Sunday, July 25, 2010

Hitting the nail on the head

by Lurker

R. Dr. Jeffrey Woolf was interviewed by JPost blogger Shmuel Rosner regarding the Rotem bill fiasco. At one point in the interview, Woolf explains the central reason for the perennial conflict between non-Orthodox American Jews and Israel. He clearly and succinctly identifies the very root of the problem:
...we need to face the fact that there is a significant disconnect between the way many (if not most) non-Orthodox Diaspora Jews define Judaism and their relationship to it [as opposed to the way most Israelis define it]. American Jews are characterized by a Post-Modern, absolute individualism. Most, as a result, bristle at the very idea that any person or institution can decide who is or who is not Jewish. On the other hand, the over 80% of Israeli Jews who describe themselves as either Orthodox or Traditional (including many Israeli Conservative Jews) see things very differently. Their conception of Judaism is not totally subjective, and their obligation to the Jewish people, as a whole, and their strong connection to Jewish collective history and memory is obligating and formative.
In other words, here, the seamless combination of Jewish nationhood and Judaism, which has characterized Judaism from time immemorial, is very much alive. As a result, conversion is not simply a matter of religious self-expression.
If I can take the liberty of boiling Woolf's point down to its bare essense:

For most non-Orthodox American Jews, being Jewish is primarily a personal lifestyle choice. For most Israelis, being Jewish is primarily being part of a nation.

And therein lies the rub.



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35 comments:

Nachum said...

I'll take it a step further: This is one a few reasons why many American Jews are profoundly uncomfortable with the idea of Israel, period. A lot of this brouhaha is an excuse for such Jews to attack a State they don't really approve of in the first place.

Vox Populi said...

Can somebody explain to me the reason why the Rotem bill does not provide for the conversions performed by Conservative and Reform rabbis in Israel?

Vox Populi said...

Can somebody explain to me the reason why the Rotem bill does not provide for the conversions performed by Conservative and Reform rabbis in Israel?

Lurker said...

Vox Populi: Can somebody explain to me the reason why the Rotem bill does not provide for the conversions performed by Conservative and Reform rabbis in Israel?

Certainly. Right here.

Yonatan said...

No, its really none of your business, is it?

DO you have a dog in this fight?

Vox Populi said...

Lurker - So, I'm still not clear. I understand why you're fine with not having the State accept Reform conversions done inside Israel.

My question is that what is the State's rationale for not accepting those conversions. My understanding is that Israel recognizes Reform conversions performed in the United States. If Israel recognizes the conversions of Reform Jews in America, who make up a huge section of American Jewry, why won't they accept the conversions of Reform Jews in Israel, who are, by all accounts, numerically insignificant?

Lurker said...

Vox Populi: My question is that what is the State's rationale for not accepting those conversions. My understanding is that Israel recognizes Reform conversions performed in the United States.

Basically, the Israeli Supreme Court adopted the following view: Since Israeli law assigns all authority over conversions to the rabbinical courts, those courts have full and sole discretion to decide who can become a Jew and how -- and their decisions are therefore binding with regard to such laws as the Law of Return. (Note that even Israeli Orthodox rabbis who are not members of those courts do not have the authority to perform conversions.) However, since the rest of the world (e.g., the US) is outside the jurisdiction of the Israeli rabbinical courts, those courts have no authority to make determinations about which conversions performed abroad are valid, and which are not. In the absense of a clear, legally defined authority over this issue, the authority was unilaterally assumed by the Israeli Supreme Court itself, which -- exercising that assumed authority -- chose to rule Reform conversions performed abroad as valid.

I think the Court's reasoning is flawed from a variety of different perspectives, but that was their ruling.

And that is the State's rationale for not accepting Reform conversions performed in Israel, but accepting Reform conversions performed abroad.

Vox Populi said...

Lurker - thanks.

So, right now, the State, via the Rotem bill, is attempting to wrest control of conversions away from the Charedi dominated Rabbinate and place it among various decentralized municipal batei din, right? Therefore making it easier to effect conversions? If they're already willing to take conversions away from the sole purview of the Charedim, why aren't they willing to just let what I assume are only a few potential Reform converts - perhaps under some sort of municipal Reform beit din?

jonathan becker said...

something about this rubs me the wrong way. it may be that orthodox judaism IS a lifestyle choice, and the americans have at least this much right. or it may be that "our" nation includes 300000 russian goyim and 20% arab muslims who are no less israeli than you and me. or it may be that disingenuous lumping together of the 80% of israeli jews who "identify themselves as orthodox or traditional"- lurker, you must know as well as i do the vast gulf of observance that separates the israeli orthodox from yossi in the shuk who wears a kippa to work and "identifies as traditional" but doesn't know or care the first thing about judaism, beyond some chauvinistic notions of nationalism.

the whole thing bugs me, frankly.

