WHO IS A JEW?*
The Supreme Court and The Supreme judge
by NORMAN LAMM
One of the grand old men of Hebrew letters in Israel, Eliezer Steinman, has written, "Who is a Jew? One who doesn't ask, 'Who is a Jew?'."
The very raising of the question in our day is a troubling phenomenon. It means that our very identity, our Jewishness, has become problematical. It indicates that all of Jewish continuity has been brought under a question mark.
This issue has plagued the State almost since its very inception. Actually, the groundwork for it was laid in the Emancipation, at the end of the 18th century, when the Haskalah bequeathed to posterity one of its less luminous teachings, that one ought to be a "Jew" indoors and a "man" outside. This obfuscation of Jewish identity has now returned to monopolize public attention and stir controversy both in Israel and in the Diaspora.
The problem does not concern Israeli citizenship. A political state comprises many different ethnic, racial and religious groups. Even in ancient Israel, a non-Jew (ger toshav) was accepted as a citizen. What is at issue is Jewish nationality. Here the Halachah is quite clear:** a Jew is one born to a Jewish mother (regardless of his commitments or conduct) or properly converted to Judaism (in which case the conversion must be performed in a prescribed manner, and the convert must be genuinely committed to Torah). The Jewish tradition recognizes no other yardstick for entering Jewish peoplehood. Hence, any decision by the State concerning nationality (as opposed to citizenship) is of immediate importance to Jews the world over - as significant to the ten million Jews in the Diaspora as to the two million in the State.
In the most recent incident, the Supreme Court decided in the Shalit case to jettison the traditional criterion of Jewishness. A minority of four judges reaffirmed the Halachic standard, and in effect declared that there is no separation between nationality and religion; a Jew must fit into both categories or none. A majority of judges, five of them, decided to distinguish between nationality and religion, and permit a man to adopt Jewish nationality by simple declaration of intent, even if the Jewish religion does not regard him as Jewish. They preferred the subjective criterion (Do I love Israel? Have I sacrificed for the Jewish people?) to the objective Halachic rule (birth to a Jewish mother or conversion).
The majority pointed to certain absurdities if the halachic standard were to be accepted. For instance, a son of a Jewish mother who joins the El Fatah and is an enemy of the State of Israel is considered Jewish, whereas the children of a non-Jewish mother and a Jewish naval officer who has participated in the life of the State and sacrificed for it, are considered non-Jewish. justice Silberg, who wrote a profound opinion as one of the minority judges, responded that the El Fatah Jew is simply a contemptible, wicked Jew, whereas the children of the petitioner in the present case are wonderful and noble Gentiles. But Jewishness, as he put it, is not anhonorary doctorate that is awarded for specific achievements or accomplishments.
It should be added that every law, by its very nature, is productive of anomalies. Any law, no matter how fair and just, can be made to look ridiculous by pointing to certain exceptional cases. Such an argument may score debater's points, but it is invalid and unfair. The Torah - and this is true for law in general -covers ordinary circumstances. There will always be unusual cases in which the law will prove onerous, even as it protects and benefits the major segments of society. Maimonides devotes a whole chapter of his Guide of the Perplexed (3:34) to the problem. It is worth citing some of the passages in this chapter:
The Law does not pay attention to the isolated case. The Law was not given with a view to things that are rare. For in everything that it wishes to bring about, be it an opinion or a moral habit or a useful work, it is directed only toward the things that occur in the majority of cases and pays no attention to what happens rarely... In view of this consideration also, you will not wonder at the fact that the purpose of the Law is not perfectly achieved in every individual and that, on the contrary, it necessarily follows that there should exist individuals whom this governance of the Law does not make perfect. It is impossible that the laws be dependent on changes in the circumstances of the individuals and of the times, as is the case with regard to medical treatment, which is particularized for every individual in conformity with his present temperament. On the contrary, governance of the Law ought to be absolute and universal, including everyone, even if it is suitable only for certain individuals and not suitable for others.
Hence, it is true that in rare instances the purpose of the law seems to be ill served. But we must realize that these rare cases are the price we pay for the greater good of the entire community. The only alternative is to abandon law altogether.
Furthermore, the Halachic standard, because it is objective, is much fairer than a subjective standard, in which judges may conceivably be called upon to check whether a man really has his heart and soul with the Jewish State. The objective standard is clear and identifiable, whereas the subjective one - the adoption of jewishness by nationality on the basis of intent and wholehearted willingness to share in the State and its destiny - is something that could pave the way to a kind of modern Inquisition.
