Sunday, August 08, 2010

Telling it like it is: Why American Jews should support the Rotem bill

by Lurker

This column by David Breakstone in the JPost has got to be the most completely moronic article I have seen to date on the subject of the Rotem bill:

"Keep Dreaming: When Chelsea wed Marc"

I don't know which part of it I find most offensive:
  • Breakstone's nauseating celebration of the Clinton intermarriage as a glorious, shining example of American Jewish assimilation -- a phenomenon that he seems to advocate as an ideal to which we should all aspire.
  • His thinly veiled threat in the name of American Reform and Conservative Jewry that they will end their support for Israel unless Israel's democratically elected representatives learn to kowtow to American Jewish demands (instead of serving the needs of their own constituencies).
  • His exasperatingly idiotic presentation of "Veronica", his own son's girlfriend, as a case study with which to bash the Rotem bill: "Veronica" -- a halakhicly non-Jewish daughter of Russian olim -- is, in fact, a classic, prototypical type of case which Rotem's bill was directly aimed at solving. Breakstone makes an utter fool of himself by gloating over the defeat of the very bill that would have enabled "Veronica" to convert, and his son to marry her.
What a nincompoop.

After reading that, I almost ignored this other column by Amotz Asa-el that appeared in the same paper a week later. From its title, it sounded like it was going to be yet more of the exact same stupidity. (And to be completely honest, having read other things in the past by Mr. Asa-el, that is what I tended to expect.):

"When Chelsea Clinton met David Rotem"

To my surprise, though, it would appear that Asa-el is one of the few journalists to have written on the subject of the Rotem bill, who took the time to actually read the bill and understand what it is, rather than allowing himself to become caught up in the tsunami of disinformation emanating from the Reform and Conservative movements -- as nearly everyone else (e.g., David Breakstone) has.

A couple of caveats: I am certainly not endorsing all of what Asa-el says in this column. Like Breakstone, he, too, tries to argue that there is a silver lining in the phenomenon of American Jewish intermarriage -- although his argument is not nearly as idiotic and offensive as Breakstone's. And unlike Breakstone, Asa-el certainly doesn't present intermarriage as some sort of messianic ideal that Jews ought to aspire to.

What very much surprised me, though, was that Asa-el explains what the Rotem bill would actually do, rather than regurgitating the ubiquitous nonsense being spouted by American Reform and Conservative Jews, which not only misrepresents the bill, but in fact presents it as the very opposite of what it is.

And he goes even further than that: He argues that the Right Thing To Do for the 300,000 non-Jewish Russian Israelis who wish to convert, is to support the cause of Israeli Modern Orthodoxy against the the haredim who currently control the conversion system in Israel. He explicitly calls upon the Reform and Conservative movements to set aside their petty, selfish politics, and to actively support the Rotem bill:
"American Jews should be equally humble before decrying Israel's handling of its own semi-Jews.
...
"The anguish of some 300,000 partial Jews –- who arrived here voluntarily and have served in the IDF, often gallantly, only to learn they couldn't marry here because of rabbinical nitpicking –- must end.
...
"...Knesset Law Committee Chairman David Rotem last month introduced a bill that would disabuse prospective converts of the current obligation to convert through the local rabbi
[more precisely, the rabbinical courts -- Lurker], no matter how narrow minded he may be, and allow converts instead to shop around the country for lenient rabbis, provided they are part of the Chief Rabbinate. The downside of this [for the non-Orthodox] is that it means formally ruling out Conservative and Reform conversions as options for Israel's semi-Jews; hence the American Jewish outcry.

"The way America's Reform and Conservative movements see it, the battle over conversion in Israel is between Orthodoxy and non-Orthodoxy. Well it isn't. Rather, it's between ultra-Orthodoxy and modern Orthodoxy, and to join this battle, American Jewry must set aside its longer-term agendas and help Israel's modern-Orthodoxy win this battle."
...
"...ours is... a historically unique moment, one in which thousands who survived a 70-year-long attack on Judaism arrived in our midst. To come to them now with magnifying glasses and make their conversion process a nightmare is not only absurd, inhumane and anti-Israeli, it is also dubious as far as Jewish law itself is concerned, since historically a convert's observance was not reviewed once he converted.

