There are two stories in today's press which discuss the conversion crisis in Israel, especially after the ruling that all conversions (probably in the tens of thousands) of Rabbi Druckman, head of the Conversion Authority of Israel, are void; revoking the conversion of a woman who converted 15 years ago; and authorizing the annulment of conversions of anyone who has not continued to be Shomer Mitzvot. (The full decision, in Hebrew, may be found HERE. Thanks go to Failedmessiah.com for posting the link!)
The first story, reported by Ha'aretz, claims that Chief Sephardic Rabbi, Shelomo Amar, will reverse the decision of the court and declare that the conversions are valid. According the report, however, the pending decision to cancel those conversions was drafted back in February (Hello! That is over two months ago!), but the decision "took Amar by surprise."
Really? I doubt that very seriously.
Amar, after all, is a very unlikely hero to be jumping on the white horse to save the day for the religious-Zionist rabbi who did conversions that the Haredi press has been attacking since day one (and, their attacks may be justified--I don't say they aren't). Rabbi Amar, after all, is the one who went to America to force-feed the right-wing agenda to the RCA on conversions. He is the one who has been fighting to make the whole process as stringent as possible. So, why this sudden attack of charity?
It could be the very real issue of an already overburdened Rabbinate faced with over 20,000 "suddenly un-Jewish" people who need to fix their status on an emergency basis (for example, married people--some pregnant--who can't even touch now, and whose children might be born without Jewish status; people who have been buried in Jewish gravesites who must now be dug up because they are suddenly "not Jewish;" children who are being thrown out of religious schools for not being Jewish just as finals are approaching . .. etc., etc., etc.). With such stress upon them, can they do any better with the conversions than Druckman did? It is a very real challenge that Amar may be to wise to avoid confronting. It would be wiser to review those cases one at a time and make determinations on that basis--but such an inquiry would be even more burdensome than the first option.
Of course, there is also the well-held and well-regarded opinion of many sages that once someone is converted, they are converted. There is no way to "un-convert" someone. So, the whole issue rides on how Amar, who has been the champion of strictness in conversion, will view this new halachic wrinkle. Will he try to deny the conversion of the woman in question, but allow the conversion of the other converts that Druckman authorized, which would continue to allow the idea of retroactive annulment of conversion to persist, or will he split from the Haredi concept of retroactive annulment of conversion to state that such an action is preposterous and cannot be accomplished in Jewish Law--allowing the original woman's get to be reinstated, and her Jewishness left in tact despite her later actions? After all, the whole issue rides upon the interpretation of one phrase by Rabbi Joseph Caro in the Shulhan Arukh that the Ger must have the intention of being "Qabbalat Mitzvot" at the time of the conversion.
If Rabbi Amar decides to revoke the Jewishness of the woman from whom this controversy arises, but allow the Jewishness of the other converts, that he has placed all converts into a position of having their Jewishness questioned for the rest of their lives, and having them, their children, and their grandchildren face a permanent secondary status in the Jewish world. What might follow is incomprehensibly cruel, and would violate the Torah precept to "accept the stranger as you were once a stranger." Like Catholic Marranos before the Court of the Inquisition, converts would be constantly under suspicion, spied upon by their neighbors and friends, under the constant threat of blackmail, refused in marriage, buried separately from "real" Jews. Their children would be suspect, their children's children . . . and on and on into the future.
The second story is on YNet this morning. It states that "National Religious Party Chairman MK Zevulun Orlev announced Sunday he plans to propose a bill calling for stripping the rabbinical courts of all authority pertaining to conversions." I am not sure who would oversee conversions if this occurs, but it may be the impetus for Rabbi Amar to announce that he will work to revoke the ruling. Personally, I don't think that MK Orlev's bill goes far enough.
If I were in the Knesset, I would have proposed a bill to completely dissolve the Rabbinate. Such a bill is needed. With the Rabbinate as part of Israel's government, the secular MKs have too much power over the religious affairs of Jews. After all, the Chief Rabbi is not someone elected by their peers as the greatest sage of their time--the Chief Rabbi is a political post, named by the secular PM to head up the religious courts. Although the Chief Rabbis are probably fine fellows with upstanding vitae, as long as they are appointed by PMs and not by their fellow rabbis, I doubt both their motives and their qualifications. I can't help but think they are nothing but simpering political hacks with nice headwear.
What would we do without the Rabbinate? We would have to rely upon Chief Rabbis named by their peers and by the people in local areas. Chief Rabbis would have to be connected to local issues (as they have always been and should be), and they would be answerable to those people and not to a PM who wants to give land to Arabs or thinks that religious soldiers should share a foxhole with women. Who knows? Without a Rabbinate, we might even need to rely upon the Sanhedrin! Now, wouldn't that be something to write home about?
As it stands, however, the damage has already been done to converts and Rabbi Druckman by the court, and I doubt it can be undone. No matter what Rabbi Amar does, he cannot take back what the court has said--and many will follow the court's opinions not matter what Amar says. The converts will be second-class citizens. Rabbi Druckman will never regain his reputation or his name, and for that, the court should tremble in fear before Hashm. Last I knew, destruction of one's name is tantamount to Murder. I certainly hope the rabbis who served upon this committee never commit a sin--as they have now put converts in the position of never sinning--and one who puts others in that position must be held to a higher standard.
I hope they are up to it. I doubt, very seriously, they are.
The greatest bit of sense on this matter, I have to say, came from a young man to whom I was describing this situation on Shabbat. He said, "If I were one of those converts, I would continue to perform the Mitzvot and say, 'to hell with the court.' They are no one. It is Hashm who decides, not them."
So, if you are one of those people injured by this court decision, I hope you will listen to the wisdom of one young man. I have a feeling he is wiser than all the rabbis who call themselves "great."