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When “Halacha” becomes “A goodly apple rotten at the heart”

Although Shammai had his differences with Hillel with respect to how one receives perspective converts to Judaism, one thing is evident—not even Shammai ever believed that a Beit Din [rabbinical court] has the right to keep perspective converts in a state of permanent probation. As we pointed out in the earlier postings on conversion, the Halacha makes it clear that even if the newly converted candidate goes astray from his Judaism, he is still nevertheless considered to be a Jew—a  “sinful” Jew, but his status as a Jew is never something that is ontologically kept in suspension or in doubt. [1]

However, much has changed in the last few decades in Israel. This simple Talmudic truth is no longer so obvious. A spirit of Haredi revisionism is making an assault on Jewish law that is far more threatening than anything else we have observed in Jewish history.

Recently, the High Court of Justice was asked to overturn a determination of the Rabbinical High Court regarding the conversion of a Danish-Israeli involved in a divorce case. Nonchalantly, the couple had appeared earlier before a lower-ranking rabbinical court where the woman was asked if she observed Jewish law, to which she answered that she no longer did. Little did she realize the ill-treatment she was about to create for herself and her family by simply being honest with her interrogators.

A bill of divorce was nonetheless arranged, according to Jewish law, but a divorce certificate was never issued. The court ruled that, as the woman is only,” ergo,  there was no technical  need for rabbinical divorce proceedings. They also said that by the same token, the woman and her children cannot marry Jews under Jewish law. The rabbinical court of appeals refused to reverse the lower court’s decision and thus the case arrived on the docket of the High Court of Justice.

Writing for the Rabbinic High Court of Justice, attorney and Rabbi Shimon Yaakobi wrote a legal opinion for the stating that all conversions to Judaism are never “final,” but remain in a fluidic state of Halachic abeyance.  Haredi rabbis maintain that they have the right to review the halachic status of any and all conversions that have taken place in Israel or elsewhere.

Now the way the Haredim rabbinate goes about sifting the “authentic” converts from the “inauthentic” converts is almost sleight of hand. The Orthodox feminist Rivkah Lubitch explains the insidious nature of this artifice:

“According to Yaakobi, the rabbinic courts have for many years routinely examined converts at the time of their divorce regarding their religious observance. As a rule, in all divorce procedures, it is customary to be very exact when referring to the names of the parties, as well as to their fathers’ names. Since the convert has separated herself from her biological family, her father’s name is not written. Instead, it is written: “The daughter/son of Avraham our Forefather.” However, Yaakobi claims that precedents exist that hold that if a convert has reverted to her old ways, it is an insult to refer to her as “the daughter of Avraham our Forefather.” So it is become the custom to ask the convert if she obeys the commandments. If she testifies that she obeys the commandments, the rabbis will write “the daughter of Avraham our Forefather”; but if she testifies that she does not obey the commandments, the rabbis will add the accolade “convert” after her name. So far, with respect to the divorce proceeding.”

Pretty sickening, no?

Rabbi Yaakobi and his Haredi cohorts remind me of a famous passage in William Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice”(1564-1616), where Antonio says:

Mark you this, Bassanio,
The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.
An evil soul producing holy witness
Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,
A goodly apple rotten at the heart:
O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!

(Act I.iii.97-98)

And we would add, not only can the devil cite Scripture, he can also cite the halacha and Talmud to suit his purpose. Every Jew ought to be outraged at the Halachic apartheid the Haredi rabbis are creating in Israel and abroad today. What should our moral response be to the Haredi attempt to segregate converts from our native born Jewish citizens? Stop supporting any and all Haredi and Hassidic (e.g., Ger, Chabad, Satmar) institutions. Don’t let the telephonic and telegenic hype of these  organizations ensnare you to give your donations; consider what they morally represent.  In an age where money talks, let your money speak loud  and clear in a way so that even the most ultra-religious of the Haredi world will understand and really listen.



Discussion

  1. Joel Katz  February 16, 2010

    Thank you Rabbi for your insights on these issues.

    Joel
    Religion and State in Israel
    @religion_state

    (reply)
  2. admin  February 16, 2010

    Sure, you are welcome to share your insights as well. Everyone can learn from one another here at this forum.

    (reply)

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