"Here, however, ultra-Orthodox rabbis have revoked modern-Orthodox conversions retroactively, evidently serving ultra-Orthodoxy's sectarian interests, rather than serve the general Jewish interest...
...
"It would have been nice if Israeli non-Orthodoxy were sizable enough to confront ultra-Orthodoxy’s effort to make 300,000 Israelis Gentile, but the fact is it’s too small. Modern Orthodoxy, by contrast, is sizable, organically planted within the Israeli system, and eager to help Israel's semi-Jews become Jews. What stands in their way is Binyamin Netanyahu's strategic alliance with ultra-Orthodoxy.

"It follows, that on conversion the Jewish nation right now needs a strategic alliance between modern Orthodoxy and non-Orthodoxy. For this to happen, [the] Conservative and Reform movements [must] humbly concede that to reshape the Israeli conversion system they must first get more of their flock to live here. Until then, they would do well to let others handle Igor and Svetlana, while the rest of us leave it for them to handle Chelsea and Marc."
Again, I can't say that I support all of what Asa-el has to say here. But I do think that he deserves kudos for having the intellectual honesty and the guts to oppose the pervasive, mindlessly politically-correct groupthink and lies regarding the Rotem bill, and to present it for what it actually is.

UPDATE:

In a letter appearing in this past Friday's New York Times, Israel's Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar chides the American Reform and Conservative movements for their interference in Israel's democratic legislative process, and counters their torrent of canards and disinformation by succinctly describing exactly what the Rotem bill is, and why he supports it:
"The bill, within the framework of Jewish law, would expand the ambit of conversion, prevent the application of unjustified stringencies, and provide more leniency and flexibility in administration. Many Russian Israelis would benefit substantially. In fact, this legislation was proposed by Yisrael Beiteinu -- a secular party -- representing more than a million Russian Israelis."
In other words, the Chief Rabbi of Israel is desperately seeking a way to reform and liberalize the existing conversion system -- which is currently controlled solely by the haredi-run rabbinical courts. He wants to wrest control away from those courts, and to thereby allow thousands of secular Russian Israelis to finally convert -- and he is practically pleading with the Reform and Conservative movements to allow this to happen. But the Reform and Conservative movements seem inexplicably hellbent on preventing any such liberalization, and are instead fighting tooth and nail to keep Israeli conversion in the exclusive hands of the haredim.

The irony is practically beyond description.



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31 comments:

Shmilda said...

Ironically, this week's (American) Mishpacha Magazine has similar misinformation. Their article explains that Gimmel supports the Rotem Bill because they feel it would not liberalize conversions at all. They say (incorrectly) that the local conversion courts envisioned by the bill would be comprised of the local rabbi and two appointees of the Chief Rabbi - and thus the Chief Rabbi could tell his appointees to vote no on all conversions. Mishpacha also quotes the MK Gafni as explaining that the bill is necessary to prevent Reform from getting Bagatz to recognize all foreign conversions. Again, the bill does not address the issue and Bagatz never defers to legislation anyway. But it is sad to see Mishpacha and Gimmel spreading the same misinformation.

JoeSettler said...

I'm glad you wrote this article (I was certainly thinking of it).

I feel that the misinformation is so thick, that no rational discussion is even possible.

Friar Yid (not Shlita) said...

Here's the problem in asking non-Orthodox American Jews to "help Israel's modern-Orthodoxy win this battle":

What are they getting out of it? As even this blog shows, the majority of Modern Orthodox Israelis seem to be no less contemptuous of Conservative or Reform Jews, their clergy, their marriages, or their conversions than their Haredi counterparts. So what's the benefit in supporting the slightly-lesser of two evils? Unless MO indicates that it's actually going to throw non-Orthos a bone, it's ridiculous from a strategic POV to demand they either stand with MOs against Haredim or stay on the sidelines and shut up.

mother in israel said...

I know a Veronica who considered converting, but found it too hard. I wonder if it is the same person.

Lurker said...

Friar Yid (not Shlita): Here's the problem in asking non-Orthodox American Jews to "help Israel's modern-Orthodoxy win this battle":
What are they getting out of it?
...it's ridiculous from a strategic POV...


Amotz Asa-el explained extremely clearly and unambiguously why the Rotem bill should be supported:

300,000 Russian immigrants in Israel need this reform right now in order to enable them to convert. Many of them have been waiting for more than a decade already, trapped in a state of limbo. Every single day that goes by without a solution is the continuation of an ongoing tragedy for hundreds of thousands of people.

But hey, who cares about them? Why should the American Reform and Conservative movements, ensconced as they are in thier comfortable offices and living rooms in New York and Los Angeles, give a damn about a bunch of Russians who don't even speak English? Why should these American Jews (whom the Rotem bill doesn't even affect) be concerned about anything other than that all-important question, "What are we getting out of it?" (to paraphrase you). "What benefit is there in it for me?"