But the majority prevailed, and the Halachic definition was abandoned. The Court was asked, "Who is a Jew?" and answered, as if with a Yiddish shrug of the shoulders, "Who isn't a Jew!" Or, as the headline in an Anglo-Jewish weekly put it more wryly, "You don't have to be Jewish to be a Jew."
However, more recently, the Knesset has voided the Supreme Court decision and has thereby, confirmed the Halachic view of jewishness.
It has been charged by many in Israel that the Knesset vote was a matter of the majority bowing to political pressure exerted by the religious parties in order to maintain the coalition that gives the Government its stability. That is not the whole truth, or even most of the truth. A number of non-orthodox people in Government, according to their private remarks, simply found it more expedient to blame the religious parties for exerting political pressure on them. However, if there were no religious parties they would have to vote their own consciences, according to which, despite their secularism, the State must have some historic and spiritual continuity, which can only be provided by Jewish tradition and by Halachah as regards this most basic of all questions.
Why speak of this issue now that the Knesset has affirmedthe Halachic criterion and the problem is solved?
Because the problem is not solved, it is only delayed. First, a Court decision of this kind is a symptom of a profound national malaise that cannot be overlooked; it has a moral force that must be reckoned with. Second, coalitions change, political realignments occur, new ideas take hold, and a new Knesset may decide to uphold the Supreme Court. Third, the problem has already been reopened and precipitated a crisis. The original text suggested for the Knesset vote was that one be recognized as a Jew who is "the son of a Jewish mother or one who has been converted according to the law of the Torah." In the final reading, approved by the Knesset, the last several words were omitted, and we are left only with a statement that one is recognized as a Jew if he is born to a Jewish mother or if he is converted - with no mention of its legitimacy "according to the law of the Torah." This means that the State must now face the problem of recognizing Reform conversions as legitimate.
Needless to say, orthodox Jews do not do so. Halachah regards a Reform conversion as utterly meaningless. Perhaps the typical American, in his ecumenical euphoria, would want orthodox Jews to be more "sportsmanlike" about accepting Reform conversions. We shall then have to declare, most regretfully, our lack of sportsmanship, and say that our principles, which are not subject to change by whim or caprice or pressure, do not permit us to accept a Reform conversion as jewishly legitimate. Orthodox rabbis in the United States now check, as a matter of course, into the third generation of both bride and groom who come to them for marriage. If we discover that a Reform conversion occurred, we know that we cannot marry this couple unless a re-conversion takes place.
Those who may consider such a policy as overly restrictive may find interest in the following information to support our inability to accept the genuineness of a Reform conversion: according to a leading Reform figure who is an expert in the field, a large number of his Reform colleagues will preside at the intermarriage of a Jew and a non-Jew without conversion by the non-Jew, and a much larger number of other Reform men will "refer" such couples to their colleagues who do preside at such marriages. There is reputedly a list of thirty five such men in the metropolitan New York area who will officiate at a Jewish-non-Jewish wedding. In a recent article Marshall Sklare reports a list of over 100 Reform clergymen who will officiate at interfaith marriages - and this is not nearly the total number; those uncounted include such as are already too busy to accept more such "business" and those still ashamed of being publicly identified as ready to preside at outmarriages. Sklare tells of a recent convention of the Reform congregations at which it was proposed to revoke all pronouncements discouraging the ecclesiastical performances of intermarriage. A resolution to that effect was introduced from the floor, "and a lively discussion ensued, from which became evident that the motion enjoyed wide support among those who were in attendance."
Hence, the problem of "who is a Jew" is still unsolved, and very much with us. It no doubt will return to vex us in the near future.
Why does this issue so agitate traditional Jews? It looms large because it touches the very core of our being, the very essence of our deepest commitments. Orthodox Jews regard the Israel Supreme Court decision as calamitous religiously, historically, and Zionistically.
Religiously, it strikes at what Judaism considers the essence of the history of the people of Israel: the B'rith or Covenant between Israel and G-d. The distinctiveness of our people, that which has safeguarded its perilous journey through the ages, is its special relationship to G-d confirmed at Sinai, a Covenant of which the record is the Torah and of which the Mitzvoth are the conditions. The Covenant legitimates the inseparability of G-d and Israel or, in other words, Jewish nationality and Jewish religion. "Silence! Hear, 0 Israel! Today you have become the people of the Lord your G-d" (D'varim/Deuteronomy 27:9). Now, one can violate oneor another of the conditions of the Covenant without being guilty of reneging on the basic relationship. But when Israel declares that it divorces nationality from religion, it denies the essence of the Covenant - the principle that this people is the people of G-d. The Supreme Court decision, therefore, represents an act of betrayal by Israel. It strikes at the heart of the Covenant - and thereby breaks the hearts of those who are loyal to it.
