Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

15 Adar 5762 - February 27, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











United Torah Judaism Rejects High Court's Conversion Decision
by Eliezer Rauchberger

The Interior Ministry must register local residents who convert to Judaism in non-halachically valid procedures, such as those performed by Reform and Conservative clergy, here or abroad, as Jews, a panel of 11 High Court justices ruled last week. Until now, the courts had only forced the Ministry to accept the validity of Reform or Conservative procedures performed abroad. The court said explicitly that its ruling applies only to the population registry and does not affect procedures involving personal status such as marriage and divorce. UTJ published a special statement condemning the decision as did Agudath Israel of America.

The Interior Ministry said it is studying the decision and considering how it will respond. The Interior Minister is the leader of the Shas party. One possibility is registering non- Orthodox converts as Reform Jews or Conservative Jews.

Only two justices dissented from the decision. Justice Jacob Turkel accepted it, but rejected the principle behind it and said it should no longer be applied.

Judge Yitzchak Englard, a religious Jew who is a close friend of Chief Justice Barak, was the only judge opposed to the ruling. In his minority opinion, he stated that the High Court is not allowed to rule on such an issue. He expressed strong censure of the judges, noting that since the issue is a matter of personal outlook, it is not subject to judiciary procedures. In his opinion he wrote, "The legal definition of conversion by has only one meaning: conversion according to Torah law, as it has been crystallized in Jewish halacha throughout the generations."

Chief Justice Barak went to great lengths to play down the importance of the ruling by explaining there is nothing new in the decision and it is based on a judicial precedent in force for 40 years. At the same time, however, he said the Jewish population of Israel does not constitute a monolithic religious community, headed by the chief rabbis, as the state had contended, but is the pluralistic state of the Jewish people.

Two other petitions by converts, still pending, involve demands to be recognized as Jews and granted citizenship in accordance with the Law of Return. According to a 1962 precedent in the Funk-Schlesinger case, the ruling said, the duty of Interior Ministry clerks is to register the personal details in the population registry exactly as they are told and without trying to judge their truth, unless they are blatant lies. According to Funk-Schlesinger, "The job of the registrar is that of one who is only collecting statistical data to update the population registry. He has no power of discretion."

The court rejected the state's argument that the job of registering a resident as Jewish is more than statistical, because of the implications this identity carries here. They also rejected the argument that Israelis could not be converted by Reform or Conservative rabbis because, according to a 1922 British Mandate law, they belong to the "Jewish religious community," headed by the chief rabbis.

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yisrael Lau lashed out against ruling, saying it creates a division between religion and the state, dividing a nation already in crisis, just at the moment when unity is needed. "Torah and mitzvos are the key to becoming part of the Jewish people," Chief Rabbi Lau said. This ruling will create two types of converts: those recognized by Halacha and those defined as Jewish by the High Court, he said. "The word Jewish might be stamped on their identity cards, but the Jewish nation will treat them non- Jews."

Orthodox MKs vowed to rectify the situation by proposing legislation.

Deputy National Infrastructure Minister Naomi Blumenthal (Likud) said the court ruling would "open a Pandora's box " and only aggravate religious-secular tensions. She also said the court's decision is a violation of the status quo. MK Avraham Ravitz (United Torah Judaism) said he would advance efforts to remove the nationality listing in the identity card.

The United Torah Judaism faction in the Knesset completely rejected the High Court decision concerning Reform and Conservative "conversions."

Following the decision, the UTJ faction published a special declaration, stating, "The reform and conservatives have been incessantly attempting to uproot and pervert the conversion process. The situation has reached the stage where nothing is left of the proper practice of giyur but a ceremony with absolutely no validity in Judaism. Recognition of conversion for the purpose of identity card registration will lead to a need to keep lists of family trees that will have to be consulted by anyone wishing to be a true Jew.

"In spite of the fact that according to the decision such `conversion' has no practical ramifications and doesn't alter one's personal status in the least, the United Torah Judaism faction believes that this decision is a blow to the preservation of the chain of generations of the Jewish people, and liable to blur true Jewish identity. Within two or three generations this is liable to bring about drastic assimilation within the Jewish people, since no one will know who is actually Jewish.

"This High Court decision is another example of judicial intervention in a strictly halachic issue along with delivering a blow to the halochoh that has been operative within the Jewish people for many generations and under the aegis of the rabbinical courts. The High Court justices have once again demonstrated their outlook and their social and Jewish point of view to anyone still unsure of it. The decision further strengthens United Torah Judaism's demand that judges be elected just like Knesset members. This demand that has been brought up a number of times in the past.

"The United Torah Judaism faction calls for immediate legislation of a law that will unequivocally determine that rabbinical courts are solely qualified to deal with conversion issues."

According to Rabbi Shmuel Bloom, Agudath Israel's executive vice president, the decision represents "a sad symbolic shift from the Jewish religious heritage, . . . which will only sow confusion, disillusionment and heartbreak. . . . The only solution is for the Jewish people to merit G-d's protection. What we desperately need now is affirmation, not abandonment, of our spiritual heritage and identity."

The Vaad Horabbonim Haolami Leinyonei Giyur founded by HaRav Chaim Kreiswirth zt"l gaavad of Antwerp issued a statement saying that the botei dinim and the rabbonim will now have to be more careful when examining the validity of converts. It is hoped that no one will depend on the registration of the Israeli identity card. In the past, many rabbinical registrars and burial societies have relied on the identity card even though the guidelines of the Chief Rabbinate say that this is not acceptable.

The Vaad wishes to clarify that a valid Orthodox conversion is not only determined by the affiliation of the rabbi performing the conversion, but mainly it must meet all halachic requirements including that the candidate fully and sincerely accepts shemiras mitzvos at the time of conversion.

The Vaad has documented evidence that most of the "conversions" performed by the Special Conversion Courts of the Chief Rabbinate in Israel do not meet these requirements and therefore are null and void even bedi'eved.

One should not confuse our battle against heretic Conservative and Reform clergy -- including their conversions -- with the issue of maintaining proper conversion standards within the Orthodox rabbinate.

In a related matter, the eleven judges rejected an appeal by leftists to revoke a provisional law enacted by the Knesset a year ago that allows draft deferments to full-time yeshiva students to proceed as they have for the past 50 years. The judges determined that since a special Knesset committee for this matter has yet to complete the legislative process, there is no cause for intervention by the High Court.


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