And all those hundreds of thousands of Russian Israeli immigrants be damned. Let them live for a few more decades with the status of non-Jewish pariahs, at the mercy of the haredi-run rabbinical courts. The Reform and Conservative movements can afford to wait; why should they care at all about the plight of anyone else, as long as it has no effect on them? After all, to make decisions with those irrelevant people in mind would be "ridiculous from a strategic POV" (to quote you again).

That is precisely the egotistical, self-centered, heartless attitude that Asa-el condemns in his column. It's a true pity that you fail to comprehend this.

Friar Yid (not Shlita) said...

You know Lurker, it's funny how so much of your argument boils down to how self-centered American Jews are, ignoring the fact that the Russians' plight is occurring because of Israeli Orthodox self-centered-ness when it comes to halakha, and secular Israeli self-centered-ness when it comes to not opposing them.

Reality check: if Israel had civil marriage, none of this would be an issue. American Jews didn't cause this mess, and neither have they actively sustained it. You are asking, no, demanding, that American Jews participate in their own disenfranchisement in the name of "liberating" others, and then accuse them of being selfish when they object. What have Orthodox Israelis done for the Russians lately, aside from keeping them in legal limbo? What are they doing to show solidarity with their Russian brothers? Did I miss a memo?

"What benefit is there in it for me?"

Shrug. You're the one demanding non-Orthodox Jews support the bill, so yeah, it's your job to sell it to them. And, as far as I can see, this bill is against their interests. It appears that the only reason to support it is that it would help the Russian immigrants, whose situation is, we both agree, deplorable. However if this is the case, then you should be honest and admit it rather than preaching from a position of moral outrage about American Jews being isolated in their armchairs. Again, I haven't seen the Orthodox camp doing much to solve the marriage problem, and anytime anyone does raise the idea (R. Bakshi-Doron), they are either ignored or attacked.

The reality is that Rotem's bill doesn't solve the problem, it sticks a band-aid over it while further ensconcing it in Israeli case law (which happens to be the issue that has Americans so concerned). If you really care about the Russian immigrants, you should be going after the "egotistical, self-centered, heartless" rabbinate that is persecuting them "right now" and every Israeli that is enabling them, not the American Jews who are legitimately concerned about losing any more of their already-limited rights on the ground. But no, you'd rather use American Jews as a whipping boy. Shocking.

Here's the irony: you and I appear to be equally frustrated over this but for opposite reasons. As far as I'm concerned, if the powerful American Jews were this engaged/enraged with Israel's leaders over the issue of civil marriage, this would be a non-issue by now. Instead they only complain when their ox is in danger of being gored. And that, I will agree, is shameful.

Friar Yid (not Shlita) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Friar Yid (not Shlita) said...

As far as the Update-

In other words, the Chief Rabbi of Israel is desperately seeking a way to reform and liberalize the existing conversion system -- which is currently controlled solely by the haredi-run rabbinical courts. He wants to wrest control away from those courts, and to thereby allow thousands of secular Russian Israelis to finally convert -- and he is practically pleading with the Reform and Conservative movements to allow this to happen.

Amar has spent his entire career affiliated with Shas. I must have missed when they stopped being Haredi.

Amar is playing politics to try to present himself as a reformer. As Chief Rabbi, he is in an excellent position to help liberalize the rabbinate. Yet the rabbinate has become more conservative than ever under his term. He claims to be so torn up by the plight of the Russian immigrants, yet will not give support to a civil marriage law that would set them free.

Again, it is far easier to blame American Jews as distant bogeymen, supposedly more powerful and influential than Israel's own government, rather than look in the mirror and honestly ask exactly who is in charge in Israel, and therefore who bears responsibility for the Russians' plight.

JoeSettler said...

FriarYid:
1) If I recall correctly, Yisrael Beiteinu has a matching bill they are working on for Civil marriages (Chok/Brit Hazugiut) for those who can't marry according to Halacha.

2) Rabbi Amar does not view himself as a Chareidi. He has been involved for a long time in trying to standardize and streamline religious bureaucratic processes in the Israeli government, whether it was Kashrut or conversion.

Friar Yid (not Shlita) said...