Historically too it is a misfortune. The State of Israel was not created ab ovo, from an egg, completely new. It is the product of centuries of hoping and praying and living and dying. For the Jewish nation today to reject the Jewish religion which gave birth to it after a 3,500-year pregnancy, is a kind of matricide - a peculiarly contemporary Jewish aberration evidenced in some of our current literature reviling the heretofore sacrosanct image of the Jewish mother.
The logic of the Supreme Court decision does not stop with according the status of "Jew" to an atheist who is not Jewish by Halachic standards. It must include even those who have religious commitments other than the Jewish. Thus, we will now have "Christian Jews," "Moslem Jews," "Hindu Jews," etc.* But is this the mutation that generations of Jews labored to bring forth? Six million Jews died in the Holocaust, probably a majority of them religiously observant. At least retroactively they may have had some infinitesimal consolation, that out of their agony would rise a state that would perpetuate the memory of the Jewish people. They died with an ani maamin, a song of faith - if not on their lips, then deep iii their hearts - that their anguish would not be meaningless, that something enduring would come of all this. But for what? For a State which will officially consider meshumadim as Jews? It is not merely that the Supreme Court decision will encourage and accelerate the rate of assimilation of many Jews. it is more than that - it is an effort to assimilate the whole people in one stroke.
If this decision were implemented, or ever will be, it will contribute to the cutting of the roots connecting Israel's past and Israel's present, and will reduce the State of Israel into little more than a technologically muscle-bound, spiritually unimportant little democracy on the shores of the Mediterranean, and one which, in addition, will appear to aid and abet our enemies' charges that Israel is an outpost of Western cultural imperialism in the Arab world. So that historically too, the repute between nationality and religion is an act of betrayal or at least of ingratitude.
ZIONISTICALLY, such a decision is totally self-defeating. Our rights to Eretz Israel are grounded in the Abrahamitic Covenant. In 1947 and 1948, Zionist leaders who presented our case to the United Nations maintained that the origin and sanction of our claims are contained in the Bible and in the subsequent history in which Jewish religion impelled us to return to the Jewish homeland. Recently the World Jewish Congress officials met with representatives of the World Council of Churches because the former were troubled by the Christian contention that the Bible is being misused to support Jewish views. "It was feared that this could be interpreted as challenging the Jewish view that the Bible justifies the claim to Israel as a homeland" (New York Times, February 14, 1970). Without Jewish religion, there is no Jewish nationality, and there is no Jewish "national homeland."
Truthfully, not all critics of the State of Israel are malevolent and antisemitic. Some of them, although assuredly not all of them or even most of them, genuinely try to see the conflict in which we are embroiled in an objective manner. And, from an impersonal and objective point of view, it is possible to conclude that Israel's case is not as air-tight as we have imagined, and the Arabs may have some merit in their contentions. It is only in the context of the Divine promise, of the Covenant, that we have inalienable and unalterable rights to the Holy Land. Once we have cut ourselves off from that Covenant, the whole foundation of our case collapse, and we are in danger of appearing as hyper-efficient outsiders who have unjustly exploited what we ourselves consider as nothing more than an ancient myth in order to usurp the land of others. It is the Covenant which says, above all else, that this people and G-d are intertwined with each other. And it is only that Covenant which assigns the land of Canaan to the people of Israel.
RASHI begins his commentary to Bereshith/Genesis with the following: Why does the Torah begin with a record of the Divine creation of the world? "So that if the nations of the world will say to Israel, 'You are thieves, for you conquered the lands of the seven nations (who occupied Canaan from antiquity),'you will be able to answer, ‘All the world belongs to the Holy One. He created it, and He gave it to whom He pleased. He willed to give it to them, and He willed to take it from them and give it to us."'
We cannot be eclectic and accept the Covenant only for political purposes and reject it for all other reasons. It is important to remember that were the relationship between nationality and religion severed at any point in the past, there would be today no State of Israel, and no Israel naval officers - and no Israel Supreme Court.