NormanF said...

Many of the Russians are in mixed marriages with a Jewish spouse. As Jameel and Lurker would say, why would American Jews want to stand in the way of making it easier for them to become part of the Jewish people? Its not like American Jews would be harmed by Orthodox conversions performed in Israel that do not affect their lives in America in the slightest. Nothing in the David Rotem conversion bill would change their legal status. The uproar is phony and every one knows it.

Gee a Moron said...

Jonathan Becker:
you must know as well as i do the vast gulf of observance that separates the israeli orthodox from yossi in the shuk who wears a kippa to work and "identifies as traditional" but doesn't know or care the first thing about judaism, beyond some chauvinistic notions of nationalism.

I'm not convinced that "Yossi's" observance is any less of a legitimate mesorah (tradition) than yours (which may be tainted with "lo tosifu" - adding additional strictures which is prohibited in the Torah). I think that the inclusionary attitude of the eidot mizrach (sefardim) is heartwarming.

In any case, most lack of knowledge on the part of these traditional Jews has its roots in the deliberate policie of the secular Ashkenazi elite to separate them from their tradition. That is where the indignation should be directed.

jonathan becker said...

@gee a moron: i don't have any indignation against "yossi"- and these days he's not necessarily sefardi. i do have indignation against a poll that lumps him in with the orthodox in the way he "self identifies" as a jew. i don't see that this form of identification is superior in any way to that of an american, involved reform jew, who actually does have some idea of what it means to be a jew, even though he/she might not agree with me- or yossi. identifiying as a proud israeli doesn't have as much to do with jewishness as lurker seems to be saying. the conversion bill, whatever you may think about it, has more to do with being jewish than being israeli. the conflation of the two is, even more succinctly than lurker's point, about this conflation, which american jews are right imo to object to, even though they don't seem to understand the details of the bill.

the haredim are right about this: living in/conquering eretz yisrael may or may not be a mitzvah. but being or identifiying as an israeli certainly isn't.

jonathan becker said...

sorry, i meant "the beef with american jews is about this conflation".

jonathan becker said...

btw, geeamoron, i totally agree with your "baal tosif" point, and have no idea why you would assume that i am somehow guilty of this. not so, not so. i hope.

Lurker said...

Vox Populi: If they're already willing to take conversions away from the sole purview of the Charedim, why aren't they willing to just let what I assume are only a few potential Reform converts - perhaps under some sort of municipal Reform beit din?

Because as opposed to the Supreme Court, which is ideologically representative of no more than about 3% of the Israeli population, most Israelis would like to maintain the Jewish people as a unified nation. They have no desire to take actions (such as the one you suggest) that would directly lead to the creation of populations of Jews who are recognized as Jews by some groups and not by others, such that there would be entire "Jewish" populations unable to intermarry.

This all should be extremely obvious; it is the central point of this very post: For someone to whom being Jewish is nothing more than a personal lifestyle choice, there is no reason not to let all individuals or groups who wish to, to create their own new brands of Jewishness, even if this would irrevocably divide the Jewish people. But for those of us to whom being Jewish is being part of a nation, such a development would be seen as a catastrophic tragedy.

jonathan becker said...

@lurker: so, let's be clear. you mean part of a nation without connection to a particular religion? like the italians, who don't have to be catholic or pagan or whatever to be italian? because if this is what you mean, this is exactly what the american jews are objecting to- in spite of their religious differences with us. and rightly so- since it leaves them out. what kind of nation are you talking about? the israeli nation, as i have already pointed out, includes many non-jews, and requires no observance on the part of it's jews.

Vox Populi said...

>most Israelis would like to maintain the Jewish people as a unified nation.

But that ship has most surely sailed. There are, what, 6 million Jews in the US alone? The majority of whom are not Orthodox? Who are all considered Jewish vis a vis the Law of Return (as are their converts)? If you're worried about Israel being flooded with millions of non-Jews (not that millions of them would be converts), that would seem to be your main demographic threat. My understanding is that Reform Jews in Israel number maybe in the tens of thousands. Why not just close the gap and make the millions of American and Diaspora Jews happy?

>such that there would be entire "Jewish" populations unable to intermarry.

Again, I imagine the number would be relatively small, and, secondly, there already exists large populations of Israelis whom Jews will not marry. Arabs. I don't think Reform Converts will create a bigger schism than that which separates Jew from Arab.