Joe,

I like what I hear on both your points, but I'm going on what I'm reading in the news and on the results (or lack thereof) I see. Why did YB waste their time with this bill, which American Jews were sure to get up in arms about, instead of the other, which they would have helped support from abroad? Did they not think they'd be able to get enough grass-roots Israeli support? Did they think US Jews wouldn't hear about Rotem Bill #1? Was it a desire to shore up Russians' relations with the religious public by accepting the rabbinate's yoke? Did the Diaspora simply not enter Rotem's mind? (This would actually be ok with me if it at least was the honest answer.)

Ditto for Amar: Why, despite his supposed burning desire for reforms, has the rabbinate become more reactionary than ever? What has he been doing? Is he just up against so much opposition he can't get anything done? Or is he trying to play both sides of the fence?

The choices for assessing both men appear to be that either both politicians are two-faced (read: politicians), or ineffectual/incompetent. I'd love to be able to give them the benefit of the doubt via a third option, but none is coming to mind.

NormanF said...

The bill is not perfect. But civil marriage is not going to come any time soon to Israel.

The only alternative is to make the conversion procedure rational, uniform and humane.

Most Israelis see Orthodox Judaism as the real McCoy and rightly or wrong, see Conservative and Reform Judaism as the agents of assimilation and the spiritual genocide of American Jewry.

Israelis don't want pluralism; they want to preserve their Jewish heritage and identity.

Anonymous said...

Friar Yid wrote: "Why did YB waste their time with this bill, which American Jews were sure to get up in arms about"

Excuse me? Why should Israeli parliamentarians be concerned with what American Jews -- who are NOT affected by the law -- think? What possible need is there for "support" from abroad for an INTERNAL ISRAELI issue?

I'm bloody tired of armchair Zionists trying to dictate internal Israel matters. If you care so bloody much, move here and put your money where your mouth is. Otherwise, enjoy the waning days of the West as best you can.

Batya said...

Lurker, great post. I'm glad that you posted rather than lurked.

Anonymous said...

Are the Charedi parties in favor of the bill? Why are the American Charedi supporting organizations in favor, if it's supposed to remove conversion from the daas-torah-monopoly it's become.

Proud Reform American said...

I don't understand why American Reform and Conservative Jewry should be treated with less respect than these Russian "Israelis".

After all, we're Jewish! The Russian Israelis certainly aren't, and WE should be treated with more respect.

We are part of the Jewish people, and despite us not living in Israel, we give a hell of a lot of money to the Jewish State and deserve alot better.

This is all about Jewish UNITY and how those furry hat rabbis are trying to create a European Shtetl State in the Middle East, without any American Reform and Conservative JEWS.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Friar Yid: Russian Israelis currently DO have an option available for civil marriage -- its called going to Cyprus, getting married there, and then coming back to Israel where their marriage is legally recognized.

However, the overwhelming majority of the non-Jewish, Russian-Israeli population do want to be Jewish, and they are in favor of the Rotem bill.

There will be civil marriage one day in Israel, and the Rotem bill is only on side of the equation.

Anonymous said...

Proud Reform American said: "I don't understand why American Reform and Conservative Jewry should be treated with less respect than these Russian "Israelis"."

Are you serious? Because they LIVE here, they SERVE *this* country, pay taxes and are otherwise ISRAELI citizens. It's not a matter of respecting American Jews *less*, it's a matter of serving Israeli citizens. Despite what you may think, Israel is NOT the 51st State of the Union.

annie said...

@Proud Reform American:

"I don't understand why American Reform and Conservative Jewry should be treated with less respect than these Russian "Israelis".

After all, we're Jewish! The Russian Israelis certainly aren't, and WE should be treated with more respect."

The bill has absolutely no effect on anyone who is Jewish already. It only affects those people who are not halachically Jewish. Now if you're Jewish, whether you're reform, chareidi or anything in between, whether you're black, white, pink or blue, it is completely irrelevant. The bill comes to solve a problem of non-halachically recognized Jews LIVING IN ISRAEL. All the rest is irrelevant commentary.

JoeSettler said...

Friar Yid: The bill was intended as a law that affected Israelis in Israel. It had no connection or effect on Americans in America. Specific Reform groups blew it up and misinformed their constituency for their own political benefit and capital.

The Diaspora did not enter Rotem's mind because this bill has NO connection to the Diaspora. The bill had support in Israel.

Rabbi Amar is known as a reformer for trying to create and implement standards and streamlining processes in religious related bureaucratic services.

For instance, he fixed major problems in the Kashrut situation in Tel Aviv when he was in charge there.

