The Orthodox Case for Changing the Way the Israeli Rabbinate Handles Conversions

April 11 2022

Last week, a group of prominent American Orthodox rabbis wrote an open letter to Matan Kahana, Israel’s minister of religious affairs, criticizing his plan to reform the chief rabbinate’s policies toward conversions to Judaism. His proposal would devolve more authority from the offices of the chief rabbis to local religious courts. David Brofsky, himself an Orthodox rabbi, responds in defense of Kahana’s plan:

[In Israel], there are thousands of immigrants from the former Soviet Union who are children or grandchildren of Jews who, due to religious persecution, abandoned their Judaism. . . . Many [of these children and grandchildren, despite not being Jewish by dint of having a non-Jewish mother or grandmother], were raised and educated as Jews, identify as Jews, and many even observe the mitzvot so common among traditional Israeli Jews, including kashrut, Shabbat, and the festivals. The . . .  challenge is how to encourage and enable these Israelis, and their children, to return to their Judaism, which was taken from them only a few generations ago.

Instead of fighting those who wish to bring them closer to religious observance, wouldn’t it be wonderful to see the rabbinate calling for Jewish families throughout Israel to host potential converts for the seder this year? Or to organize public shofar blowings and megillah readings in major cities for this population? In fact, what if the rabbinate would invest in supporting those who converted in their own courts?

Likewise, Brofsky is skeptical of his interlocutors’ case that the reforms would undermine the uniform “standards” and “transparency” that they identify in the current system:

Those familiar with the various conversion courts are well aware that each court, and each judge, maintains its own standards for accepting converts. Furthermore, historically, different courts, different judges, and different chief rabbis, held different opinions regarding this issue. While the chief rabbis do have a limited ability to affect policy, . . . there is currently no transparency and there are no set standards regarding the acceptance or rejection of a convert.

Furthermore, the claim [of the letters’ authors that Israel’s current system’s merit lies in its] transparency and set standards is not only incorrect, but also halakhically questionable. The Torah entrusts the judges with the authority to determine when to accept a convert, “based upon the assessment of the judge,” [in the words of the 16th-century sage Joseph Caro, whose code became the basis of all subsequent halakhic jurisprudence]. This is true in all areas of halakhah. Checklists and “standards” are for driving licenses and kashrut organizations, not for religious courts, which rule in accordance with the halakhah.

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Conversion, Halakhah, Israeli Chief Rabbinate, Orthodoxy

The Attempted Murder of Salman Rushdie Should Render the New Iran Deal Dead in the Water

Aug. 15 2022

On Friday, the Indian-born, Anglo-American novelist Salman Rushdie was repeatedly stabbed and severely wounded while giving a public lecture in western New York. Reports have since emerged—although as yet unverified—that the would-be assassin had been in contact with agents of Iran, whose supreme leaders have repeatedly called on Muslims to murder Rushdie. Meanwhile U.S. and European diplomats are trying to restore the 2015 nuclear agreement with Tehran. Stephen Daisley comments:

Salman Rushdie’s would-be assassin might have been a lone wolf. He might have had no contact with military or intelligence figures. He might never even have set foot in Tehran. But be in no doubt: he acted, in effect, as an agent of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Under the terms of the fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini in February 1989, Rushdie “and all those involved in [his novel The Satanic Verses’s] publication who were aware of its content, are sentenced to death.” Khomeini urged “brave Muslims to kill them quickly wherever they find them so that no one ever again would dare to insult the sanctities of Muslims,” adding: “anyone killed while trying to execute Rushdie would, God willing, be a martyr.”

An American citizen has been the victim of an attempted assassination on American soil by, it appears, another American after decades of the Iranian supreme leader agitating for his murder. No country that is serious about its national security, to say nothing of its national self-worth, can pretend this is some everyday stabbing with no broader political implications.

Those implications relate not only to the attack on Rushdie. . . . In July, a man armed with an AK-47 was arrested outside the Brooklyn home of Masih Alinejad, an Iranian dissident who was also the intended target of an abduction plot last year orchestrated by an Iranian intelligence agent. The cumulative weight of these outrages should render the new Iran deal dead in the water.

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Read more at Spectator

More about: Freedom of Speech, Iran, U.S. Foreign policy