>For someone to whom being Jewish is nothing more than a personal lifestyle choice, there is no reason not to let all individuals or groups who wish to, to create their own new brands of Jewishness, even if this would irrevocably divide the Jewish people.

I think this would have been a very interesting argument to have 200 years ago. We're already irrevocably split. Now what it appears the State is doing is using the government to define some Jews out.

Shira said...

There's a misconception going around about what being "lenient" about conversion means. If it were indeed this business of just waving a magic wand over the non-Jewish Russians, because once the rabbi makes a bracha on it it's kosher and walla no more intermarriage, then yes a Reform rabbi could do that too.

But the "lenient" conversions are going to be for non-Jews who are (a) interested and (b) fulfill certain minimum requirements of religious commitment (emphasis on minimum, but also emphasis on requirements).

If you've never read anything on the details, Rav Yosef Carmel gives a great introduction to the issue in Eretz Hemda's weekly newsletter:

http://www.eretzhemdah.org/newsletterArticle.asp?lang=he&pageid=4&cat=7&newsletter=896&article=3427

Tzipporah said...

Umm, say what? Since when did Orthodox Jews become the majority in Israel? How about comparing non-Orthodox american Jews to non-Orthodox Israeli Jews?

You're comparing apples to bicycles.

Sheesh.

The Reform Baal Teshuvah said...

The last major population study that was done used a methodology which, if I wanted to make it clear that I am not a Jewish atheist, I would have to select "traditional." So non-Orthodox Israeli Jews can wind up being counted as Dati.

Now, to this whole Yichus thing, and the whole question of rcognizing Reform conversions meaning everyone would have to worry about intermarriage all of a sudden . . .

How likely is it that a Charedi family would make a Shidduch with a Religious Zionist family? Would a Religious Zionist beam with pride if their daughter brought home a Chiloni? Even though the Rabbinate would label such pairings fit, the communities themselves would likely be unhappy.

"Who is a Jew" and "Who is enough of a Jew" are essentially the same question, when the question of marriage arises. Most of the people arguing for the Rotem bill here would, I suspect, cringe at the idea of their children marrying even halachically Jewish Reform Jews on the basis of Hashkafah.

So I have to say, I think the "entire Jewish populations unable to intermarry" contention is a strawman, because it's already a fact on the ground.

Vox Populi said...

>So I have to say, I think the "entire Jewish populations unable to intermarry" contention is a strawman, because it's already a fact on the ground.

Well, I think you're ignoring the very real difference between sitting shivah for your daughter and merely feeling above one's in-laws. You marry someone your parents consider to be completely not Jewish, and you're dead to them.

Commenter Abbi said...

Tzipporah-

Most Israelis are traditional to the extent that the shul they don't want to belong to has to be Orthodox. It's always been that way and it's why Reform and Conservative have never made major inroads here.

Shlomo said...

"How likely is it that a Charedi family would make a Shidduch with a Religious Zionist family? Would a Religious Zionist beam with pride if their daughter brought home a Chiloni?"

The RZ family would be perfectly happy if their daughter married a baal teshuva. They object to the chiloni lifestyle and beliefs, not to someone's having chiloni ancestry. So talking about "yichus" is really irrelevant in this context.

Shlomo said...

"How likely is it that a Charedi family would make a Shidduch with a Religious Zionist family? Would a Religious Zionist beam with pride if their daughter brought home a Chiloni?"

The RZ family would be perfectly happy if their daughter married a baal teshuva. They object to the chiloni lifestyle and beliefs, not to someone's having chiloni ancestry. So talking about "yichus" is really irrelevant in this context.

Anonymous said...

For many North American Jews, we choose a non Orthodox path because it makes more sense to us, and the actions of the Haredi reinforce our decisions. However, we do look to Israel to support our struggle with assimilation and intermarriage, and when the Haredi curse and and through feces on us (or more likely on our children who we send to Israel) near the Kotel, and when the Israeli powers that be turn the other way, or in the case of the Rotem bill, strengthen the hand of the Haredi, we have to protest, and we did.

The Reform Baal Teshuvah said...

The RZ family would be perfectly happy if their daughter married a baal teshuva.

Shlomo, I said a Chiloni. A BT has CEASED being a Chiloni.

I understand that the problem too lies in the fact that with American Reform Judaism, Patrilineal descent is a place where Reform Haskafah intersects uncomfortably with yichus.

But I will also say this - the document I referenced in the Unity thread is refreshing coming from the Reform movement. Unlike the 1885 Pittsburgh Platform which rejected halachah on the basis of its own intellectual arrogance, the Patrilineal Descent piece at least takes the trouble to seek out a tradition on which it can base itself.