That is why religious Jews feel impelled to react vigorously. The State of Israel is too dear to us to accept without protest this grievous decision which can only exacerbate (as it has already begun to do) the deep divisions within Israel's citizenry and which threatens to alienate from Israel many of the Jews of the Diaspora, who are probably five times as numerous as those within the borders of the State.
Committed religious Jews, inside of Israel and outside, will continue using the Halachic criterion exclusively, no matter what any Supreme Court says. Religious principle is not subject to majority vote. Even if the Knesset had not overruled the Supreme Court, that ruling would have no effect on us in our daily lives. We shall continue to look upon Jewishness as legitimated only by the Halachah.
What shall determine our conduct is not the decision of those whom the world regards as the Supreme Court of Israel, but the One whom Israel regards as the Supreme judge of the world.
Who's a Jew:
Two Famous Non-Questions Answered*
by NISSIM REJWAN
At the end of a noisy and highly recriminatory debate on January 17 the Knesset decided, 62 to 51, to reject a proposed amendment to the Law of Return stipulating that conversion to Judaism be performed "according to Halakhah." The amendment, which was supported by all the religious parties and 32 out of the Likud's 38 M.K.'s, was presented by Abner Shaki of the National Religious Party, who said its aim was to prevent "paper conversions, fictitious conversions, conversions that distort the time-honored concept of giyur [the Hebrew term used for conversion to Judaism]." Shaki further argued that the objective of the proposed amendment was to ensure the unity and integrity of the Jewish people, which he said could be achieved if there were only one entrance gate to Judaism.
There was nothing either new or original in this line of argument, which the religious parties have been using ever since their repeated attempts started to add the qualifying phrase "according to Halakhah" to the definition of a convert entitled to emigrate to Israel in accordance with the Law of Return. Nor was there anything new in the arguments advanced by opponents of the amendment - with the possible exception of one passage in the government's reply, which was delivered by Prime Minister Shimon Peres. Pointing out that the government was not a religious authority, and that it cannot discuss a problem that is "more in the realm of Torah than in the realm of government," Peres went on to assert that the Law of Return was a Zionist law, not a religious one, and that as such it has no implications with respect to matters of personal status nor did it weaken the authority of the rabbinical courts.
The gist of Peres's argument was, of course, only a rehash of the argument advanced by the Supreme Court back in the Fifties in the famous case of Oswald Rufeisen, better known as Brother Daniel, who pleaded to the court that though a convert to Catholicism he was Halakhically still a Jew and entitled to Israeli citizenship according to the Law of Return.
After a good deal of deliberation and not a little embarrassment, the court decided to deny Brother Daniel's plea but it did so on the grounds of the understanding of jewishness embodied in the Law of Return, which was a secular law, admitting, however, that according to Jewish religious law (Halakhah) Rufeisen was still a Jew. Peres's argument, which in reality amounted to saying that the Law of Return was a secular rather than a Jewish law, was taken up with alacrity by Shulamit Aloni of the Citizen's Rights List, who argued that the Law of Return, which was a Zionist law "aimed at furthering,the ingathering of the exiles," must not only remain as it is today but ought to by amended to include a definition of a Jew as "anyone who declares in good faith that he is Jewish and has tied his fate to that of the Jewish people, and who has one Jewish parent."
Peres and Aloni, of course, were perfectly right in arguing that the Law of Return was a secular (Zionist) law while the question as to who is a Jew and how conversions to Judaism ought to be performed was more in the realm of Halakhah than in the realm of government. What they both omitted to mention was that in Israel there is no separation of synagogue and state, and that as long as this situation prevails the definition of a Jew and the way in which a non-Jew can be converted to Judaism must remain in the realm of Halakhah and cannot be decided by what is admittedly a secular legislation. Opponents to the amendments proposed by the Orthodox parties to the Law of Return cannot have their cake and eat it at the same time. As long as the rabbinical courts are allowed to decide on matters of personal status, and as long as these courts have to do this according to Jewish religious law, the government and its secular law cannot impose on them what is essentially a secular definition of a Jew or of a convert to Judaism.
In the light of this, indeed, the question as to who is a Jew, and its twin, who is a convert to Judaism, are two non-questions that have somehow been allowed to exercise the minds of otherwise sensible men and women for far too long. As everyone knows by now, a Jew is a person born to a Jewish mother or converted to Judaism. Implicit in this definition, of course, is the conclusive answer to our second question: a convert to Judaism - exactly like a convert to any other religion - is one who has been lawfully received into the new faith. Since, however, every human group or association, every ideology, religion, party, or club has its own set of rules for admitting members into its rank, it stands to reason that a person seeking admittance must conform to the rules of the group, ideology, or religion to which he or she wants to be admitted.
