‘Yom Kippur’s the obstacle’ – a look into the future

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11 Responses

  1. Will Choose says:

    Was the dateline April 1st or Purim?

  2. Loberstein says:

    “What does religion have to do with conversion to Judaism?”

    I would never disagree with Rabbi Feldman. For one reason, he knows the realities of the diaspora, unlike the political appointees as religious judges whose main qualilficaton is a relationship to another rabbi of note.l Rabbi Feldman also knows many converts in Atlanta who are today much more observant than they were when they first were admitted to the tribe. How ccan one expect more from the Russians, after all they have gone through? Maybe, much of the fault is in how the religion is presented to them and by whom. As the Gemara makes clear, once an adult has tasted sin, he doesn’t see Judaism as a benefit. If we started with the assumption that this is part of the ingathering of the exiles and that Israel needs these people,we could find a way to bring them closer without scaring them away. The secularists in Israel are guilty of not appreciating the Jewish Religion, but if you only saw the corruption of the Israeli religious establishment, you wouldn’t be religious either. It is despite the rabbis, not because of them. I sat with them at a conference in Jerusalem this past summer and they impressed me as political hacks, not men of G-d. Some seemed totally disinterested in the real life situation of converts, only in their sinecures. Rabbi Feldman has written of s himself in the past.

  3. DMZ says:

    You really need to label your spoofs better. Not all of us are as witty as R’ Feldman.

  4. Bob Miller says:

    We always ought to distinguish between Russian-born residents of Israel who are of Jewish descent by the halachic definition and those who are not. How can we have any religious obligation toward the latter that goes beyond our obligation to people in general?

  5. Charles says:

    This is the problem that comes from fusing religion and the state.

    The Orthodox rabbinate quite correctly insists on certain standards and requirements for those who wish to convert. As a Conservative rabbi I too have my own standards and have on occasion come under pressure to bend them or “be flexible” when a congregant’s child wishes to marry someone, but I have resisted that pressure.

    The problem in Israel comes from the fact that having an identity card which says “Jewish” is the key to all kinds of benefits and employment opportunities, and the keeper of that key is the government rabbinate. A government department has the obligation to serve the needs of the state and its citizens. You can’t have it both ways.

    The secular establishment is also at fault, though, for its willingness to leave control over the term “Jewish” to the state rabbis. Over twenty years ago I gave a number of lectures in secular kibbutzim where I argued that if they were serious about their identity as secular Jews they ought to have a process of “giyur chiloni” and demand the state recognize it. It was easier for them to simply encourage would-be converts to go through the motions and pretend to be observant.

    Would I recognize the graduate of a “giyur chiloni” program as Jewish in my shul? Probably not, but then again, my recognition or lack thereof does not control access to government benefits or employment.

    Yeshayahu Liebowitz was right.

  6. hp says:

    Charles,

    The problem related to “the fact that having an identity card which says “Jewish” is the key to all kinds of benefits and employment opportunities” is real.

    However, why promote falsehood to rectify a problematic situation?

    Being “Jewish” is not a political entity, in which one need follow protocol to easily register in a new party. Easing criteria to broaden admission eligibility to a sports club might be reasonable.

    However, Judaism is a religion- aside from the citizen benefits associated with the word “Jew”, how can it be conceived as reasonable to allow those who REJECT the Jewish religion to ADOPT the Jewish religion”?

    To put it simplistically, is a speech therapist ever permitted to join the American Physical Therapy Association? Only as an affiliate member, not as a therapist. If you are not a PT, why pretend? How can one “be a PT” without actually becoming one? How can one “convert” to being Jewish without accepting the basics of what that means? What is the point of such a conversion, aside from the monetary benefits?

    “Giyur chiloni” is inherently illogical. Does it make sense for a Christian who both rejects the tenets of Christianity and lives a life devoid of any Christian ritual or ideology to decide to “convert” like-minded secularists to “Christianity”? This is an absurd scenario.

    What does conversion to a religion mean if the potential “converter” and “convertee” have no interest in the religion? Logical if the participants are in preschool, involved in dress-up and pretend play. Except in these colorful imaginations, in which children believe they can be ANYTHING they fancy despite logical constraints (Sally can play daddy easily), a “conversion” to a religion which doesn’t involve religion is reminiscent of Alice’s Never Never Land.

  7. Charles says:

    HP:

    Briefly, as the holy Sabbath approacheth.

    I’m not arguing that the government rabbis, or any other rabbis, should sponsor converts who don’t meet their standards. A rabbi is honor-bound to uphold the standards he or she believes in.

    I am arguing that there should not be government rabbis at all and that some other modality be used for entering into the category of people who are entitled to carry an Israeli identity card that says “Jew.”

    It is not necessary that “the category of people who are entitled to carry an Israeli identity card that says Jew” be the same as the category of Jews under halacha. It just puts a little bit extra burden on each rabbi or community to do the necessary checking before granting membership, officiating at a wedding, giving an aliyah, whatever.

    I disagree that “giyur chiloni” is an absurd scenario while also calling your attention to my statement that I would not personally accept such a person as a Jew for purposes of my shul. Jews are both a nation and a religion and it is not absurd to want to be a part of the Jewish nation without necessarily subscribing to the Jewish religion. That describes a significant percentage of Israelis and the overwhelming majority of those who established the state.

  8. hp says:

    Charles,

    You wrote: “I am arguing that there should not be government rabbis at all and that some other modality be used for entering into the category of people who are entitled to carry an Israeli identity card that says “Jew.””

