Friday, May 30, 2008

'It's wrong to strip Jewish status'
By Rabbi Naftali Brawer - Thursday 29th 2008f May 2008

I don’t know if many of you are aware of the latest rabbinical scandal to emerge from Israel. It is huge with reverberations across Europe and the United States.

It began earlier this year when the Ashdod Rabbinical Court was involved in a divorce proceeding. During the course of the proceeding it was determined that the woman – who had been converted to Judaism 15 years earlier by Rabbi Hayim Druckman of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate’s State Conversion Authority – never adhered to Orthodox practice. As such the Ashdod Rabbinical Court revoked the woman’s conversion retroactively thereby stripping the couple’s four children of their Jewish status as well. This alleviated the necessity of the Jewish husband having to give her a get.

At the end of April a three man panel of Dayanim comprising the rabbinical High Court of Jerusalem not only upheld the Ashdod decision but went so far as to recommend that all conversions under Rav Druckman be annulled retroactively!

Just take a moment to allow this to sink in. We are talking about 15 years worth of conversions. Thousands of individuals and their children who think they are Jewish suddenly find out one morning that they are not!

As you can imagine this ruling sent shockwaves throughout the Jewish world.

The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA,) of which I am proud to be a member, condemned the ruling in the strongest terms. They called it a Hillul Hashem (a desecration of God’s name) and said that it was “beyond the pale of acceptable halakhic practice”

What type of rabbis could even suggest striping thousands of Jews of their Jewish status? What kind of Judaism is this? It is shameful!

This I am afraid is not an isolated case but rather it is symptomatic of a most disturbing trend in the Jewish world to be more and more stringent. To find reasons to forbid, to exclude, to condemn, when what we should be concerned with is finding ways to permit, to include, to vindicate.

Such oppressive and exclusive Judaism does not uphold the Torah, it degrades it!

The rabbinical judges who suggested revoking thousands of conversions would do well to remember the Talmudic passage in tractate Shabbat page 138 where the Talmud says:

It was taught in the name of Rabbi Yose ben Elisha; if you see a generations with manifold troubles examine the behaviour of its rabbinical judges [for it is they who are responsible for this state] as it says in the third chapter of Mica:

Hear this you rulers of the house of Jacob
You chiefs of the house of Israel
Who detest justice,
And make crooked all that is straight.

Of what use is all of their rabbinical learning if they cannot apply it in such a way as to assist real people with real problems?

Every Shabbat afternoon for the past six months I have been teaching a class on rabbinic responsa. Those who attend regularly know that although the topics change each week, the one consistent thread that runs through these responsa is the extend to which great rabbis have gone to try to help people, to include people, to make Judaism easier for those who struggle to observe it!

I am not saying that Halakha is malleable so that it can be manipulated to support any position. Of course not! There are red lines in Halakha – that is one of the definitions of any legal system. What I am saying is that the space between those red lines is much broader than many rabbis today care to admit.

Can you imagine a great rabbi of the past such as Rabbi Moshe Feinstein revoking thousands of conversions before straining every fibre in his being to find a way to validate them?

The Torah commands us not to oppress a convert. The great 19th century Rosh Yeshiva, the Netziv of Veloszhin, says that this prohibition also applies to those who stand by silently as others oppress the convert.

That is why I am speaking out today. What we see is nothing less than a real violation of the dignity of the convert and I want no part of it.

I believe in a Torah that values human dignity and instructs its followers to do all they can to minimize human misery and suffering.

I believe that the Torah’s ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are paths of peace.

May these values prevail in the end bringing glory to God, to His Torah and to His people Amen.

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