As everyone in Israel knows, experience with the Rabbinate can be very unpredictable (even for religious people), as a lot will depend on who you deal with at the time.

Rabbi Amar is trying to reverse decades of this ingrained attitude and lack of standardization (not to mention that the Chareidim control key positions within).

This is not something you reverse in a day or even a year. But the Rotem legislation was a first step at decentralization of the conversion process that would have helped.

Danny Hershtal said...

As someone on the "inside" I can tell you that:

1. Rotem DID consider the attitudes of Diaspora Jews by meeting with them and by pulling a political trick on Shas to ensure that there would not be any questioning of conversions performed abroad and using broad language so as not to define either the chief rabbinate or the conversion process as Orthodox (see my article here ).

2. The uproar about the bill was instigated based on misinformation from the same people who quashed the bill the first time it was proposed, with the support of conservative/reform Jews: Kadima politicians.

3. The civil marriage legislation was put second in line to the conversion bill because
(a)The coalition agreement between Likud, Yisrael Beytenu and Shas dictated the order.
(b)There is a feeling in Yisrael Beytenu that if the marriage law was reformed before conversion law it would seem as if we were telling non-halakhic Jews that we were trying to marginalize them rather than welcome and integrate them. First we should give anyone who wishes to convert the proper opportunity, and then say to the rest you can still have equal familial partnership rights.
(c)Negotiations on wording are simultaneous for both bills. Rotem made a break in the conversion legislation and therefore decided to run with it first, not being aware that the opposition would cause a diaspora relations flare up, just to win political points at home.

Lurker said...

Friar Yid: You are asking, no, demanding, that American Jews participate in their own disenfranchisement in the name of "liberating" others...

No, I am not asking for American Jews to "participate" in anything. To the contrary, I am simply saying that they should stop trying to interfere in Israel's internal legislative process, and attempting to prevent passage of a bill that (a) has absolutely no effect on them, and (b) would help hundreds of thousands of people who need it.

FY: What have Orthodox Israelis done for the Russians lately, aside from keeping them in legal limbo? What are they doing to show solidarity with their Russian brothers?

In spite of your snarky question being rhetorical, I am going to answer it anyway: Many Modern Orthodox Israelis have been doing a great deal on behalf of the Russian olim. An excellent example is Rabbi Seth Farber, and ITIM, the organization he runs. ITIM is dedicated to helping secular Israelis -- and especially Russian olim -- navigate the intimidating and often hostile bureaucracies of the rabbinical courts and the Religious Affairs Ministry. They assist in all areas of ritual Jewish life, such as brit mila, simhat bat, bar/bat mitzva, marriage, divorce, conversion, and burial and mourning. They run programs for olim in many of these areas, and provide an alternative, friendly, spiritual face of Judaism, in contrast to the not-so-friendly rabbinical courts. They are big-hearted, dedicated, and enormously giving of their time and their selves.

FY: Did I miss a memo?

You have apparently missed a hell of a lot more than a memo, smart guy.

You ought to educate youself a bit before casting such baseless aspersions.

FY: You're the one demanding non-Orthodox Jews support the bill, so yeah, it's your job to sell it to them.

Once again, I'm not demanding that American non-Orthodox Jews do anything. Just that they stop sticking their nose into something that has absolutely nothing to do with them, and stop attempting to interfere (with the aid of US Senators, no less) in Israel's internal legislative process.

FY: And, as far as I can see, this bill is against their interests.

That is completely untrue, and it is a prime example of the lies and disinformation that the Reform and Conservative movements are innundating us with. It doesn't matter how many times you repeat it; the lie doesn't become true. In reality, the bill has absolutely no effect on them at all. Reform conversions performed in America are recognized under Israeli law, and this bill does nothing to change that: They can go on performing their conversions in America -- which is clearly where they want to be -- and those conversions will continue to be recognized. And and as far as conversions perfomed in Israel are concerned, those are already under the exclusive and complete control of the haredi-run rabbinical courts. All the Rotem bill does is break that monopoly, and allow local rabbis to perform conversions as well. Nothing more.

I would also add that Reform Jews constitute less than one quarter of one percent of the Israeli Jewish population. They are outnumbered even by Jews for Jesus. For such a tiny, marginal fringe group to presumptuously demand official state recognition is the height of chutzpa.

Lurker said...

FY: It appears that the only reason to support it is that it would help the Russian immigrants...

Um, yes, that's quite correct. And your point is...? Helping 300,000 Israeli immigrants is not an exceptionally important, critical objective?!