    I agree with you, up until the last word. “Jew” means something very specific. You sound like a proud and caring Jew. Therefore, I’m surprised that you think less of the Jewish religion that that of Christianity or Islam. You know full well that in Christianity and Islam (among other religions), one who converts does so to change their religion, (shouldn’t this be obvious?) with all that this entails.

    Why have such a watered down view of Judaism? Only in Judaism is it OK to convert to the religion without even a pretense of interest in the religion? Let’s be frank- individuals in Israel desire to convert for the financial benefits, not for spiritual reasons. If Israel invites and allows so many gentiles to reside in the Land, they should determine a reasonable plan to for them to meet the criteria for benefits. If the criteria include a particular religion, these criteria might need to change.

    You wrote: “It is not necessary that “the category of people who are entitled to carry an Israeli identity card that says Jew” be the same as the category of Jews under halacha.”

    Then why use the term “Jew”? “Israeli”, or any other term, would have the same utilitarian effect, without the subsequent problems you mention.

    You wrote: “I disagree that “giyur chiloni” is an absurd scenario while also calling your attention to my statement that I would not personally accept such a person as a Jew for purposes of my shul. Jews are both a nation and a religion and it is not absurd to want to be a part of the Jewish nation without necessarily subscribing to the Jewish religion.”

    Charles, how are the Jews a nation? Our nationhood began at Sinai, where we accepted the Torah. Our nation is not a political entity dependent on being organized under an independent government of a sovereign state (which would call into question the status of all current Jews in the Diaspora), or even a people who share common customs, history and language (who are the real Jews? Those from Persia? From Eastern Europe?)

    Our “Jewishness” indicates our religion. “Jew” and “Judaism” are inextricably bound; they are one and the same. You are correct that many Jews have not had the opportunity to invite our beautiful guidebook for life, the Torah, into their lives. In our religion, one who is born a Jew remains so forevermore, regardless of his current practice. Torah and the Jewish heritage are the birthright of every Jew, and every Jew is entitled to access this spiritual life-enhancing powerhouse the moment he/she wishes it.

    Those who wish to join the religion of Judaism do not have the option of joining the nation without religious practice. A Jew cannot give up his religion, but a gentile has no such heritage. Unlike an unalterable status such as ethnicity, however, one may recognize the truth of Judaism and wish to convert.

    If a Ahmed, a Muslim from an Islamic nation chooses to cast off the practices of his religion, he might still identify as “Muslim”. How about Ahmed’s friend, Tim? Tim met Ahmed in college, and thinks his religion is “cool”. He wishes to convert, but states he has no interest in the practices, beliefs, ideology or rituals of the Muslim religion. He wishes to convert because it will somehow benefit him (money, perhaps? A benefits package? Ah…). If he is refused conversion, would you call foul? Discrimination? Same scenario with Christianity.

    Wherein do you see the logic in advocating for the term “Jew” to be divested of its Judaism?

    I think you need to reflect on how exactly you define “nation” in Judaism. If it’s through blood or shared origins, conversion would be a logical impossibility. If it’s through current political entity, that leaves Diaspora Jews out of the picture. Shared culture? Perhaps through matza balls?

    Prior to Sinai, we were not a nation. Our forefather Abraham influenced many people to the ways of G-d. But they could not formally join a nation which did not yet exist. At Sinai, the Jews became more than a family bloodline; they achieved religious nationhood. Thus, the door opened for outsiders to join the family of Jews, and acquire an equal share in this spiritual heritage.

    If Israel’s residents require financial benefits, their needs should be given consideration. In the process, we need not distort the term “Jew”, and the wonderful Judaism it represents.

  9. Bob Miller says:

    HaShem’s commands are not to be treated as a Chinese menu.

  10. Charles says:

    HP:

    We are probably never going to agree on this issue but I appreciate the respectful tone which is, unfortunately, not so common in these debates.

    In my opinion there is a sociological reality that the word “Jew” has at least two meanings. One can be a Jew by religion or by nationality/ethnicity. In English we have two words, “Judaism” and “Jewishness” which are clearly not identical. In Hebrew you have only “yahadut” though one of my professors coined the term “yehudi-ut” but to my knowledge it has not caught on.

    I do not know if you are a Zionist though your postings in this thread represent the classic Agudist non-Zionist perspective. The major streams of Zionism — Labor in its many variants as well as Revisionism and General Zionism — posit that there is a Jewish people which is distinct from the Jewish religion. I have to acknowledge that the corollaries of this position are not always logical because the State of Israel, according to the Law of Return as amended, says you can be a Jew who follows Judaism or a Jew who follows no religion but not a Jew who follows a religion other than Judaism. So that even if you are a Jew by halacha the state will not give you a Jewish identity card if you are a Christian — the Brother Daniel case and the Beresford case bear this out.

    I appreciate the fact that you have a sincere desire to solve the problem of halachically Gentile immigrants who are descendants of Jews. So do I. I’m not sure how I feel about dropping the term “Jew” altogether vis-a-vis status and benefits. It would be a pragmatic solution but not, in my opinion, a Zionist one.

    One last thing. It isn’t always about money and benefits. People were persecuted in Europe as “Jews” and get to Israel to find that they are halachically, in fact, not Jews. They identify as Jews and want to be a part of the Jewish people but do not subscribe to Orthodox Judaism. They want to be recognized by the Jewish state as belonging to the Jewish people. I do not view this as illogical.

    Kol tuv,
    Charles Arian

  11. hp says:

    Charles,

    We have a fundamentally different understanding on a major issue, but I’m sure we both look forward to the time when all doubts will be clarified with the arrival of Mashiach.

    All the best,
    HP

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