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

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.

Read more at Times of Israel

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

Israel Just Sent Iran a Clear Message

Early Friday morning, Israel attacked military installations near the Iranian cities of Isfahan and nearby Natanz, the latter being one of the hubs of the country’s nuclear program. Jerusalem is not taking credit for the attack, and none of the details are too certain, but it seems that the attack involved multiple drones, likely launched from within Iran, as well as one or more missiles fired from Syrian or Iraqi airspace. Strikes on Syrian radar systems shortly beforehand probably helped make the attack possible, and there were reportedly strikes on Iraq as well.

Iran itself is downplaying the attack, but the S-300 air-defense batteries in Isfahan appear to have been destroyed or damaged. This is a sophisticated Russian-made system positioned to protect the Natanz nuclear installation. In other words, Israel has demonstrated that Iran’s best technology can’t protect the country’s skies from the IDF. As Yossi Kuperwasser puts it, the attack, combined with the response to the assault on April 13,

clarified to the Iranians that whereas we [Israelis] are not as vulnerable as they thought, they are more vulnerable than they thought. They have difficulty hitting us, but we have no difficulty hitting them.

Nobody knows exactly how the operation was carried out. . . . It is good that a question mark hovers over . . . what exactly Israel did. Let’s keep them wondering. It is good for deniability and good for keeping the enemy uncertain.

The fact that we chose targets that were in the vicinity of a major nuclear facility but were linked to the Iranian missile and air forces was a good message. It communicated that we can reach other targets as well but, as we don’t want escalation, we chose targets nearby that were involved in the attack against Israel. I think it sends the message that if we want to, we can send a stronger message. Israel is not seeking escalation at the moment.

Read more at Jewish Chronicle

More about: Iran, Israeli Security