimes have to work on Shabbat.

It also seems that he didn't enjoy the freedom of religion that we enjoy here in the US. We know too little about the situation and it doens't hurt to be dan lechaf zechut.

Dipper said...

Rivki, the Ministry of the Interior doesn't have a problem with Reform and Conservative conversions because it DOES have a problem with the Orthodox in general. This is the same ministry that welcomed with open arms hundreds of thousands of immigrants who openly stated that they weren't Jewish, but had rights according to the Law of Return.

rivkayael, the permission for Jews to work on Shabbat in the army, police and in hospitals etc. is only if they are protecting or treating Jews. The rationale is that one Shabbat is violated so that later many more can be observed later by the Jew saved. That's the halachah. Please don't anyone yell at me about it. I didn't decide. Outside of Israel there is no Jewish army, but organizations like the ambulance service Hatzlolah exist. Working on Shabbat in a non-Jewish hospital is forbidden. I learned that from a doctor friend of mine who was in the Shomer Shabbos group at a NJ hospital. The whole group never worked on Shabbat or Jewish holidays.

I'm sorry, but the Rabbinate in Israel has good reason to be suspicious of courts that convert people who don't keep Shabbat afterward. The same situation happened in Israel not long ago with converts who converted through a certain court not keeping Shabbat and other major mitzvot. We're not talking about hair-splitting on the size of a head covering or level of kashrut. I don't want to get into the issue of nullifying conversions because that's an issue for the Sages, but if a court is deemed problematic, then potential converts can be warned not to convert through them.

I highly doubt that anyone who sincerely wanted to go through an Orthodox conversion and live in Israel would go through a charade with a Reform or Conservative conversion first. Going to Israel on a tourists' visa and enrolling in a conversion program is a much more likely choice.

Chaviva, keep your paperwork in order and maintain contact with recognized rabbis who can vouch for you when you do decide that it's time to join us home in Israel. Unfortunately legitimate converts sometimes have to do more than they should to prove Jewishness. My oldest are going to be marriageable age soon. Believe me I'm not looking forward to being grilled about my conversion, but I realize that it's a necessity.

Batya said...

There's a big problem with the immigration laws here. In some ways the chareidi are more afraid of the regular dati than of those who call themselves Reform and Conservative.

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...

@Esther I still can't see it as racist. But I understand where you're coming from.

@Rivki :)

@Dipper Never fear -- I've got my paperwork in order. I wrote and wrote until they sent it to me. I've got multiple copies, too. I'm keeping everything very much in order, keeping my contacts with my rabbis up, etc. No one's going to question me!

@Batya True that.

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