FY: However if this is the case, then you should be honest and admit it...

What do you mean, I should "admit" it? That's exactly what my post is about. It's exactly what I quoted Amotz Asa-el saying in his column. Where do you see me being reticent about this being the reason? Did you even read the post?

FY: ...rather than preaching from a position of moral outrage about American Jews being isolated in their armchairs.

I am outraged, and why shouldn't I be?! The American Reform and Conservative movements are attempting, from their distant ivory towers, to protect the exclusive haredi monopoly over conversion here in Israel! They are doing everything in their power to thwart the efforts of those who actually live here and who are trying to alleviate the plight of 300,000 Russian olim. You're damn straight I'm morally outraged over that. Any decent, caring Jew ought to be.

FY: Again, I haven't seen the Orthodox camp doing much to solve the marriage problem...

Yes, you are very apparently extremely ignorant, and quite proud of advertising that fact. There seems to be no end to the many things you "haven't seen":

(a) How about the creation of the special conversion courts under the authority of the PM's office by the Orthodox Finance Minister (and later Justice Minster) Yaakov Ne'eman, and administered by R. Haim Druckman? The entire point of this initiative was to solve the conversion/marriage problem. This fell apart when the haredi-run rabbinical courts exercised their power to retroactively annul every single conversion performed by R. Druckman, thus indicating that a true solution would require legislative change.

(b) How about the Rotem bill itself? This bill, endorsed by the Orthodox camp, is specifically designed to allow liberal local rabbis to perform conversions, and to strip the rabbinical courts of their power to do what they did to R. Druckman.

(c) How about the ongoing, tireless efforts over the past several years by R. Haim Amsalem to dramatically loosen conversion criteria, and the backing that he has recieved for this from rabbincal authorities such as Chief Rabbi Amar?

(d) How about R. Benny Lau's outspoken advocacy of leniency in the conversion process for Russian olim?

Lurker said...

FY: ...and anytime anyone does raise the idea (R. Bakshi-Doron), they are either ignored or attacked.

That's funny. A moment ago you said the Orthodox camp hasn't done anything to solve the problem. But then you go ahead and mention the efforts that were made by R. Bakshi-Doron to do exactly that. I thought you said that the Orthodox camp hasn't tried to solve the problem.

My whole point is proven by what you just said: The Modern Orthodox camp has been doing a great deal to address this problem -- and everything they do is attacked and stymied by the haredim loyal to R. Elyashiv who control the rabbinical courts. R. Bakshi Doron, R. Amar, R. Amsalem, R. Druckman, and all of the many other Orthodox figures who have been trying for years to solve this issue come under attack -- very vicious attack -- by the haredim.

Yet when they try to do something that would finally break that haredi control, and thus give their solution teeth -- i.e., the Rotem bill -- the self-defeating idiots in the Reform movement come along and try to stop them, opting instead to keep all power in the hands of the haredim, and thus perpetuating the problem.

FY: The reality is that Rotem's bill doesn't solve the problem, it sticks a band-aid over it while further ensconcing it in Israeli case law (which happens to be the issue that has Americans so concerned). ...the American Jews...are legitimately concerned about losing any more of their already-limited rights on the ground.

Once again, this is a complete and utter lie. Endless repetion of the lie does not change that. The reality is that control over conversions is legally under the complete and exclusive control of the rabbinical courts right now. And this is already ensconsed in Israeli law, in the Law of the Chief Rabbinate (5740/1980), Paragraph (2), Section (6). All that the Rotem bill would do is amend the above law so as to strip the rabbinincal courts of their current exclusive monolopy over conversions, by providing local rabbis with the authority to do so as well.

People like David Breakstone and yourself can go on shouting at the top of your lungs that the Rotem bill "further disenfranchises" non-Orthodox movements until you're blue in the face -- it still won't become true. Have you even bothered to read the bill? Here it is -- I challenge you to show me where it says any such thing.

FY: If you really care about the Russian immigrants, you should be going after the "egotistical, self-centered, heartless" rabbinate that is persecuting them "right now" and every Israeli that is enabling them...

Um, hello? Have you been reading my posts and comments? That is exactly what I have been doing -- and more to the point, that is exactly what the Rotem bill does. And I would point out that "every Israeli that is enabling them" includes, first and foremost, people like Uri Regev, the official representative of the Reform movement in Israel, his cynical, opportunistic allies in Kadima, and PM Netanyahu, who has opted to cravenly capitualte to Regev and his fellow travelers, rather than look after the immediate needs of 300,000 Israelis.