If, however, the answers to these two questions are so simple as to render them non-questions, why has so much fuss been made about them? Why have so many coalition governments in Israel fallen, so much energy been expended, such a great deal of Menachem Begin's and Shimon Peres's time wasted trying to answer them? The answer to this question is to be sought neither in a correct definition of the word "Jew" nor in the methods used to convert non-Jews to Judaism. The question to ask, briefly, is why suddenly there is such a great need to ask these questions in the first place. In other words, why do people, no matter in what numbers, want to convert to Judaism, and what are the circumstances leading to and necessitating these conversions?
Interestingly enough, the rabbis were quite alert to such potential difficulties and queries when they laid down the rules for conversion. Two points are worth elaborating in this connection.
The Talmud relates how a non-Jew who seeks full conversion to Judaism is discouraged. He is told: "What do you see in Judaism? Be aware that Judaism imposes many restrictions that do not apply to the righteous non-Jew. Now you are not liable to observe them; the moment you convert, you will be (so) liable. And aren't you aware that Jews today suffer persecution and discrimination, and the moment you embrace Judaism you subject 'yourself to the ignominious lot of the Jews?" (Yebamot 47a)
Anticipating another kind of difficulty, Maimonides - a liberal enough sage and rabbi especially where gerim and converts are concerned - lays it down in the Mishne Torah that a non-Jew applying for conversion to Judaism is automatically disqualified if his or her motives for conversion should be found to fall within any of the following three categories: material gain, a desire for position and influence, and fear. It is only after making sure that the candidate has none of these three motives that he or she is confronted with the "warning" quoted above - and it is only after he or she has become aware of the said pitfalls that the various rites required are performed to bring the person in question "into the Covenant of our Father Abraham." (Hilkhot Issurai Biah, 13-14)
Clearly, a non-Jew who fulfills these conditions, accepts the burdens and disadvantages cited as implicit in being a Jew, and goes through the process of instruction and the related rites of circumcision and ritual immersion, can safely be said to have sought conversion out of conviction rather than for personal convenience of one kind or another.
It goes without saying, therefore, that a non-Jew cannot and should not be converted to some sort of dissenting, revisionist, or in some other way diluted version of Judaism - Conservative, Reform, secular, national, or atheistic (if such a term has any validity).
To be sure, the Law of Return as it stands today and as it will remain even should the Orthodox bloc manage to get enough votes in the Knesset for its proposed amendment, grants all Jews the right of return no matter what the state of their religious belief is and irrespective of whether they are Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform Jews. At first glance, therefore, the argument currently advanced by Conservative and Reform rabbis in the United States, namely that they ought to be allowed to make Halakhic conversions on their own terms, seems reasonable.
The argument, however, does not withstand closer scrutiny. The point here - indeed the crux of the matter and the reason I believe Orthodox objections are valid and logical - is that being a conservative, reform, secular, atheistic, or even "pagan" Jew are privileges open only to a person who was either born to a Jewish mother or became a Jew after having been converted according to Halakhah as defined and codified in the Jewish sources. The situation is reminiscent of a story by the American Jewish writer Abraham Cahan. The story concerns an Italian barber in New York who falls in love with a Jewish girl on Broome Street. The barber wants to marry the girl but her mother will not hear of it. Finally, the mother says that they can be married if the barber converts to Judaism. She makes him learn Hebrew and pray every morning with a yarmulke on his head. The couple lives with the mother-in-law and the barber doesn't get breakfast until he prays. But that isn't all. The bride has a brother named Joe, and Joe doesn't pray before getting breakfast. After a while, the barber asks his mother-in-law, "Why doesn't Joe have to pray before breakfast?" The matron's answer is as prompt as it is simple: "He is a Jew," she retorts. "I know he's a Jew. You've got to prove it!"
What the New York mother was saying is remarkably relevant to this discussion. A jew remains a jew even if he sins - or becomes an atheist, or even if he converts to another religion. But the demand now being made that ultimately non-Halakhic conversion should be accepted by the
Orthodox - or, worse still, that one can be converted to anything but Judaism as it has been known and defined through the ages - is unjustified both on religious and on logical grounds. It is like applying for membership in a faith, a party, or a club, while declaring one's basic disagreement with its teachings, program rules, and even its conditions for membership.
