Israel’s Never-Ending Conversion Dilemma

According to Israel’s Law of Return, anyone with even a single Jewish grandparent is eligible to immigrate and become naturalized as a citizen. The result is that there are now as many as 400,000 non-Arab Israelis who are not Jewish by the far stricter standards of the chief rabbinate, which has sole legal authority over conversion, marriage, and divorce. Thus these citizens cannot marry Jews, and, if men, their children will not be considered Jewish. To convert they must undergo a rigorous process that involves convincing a rabbinic tribunal of their commitment to scrupulous halakhic observance. In When the State Winks, the anthropologist Michal Kravel-Tovi examines the way the rabbinate balances pressures to convert these Israelis to Judaism with its religious standards. Shlomo Brody writes in his review:

Using a term deployed by a prominent Religious Zionist educator, Kravel-Tovi calls the system a “wink-wink” form of conversion. In her depiction, the well-rehearsed conversion candidates learn to dress and to speak in a way that will allow the rabbinic judges to ignore the fact that these are generally Israelis who are seeking the social benefits of recognized Jewish identity without undergoing any major internal transformation. “Both sides,” she writes of the convert and the court, “shoulder the burden of constructing believable performances.”

Kravel-Tovi insists, however, that she is not depicting either converts or rabbis as sophisticated deceivers. Instead, each side is balancing a complex set of desires while aiming for a win-win resolution. While primarily seeking acceptance and a greater sense of belonging, the candidates who successfully completed the process often did deepen their appreciation of Jewish culture, history, and even ritual. The rabbis, in turn, could justify their lower conversion standards by citing legal loopholes while taking comfort in the fact that they had strengthened the Jewish identities of Israelis who do not regularly interact with religious society.

A weakness in Kravel-Tovi’s study is that it adopts an entirely external perspective, . . . without paying sufficient attention to the ideological battle over the impact of nationalism on Jewish law in general and conversion standards in particular. To understand this debate, we should first note an important insight of Israel’s first Ashkenazi chief rabbi, Isaac Herzog: Jewish law (halakhah) has no mechanism for legal naturalization except the acceptance of the yoke of the commandments.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Conversion, Halakhah, Israeli Chief Rabbinate, Judaism in Israel, Law of Return

Planning for the Day after the War in the Gaza Strip

At the center of much political debate in Israel during the past week, as well as, reportedly, of disagreement between Jerusalem and Washington, is the problem of how Gaza should be governed if not by Hamas. Thus far, the IDF has only held on to small parts of the Strip from which it has cleared out the terrorists. Michael Oren lays out the parameters of this debate over what he has previous called Israel’s unsolvable problem, and sets forth ten principles that any plan should adhere to. Herewith, the first five:

  1. Israel retains total security control in Gaza, including control of all borders and crossings, until Hamas is demonstrably defeated. Operations continue in Rafah and elsewhere following effective civilian evacuations. Military and diplomatic efforts to secure the hostages’ release continue unabated.
  2. Civil affairs, including health services and aid distribution, are administered by Gazans unaffiliated with Hamas. The model will be Area B of Judea and Samaria, where Israel is in charge of security and Palestinians are responsible for the civil administration.
  3. The civil administration is supervised by the Palestinian Authority once it is “revitalized.” The PA first meets benchmarks for ending corruption and establishing transparent institutions. The designation and fulfillment of the benchmarks is carried out in coordination with Israel.
  4. The United States sends a greatly expanded and improved version of the Dayton Mission that trained PA police forces in Gaza after Israel’s disengagement.
  5. Abraham Accords countries launch a major inter-Arab initiative to rebuild and modernize Gaza.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, Israeli Security, U.S.-Israel relationship