Lurker said...

FY: Amar has spent his entire career affiliated with Shas. I must have missed when they stopped being Haredi.

Oh, I see. You read an article that labelled Shas as "haredi", and you "know" that all "haredim" are the enemies of conversion reform. Therefore, we must conclude that Shas is opposed to conversion reform. Futhermore, you heard that R. Amar is affiliated with Shas -- ipso facto, he too must be an enemy of conversion reform.

Did I get that right?

Here's some news for your edification, since you obviously seem to have missed a few more "memos":

The haredim who control the rabbinical courts and oppose any liberalization of the conversion process are the Lithuanian Mitnagim who are loyal to R. Yosef Shalom Elyashiv. The predominantly Sephardi Shas, by contrast, strongly advocates such reform. The fact that Shas is often labeled in the media with the term "haredi" does not mitigate the plain fact that this is their position. Your attempt to attribute a position to Shas which is the precise opposite of the one that they actually hold, based on the erudite reasoning that you "missed when they stopped being Haredi", is not even deserving of a reply.

For your information: MK R. Haim Amsalem of Shas has been at the forefront of a movement for years now to liberalize the conversion process in Israel, particularly with regard to olim who identify culturally with the Jewish people but aren't halakhically Jewish. He has published two important books on the subject (Zera Yisrael and Mekor Yisrael), and has been lobbying tirelessly for both rabbinical and legislative backing for his reforms. R. Amsalem has the full support of both Shas and Chief Rabbi Amar. It was on the basis of R. Amar's support for these changes, in fact, that he worked, together with Yaakov Ne'eman, for the creation of the special rabbinical courts run by R. Druckman, which attempted to apply these reforms in practice (until the haredi run rabbinical courts put a stop to it, of course).

For R. Amsalem's efforts, he has been branded by Elyashiv/UTJ mouthpiece Yated Ne'eman as an "apikores", "disgusting", a "mocker of halakha", and "worse than a Conservative Jew".

And even after all that, people like you come along and lump together reformers like R. Amsalem and Shas together with the very haredim who villify and oppose them.

Lurker said...

FY: Amar is playing politics to try to present himself as a reformer. As Chief Rabbi, he is in an excellent position to help liberalize the rabbinate.

(a) R. Amar's tireless efforts in this area over the past few years speak for themselves, and show shat he is a reformer -- your apparent complete and utter ignorance of everything he has been doing notwithstanding.

(b) Unfortunately, you are quite wrong: R. Amar is not in an excellent position to help liberalize the conversion system: Israeli law gives very little power to the Chief Rabbis themselves, who are really little more than figureheads. Specifically, they cannot overrule decisions of the rabbinical courts -- which are under the effective control of R. Elyashiv. Thus, when the rabbinical court of R. Sherman retroactively annulled all the conversions ever performed by R. Druckman, R. Amar railed and ranted loudly against the decision, but he was completely powerless to overturn it. (This, btw, is the very reason why the Rotem bill became necessary.)

R. Amar can do little more than use the platform afforded by his office to advocate change. And he has been doing exactly that for years now, in spite of your incredibly ignorant claims to the contrary. It was the direct and committed lobbying effort of R. Amar, for example, that convinced Shas to adopt conversion reform as a primary legislative goal. And without such legislative change -- such as that which would be provided by the Rotem bill -- none of R. Amar's considerable efforts will have any effect.

FY: Yet the rabbinate has become more conservative than ever under his term.

Once again, you are conflating the haredi-run rabbinical courts with the office of the Chief Rabbi, which are two different things. The Chief Rabbi does not control the rabbinical courts.

Seriously, you ought to educate yourself a little bit.

FY: He claims to be so torn up by the plight of the Russian immigrants, yet will not give support to a civil marriage law that would set them free.

He is torn up by by their plight, and that is why he is aggressively promoting a bill that provides a solution. The fact that it doesn't happen to be the solution that you choose to advocate detracts nothing whatsoever from his sincerity or his dedication to the cause, in spite of your cynical and baseless attempts to denigrate them.

Friar Yid (not Shlita) said...

Lurker-

Let me begin by apologizing for my rhetoric. Clearly there are some pieces of this larger conversation that I'm missing. I was aware that Shas does not tend to toe the same party line as UTJ/DT but it's useful to get more context about what their people, and Amar in particular, have been doing. In retrospect, this makes sense given what I understand about the Sephardic approach to things-- less strictures, less divisive, etc.