Jack said...

most Israelis would like to maintain the Jewish people as a unified nation.

Too bad that doesn't exist in reality- you are talking about a dream.

Lurker said...

jonathan becker: so, let's be clear. you mean part of a nation without connection to a particular religion?

No, I don't. I mean the Jewish people. I would have thought that to be unequivocally and eminently clear from my post. I'm talking about Jews. Not "any people who happen to live in Israel", such as Muslim Arabs. Israel is supposed to be the Jewish State, remember?

Lurker said...

Vox Populi: There are, what, 6 million Jews in the US alone? The majority of whom are not Orthodox? Who are all considered Jewish vis a vis the Law of Return (as are their converts)? If you're worried about Israel being flooded with millions of non-Jews (not that millions of them would be converts), that would seem to be your main demographic threat.

Why is that a "demogrpahic threat"? As you yourself said, most of them are not converts. So they are mostly Jews, according to everybody. What's the problem?

Vox Populi: Again, I imagine the number would be relatively small, and, secondly, there already exists large populations of Israelis whom Jews will not marry. Arabs.

*sigh* I'm talking about Jews here. Arabs are not part of the Jewish people.

Vox Populi: We're already irrevocably split.

No, we're not. I personally know many Orthodox Jews who have married Jews from Reform, Conservative, or non-affiliated backgrounds.

Lurker said...

Tzipporah: Umm, say what? Since when did Orthodox Jews become the majority in Israel?

When did I say that they were?

Tzipporah: How about comparing non-Orthodox american Jews to non-Orthodox Israeli Jews?

Because most traditional (not "Orthodox") Israeli Jews -- who are the majority in Israel -- do not identify at all with the Reform movement, and do not want Reform rabbis to be given the authority to perform conversions that could directly lead to the problem I addressed in this post. And for the very reason that I gave.

Lurker said...

The Reform Baal Teshuvah: How likely is it that a Charedi family would make a Shidduch with a Religious Zionist family?

Not likely, but I have been at such weddings. More than once.

tRbT: Would a Religious Zionist beam with pride if their daughter brought home a Chiloni?

Again, they might not "beam with pride", but it happens. A lot.

tRbT: "Who is a Jew" and "Who is enough of a Jew" are essentially the same question, when the question of marriage arises.

Um, no. It's not. At all.

You don't live in Israel, do you? You have no idea how incredibly wrong you are here.

tRbT: So I have to say, I think the "entire Jewish populations unable to intermarry" contention is a strawman, because it's already a fact on the ground.

To the contrary -- your argument, based as it is upon your own personal conjecture, as opposed to the actual facts on the ground -- is the strawman.

Lurker said...

Vox Populi: Well, I think [the Reform Baal Teshuvah is] ignoring the very real difference between sitting shivah for your daughter and merely feeling above one's in-laws.

Agreed.

Vox Populi: You marry someone your parents consider to be completely not Jewish, and you're dead to them

I would nevertheless make note of the fact that this extreme approach is far less prevalent (outside of the haredi world) than it was a generation or two ago.

Lurker said...

Anonymous @ 12:20 AM: ...when the Israeli powers that be turn the other way, or in the case of the Rotem bill, strengthen the hand of the Haredi, we have to protest, and we did.

That is a stupendously ignorant statement, since the Rotem bill was an attempt to wrest power away from the haredim, who currently have a complete monopoly over conversions. As a result of your benighted self-defeating protest, you have prevented this from happening, and instead ensured that the power will remain unchallenged in the exclusive hands of the haredim.

Congratulations.

Lurker said...

The Reform Baal Teshuvah: ...the Patrilineal Descent piece at least takes the trouble to seek out a tradition on which it can base itself.

As long as it is a unilateral decision by the Reform movement, as it is, and not accepted by other Jewish streams (including the Conservative movement, btw), this Reform decision is an outrageous stab in the heart of Jewish unity, and shows utter contempt for the Jewish nation as a whole.

Vox Populi said...

>Why is that a "demogrpahic threat"? As you yourself said, most of them are not converts. So they are mostly Jews, according to everybody. What's the problem?

I'm talking specifically about their converts. I'm assuming a population of millions of non-Orthodox Jews will result in more converts (to Reform and Conservative Judaism) than a population numbering only in the thousands (in Israel). If you're worried about being swamped with shoddy conversions, that's your bigger problem.

>No, we're not. I personally know many Orthodox Jews who have married Jews from Reform, Conservative, or non-affiliated backgrounds.

And we know many who don't. To be irrevocably split does not mean that every person in one group must have nothing to do with every person in the other group.

And, anyway, I'm talking about their converts, chiefly.

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