Can Childhood Conversion Solve Israel’s “Who Is a Jew” Problems?

Some 400,000 Israelis who consider themselves Jewish are not recognized as such by the country’s chief rabbinate, and are thus unable to marry other Jews legally. Of these, many—often immigrants from the former Soviet Union—are of partial Jewish descent and thus halakhically non-Jews, even if they came to Israel under the state’s law of return. Others are Ethiopian Jews whose status is uncertain, or converts whose conversions are not recognized by the chief rabbinate. Shlomo Brody suggests a halakhic solution:

The problem [from a halakhic perspective] is that many of these Israelis [of ambiguous status] have no interest in meeting the standards of observance required for conversion according to the majority of Orthodox rabbis, which includes [a] sincere commitment to abide by Jewish religious law [halakhah].

To prevent intermarriage in the early 20th century, such prominent rabbis as Ḥayyim Ozer Grodzinsky, David Tzvi Hoffman, and Benzion Uziel ruled it permissible to convert those who generally intend to observe the basic facets of Jewish law, even if their performance will be lackluster in certain areas. Yet most prominent halakhic authorities . . . have argued that Jewish law requires sincere intent to observe Jewish law in toto, which is the position of the current Israeli chief rabbinate.

[This requirement] raises an issue with converting children, who are presumed not to have sufficient maturity to take on such responsibility. The Talmud states that a rabbinic court, serving as their guardian, can accept [this responsibility] on their behalf. Once reaching the age of majority, the child can theoretically repudiate his or her Jewishness, but is presumed to consent unless otherwise stated.

This approach has been challenged [specifically in the case of] children of intermarried couples, since the child would be raised in a non-observant home and thus set up to sin. . . . Yet others . . . allowed such conversions. . . . Rabbi Naḥum Eliezer Rabinovitch, one of the most senior religious Zionist rabbinic jurists, has advocated converting any minors when so requested by their Israeli parents. He asserts that in contrast to the stringent positions taken in the diaspora, leniency on this matter today will prevent the scourge of intermarriage in the state of Israel. Moreover, Jewish Israelis, especially if committed to a basic modicum of religiosity, live by default with kosher food from the supermarkets, a national Jewish calendar, and a blossoming religious culture.

Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Conversion, Halakhah, Intermarriage, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Chief Rabbinate, Religion & Holidays

An Israeli Buffer Zone in the Gaza Strip Doesn’t Violate International Law

 The IDF announced on Thursday that it is safe for residents to return to some of the towns and villages near the Gaza Strip that have been abandoned since October 7. Yet on the same day, rocket sirens sounded in one of those communities, Kibbutz Mefalsim. To help ensure security in the area, Israel is considering the creation of a buffer zone within the Strip that would be closed to Palestinian civilians and buildings. The U.S. has indicated, however, that it would not look favorably on such a step.

Avraham Shalev explains why it’s necessary:

The creation of a security buffer along the Gaza-Israel border serves the purpose of destroying Hamas’s infrastructure and eliminating the threat to Israel. . . . Some Palestinian structures are practically on the border, and only several hundred yards away from Israeli communities such as Kfar Aza, Kerem Shalom, and Sderot. The Palestinian terrorists that carried out the murderous October 7 attacks crossed into Israel from many of these border-adjacent areas. Hamas officials have already vowed that “we will do this again and again. The al-Aqsa Flood [the October 7th massacre] is just the first time, and there will be a second, a third, a fourth.”

In 2018 and 2019, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad organized mass marches towards the Israeli border with the goal of breaking into Israel. Billed by Palestinians as “the Great March of Return,” its name reveals its purpose—invasion. Although the marches were supposedly non-violent, they featured largescale attacks on Israeli forces as well as arson and damage to Israeli agriculture and civilian communities. Moreover, the October 7 massacre was made possible by Hamas’s prepositioning military hardware along the border under false cover of civilian activity. The security perimeter is intended to prevent a reprise of these events.

Shalev goes on to dismantle the arguments put forth about why international law prohibits Israel from creating the buffer zone. He notes:

By way of comparison, following the defeat of Nazi Germany, France occupied the Saar [River Valley] directly until 1947 and then indirectly until reintegration with Germany in 1957, and the Allied occupation of Berlin continued until the reunification of Germany in 1990. The Allies maintained their occupation long after the fall of the Nazi regime, due to the threat of Soviet invasion and conquest of West Berlin, and by extension Western Europe.

Read more at Kohelet

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, International Law, Israeli Security