Here is my dilemma when discussing the Modern Orthodox trying to stave off the Haredim in Israel-- all I'm hearing these days is bad news. Thousands Druckman's conversions getting overturned in a few weeks, ever-stricter standards being applied to converts by Haredi courts, etc. It's sad, it's upsetting, and it's scary. And while I have heard of R. Farber (and yasher koach to him), I haven't heard of many others. And so what I come away wondering is, exactly how many people in Israel really care about this all-out abuse of fellow Israelis/Jews. It's hard to tell from over here. And that's concerning as a non-OJ, because it perpetuates the idea that folks in Israel who are recognized by the state (whether Orthodox or secular) don't notice, don't think about, don't care about, those who aren't counted-- whether Russian or Reform.

Friar Yid (not Shlita) said...

As far as the American non-Orthodox: The dilemma for them is that Israel is both a foreign country but also billed as "the Jewish homeland." I don't need a foreign government to like me. But if the Jewish State says it does not recognize your movement's rabbis or converts (or your own family), it comes across as demeaning and an invalidation of your identity. How are they not going to react? (I take your point about R&C Jews being an extreme minority, though I think that can at least partially be traced to the last 60-plus years of Orthodox status-quo.)

I understand what Rotem was trying to do and what the intent was (thanks to Mr. Hershtal for the info). And from what I've read online, it sounds like Rotem's original bill was not as subservient to the Rabbinate as it became. It sounds like this issue may be more a problem of poor marketing and communications than anything else. All that said-- Rotem is a politician! His job is to try to sell ideas to the populace. I just read him calling R&C Jews idiots in the NY Times. I don't know if they caught him on a bad day or what, but he apparently doesn't understand that he's alienating the exact same people that could be his natural allies.

You can say American Jews shouldn't be involved, that they shouldn't care, but you're missing the real point: they do care, and since they care, it's a mistake to ignore them. American Jewish leaders (note, not so much the rank and file, who are far less wealthy and influential) just flexed their muscles over one of their pet issues: Jewish identity in Israel. And the reason Kadima, etc were able to get them to jump on the bandwagon is because they feel threatened by what they see and hear coming from Israel and don't see anyone (at least no one with any power) seemingly concerned about them. They're worried, and they want to be involved.

If we're all supposedly on the same side and want the same thing-- a more liberal, more humane, rabbinate and bureaucracy-- it seems a shame not to be reaching out to each other. YB should be billing itself to American Jews (even if only quietly) as the party that will help break the rabbinate's monopoly on marriage, conversion, etc. MO Israelis should show that they stand in solidarity with those who are trapped by the state-- again, whether Russian or Reform. These are things that will resonate in the Diaspora.

The louder you yell for the Diaspora to stay out of it, the more the opposite will happen. Because, again, they feel threatened, and what they read suggests that people in Israel have written them off. Not only that, but your opponents are going to co-opt that audience you just decided isn't worth talking to. As they just proved, some in the Diaspora apparently do have enough power and influence to make a difference. It seems to me that you don't want the Diaspora to stay out. You want them to get on board and support you. The real question is how to make that happen.

Thanks for taking the time to educate me. I appreciate it.

Friar Yid (not Shlita) said...

One last point: where you and I are in total agreement is that the status quo is unacceptable. The fact that after all this rabble-rousing and chest-thumping the end-result of all this American Jewish outrage is going to be to sustain the present status-quo is absolutely deplorable.

Anonymous said...

If I was charedi, I would see this whole episode as Divine proof that the charedi monopoly on conversions is the correct thing.

Its a modern day Yaakov vs Lavan story.

But I'm not charedi, so I'm just feeling all hurt and torn up inside.

SquarePeg613 said...

Here's what I'm not getting: For years, Orthodox Jews and the Israeli Rabbinate didn't want to accept Conservative conversions. And my understanding was that the reason given was that converts need to accept all the commandments and Conservative converts may not.

But here, people seem to be advocating exactly that: ease conversions. Yes, these Russian Israelis want to join the Jewish people. But do they all want to accept all the commandments? Do most of them?

If many of these Russian Israelis do not want to become fully observant Jews, then what is the difference between what is proposed and what the Conservative movement was doing for years? Why is it ok now? It does sound like the previous objection was really just politica.

jonathan becker said...

kol ha kavod to both lurker and friar yid- dialogue is possible! i find the cockles of my heart unlikely warmed.(tm) :)

and a special thanks to lurker, for his persistance and patience in unpacking and explaining this mess.

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