Representatives from Orthodox Institutions in America Protest Conversion-Reform Efforts in Israel

This week, representatives from several prominent Orthodox and Zionist organizations—including Rabbi Binyamin Blau, the president of the Rabbinical Assembly of America—met with Israel’s minister of religious affairs, Matan Kahana, to discuss his proposed reforms to Israel’s conversion process. Ultimately, as they explain in an open letter, they were unable to support Kahana’s legislation in its current form.

Like Minister Kahana, we recognize a real and serious problem facing Israeli society. Hundreds of thousands of non-Jews have come to Israel from the former Soviet Union and become citizens, serve in the IDF, attend schools, and integrate into Israeli society. Yet despite their contributions to Israel’s security and economy, they cannot benefit from certain rights available to Jews. Their children are growing up Israeli and intermarrying with Jews.

These are serious challenges, but we are concerned that Minister Kahana’s proposed reforms—including the decentralization of Israel’s conversion courts, as well as the resultant lack of transparent standards—will not solve these difficulties. They will instead create another, equally severe, set of problems. We are also concerned that his proposals sideline Israel’s chief rabbinate.

The costs are potentially very significant. The proposal to decentralize conversion authority to local rabbinical courts will result in different—and perhaps contradictory—standards of conversion being used in different locales. Those converted by more lenient standards will not be accepted as Jewish by others, creating two communities that cannot marry each other, thus dividing Israelis even more.

Israel should learn from our experience in the U.S. Less than twenty years ago, any rabbi in America who so wished would perform conversions according to his own standards. The result was a complete lack of trust and transparency regarding the halakhic quality of those conversions, necessitating individual investigation. . . . The [Israeli] rabbinate’s imposition of a minimum standard contributed greatly to the successful establishment of the Rabbinical Council of America’s “GPS network” of Orthodox conversion courts, . . . maintaining a specific standard for conversion that has significantly improved the trust and transparency of American conversions.

Read more at Times of Israel

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

The ICJ’s Vice-President Explains What’s Wrong with Its Recent Ruling against Israel

It should be obvious to anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of the Gaza war that Israel is not committing genocide there, or anything even remotely akin to it. In response to such spurious accusations, it’s often best to focus on the mockery they make of international law itself, or on how Israel can most effectively combat them. Still, it is also worth stopping to consider the legal case on its own terms. No one has done this quite so effectively, to my knowledge, as the Ugandan jurist Julia Sebutinde, who is the vice-president of the ICJ and the only one of its judges to rule unequivocally in Israel’s favor both in this case and in the previous one where it found accusations of genocide “plausible.”

Sebutinde begins by questioning the appropriateness of the court ruling on this issue at all:

Once again, South Africa has invited the Court to micromanage the conduct of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. Such hostilities are exclusively governed by the laws of war (international humanitarian law) and international human-rights law, areas where the Court lacks jurisdiction in this case.

The Court should also avoid trying to enforce its own orders. . . . Is the Court going to reaffirm its earlier provisional measures every time a party runs to it with allegations of a breach of its provisional measures? I should think not.

Sebutinde also emphasizes the absurdity of hearing this case after Israel has taken “multiple concrete actions” to alleviate the suffering of Gazan civilians since the ICJ’s last ruling. In fact, she points out, “the evidence actually shows a gradual improvement in the humanitarian situation in Gaza since the Court’s order.” She brings much evidence in support of these points.

She concludes her dissent by highlighting the procedural irregularities of the case, including a complete failure to respect the basic rights of the accused:

I find it necessary to note my serious concerns regarding the manner in which South Africa’s request and incidental oral hearings were managed by the Court, resulting in Israel not having sufficient time to file its written observations on the request. In my view, the Court should have consented to Israel’s request to postpone the oral hearings to the following week to allow for Israel to have sufficient time to fully respond to South Africa’s request and engage counsel. Regrettably, as a result of the exceptionally abbreviated timeframe for the hearings, Israel could not be represented by its chosen counsel, who were unavailable on the dates scheduled by the Court.

It is also regrettable that Israel was required to respond to a question posed by a member of the Court over the Jewish Sabbath. The Court’s decisions in this respect bear upon the procedural equality between the parties and the good administration of justice by the Court.

Read more at International Court of Justice

More about: Gaza War 2023, ICC, International Law