For these reasons, and others we cannot go into here, it is clear that in this day and age only very few non-Jews would seek genuine bona fide conversion to Judaism - and my understanding is that they will always be welcomed by the Orthodox. Equally clearly, these persons will perforce choose to be Orthodox or perhaps ultra-Orthodox Jews and would feel at home only in these circles.
Yet the root of the current controversy in Israel on this subject is that most, if not all, of those non-Jews who have sought and managed to convert to the Jewish faith in recent years have done so not out of conviction but for personal convenience of some kind. In other words, according to the strict rules set by the rabbis for conversion they should have been precluded a priori from joining the Jewish ranks.
Now in the Diaspora these problems do not arise. A Gentile girl, say, who wants to marry a Jewish boy can either ignore the matter altogether or seek and easily receive conversion by a Reform or Conservative rabbi. In the case of a Jewish girl choosing to marry a Gentile, the difficulty does not have to be faced even should the couple want to raise their children as Jews or want them to be eligible for Israeli citizenship according to the Law of Return, since Halakhically these children are born Jews regardless of the father's religious allegiances.
Such difficulties do arise, however, when a mixed marriage couple decides to come to Israel as immigrants and demand to be registered with their children as Jews and to be treated as such by the rabbinical courts. There are also other cases. A friend of mine opposes Halakhic conversions because she does not want a Gentile volunteer, working and well settled in a kibbutz, to be penalized simply because he isn't a Jew, and that therefore such a person should be allowed to become a Jew the easiest possible way - so that he or she can qualify for the privileges bestowed on Jewish newcomers by the Law of Return.
This attitude, remarkably similar as it is to that expounded by Shulamit Aloni, is of course tantamount to saying that Judaism and its laws as we have known them for close on two millennia, as well as Jewish rituals and practices, should be revised and adapted to the provisions of the Law of Return a secular law promulgated to serve strictly secular ends. This of course cannot be accepted either by the Orthodox or by those of us who respect and accept a religion's definition of itself and the rules it sets for admitting strangers. I myself find it difficult to believe that no Israeli political party opinion leader, or public figure of standing - not even among those engaged in the fight for civil and human rights - has ever seen fit to decry this state of affairs, which in the final analysis amounts to anti-religious coercion.
It is not often that I find myself in agreement with the religious leadership in Israel, but I am afraid that in this particular case the spokesmen for Orthodoxy are right in calling for a revision of the Law of Return in order for conversion to Judaism to be acceptable only if it is performed in accordance with the Halakhah. After all, Orthodox Jews like anyone else - ought not to be forced to accept w at is religiously unacceptable.
The Proposal for a "Neutral" Beis Din*
by J. DAVID BLEICH
The high incidence of intermarriage which has reached epidemic proportions is deplored by all concerned Jews. Many, particularly among the non-Orthodox, actively encourage conversion of the non-Jewish partner as a means of preserving the Jewish identity of the family. In Israel, the reluctance of the rabbinate to recognize many conversions performed abroad has generated much ill-will. The insistence of the religious parties upon an amendment to the Law of Return to provide for recognition only of those conversions which are carried out "in accordance with Halachah" carries with it the threat of a political crisis. This ongoing controversy is frequently shrouded in a lack of understanding, and, at times, magnified by a deliberate distortion of the motives and concerns of Orthodox Jewry.
Halachah does not in any way view conversion of a non-Jewish marriage partner as a palliative for the problem of intermarriage. Quite to the contrary, the performance of an inefficacious conversion ceremony results in erroneous acceptance of the non-Jew as a bona fide convert by the uninformed. The result is both personal anguish and a diminution of the kedushah of the Community of Israel.
Conversion can never be sanctioned in the absence eitherof ideological sincerity or of unreserved acceptance of the "yoke of the commandments." Thus no candidate may be accepted for conversion in the absence of a firm commitment to shmiras ha-mitzvos. Sincerity of purpose in face of obvious ulterior motivation can be determined only by a competent Beis Din on a case-by-case basis.
Moreover, Halachah recognizes the validity of a conversion only if performed in the presence of a qualified Beis Din. The qualifications for serving on a Beis Din are carefully spelled out by Halachah. Conversion, even when accompanied by circumcision, immersion in a mikveh as well as acceptance of the "yoke of the commandments," is null and void unless performed in the presence of a qualified Beis Din.
The current controversy with regard to Israel's Law of Return and the call for amending this statute in a manner that would recognize as Jews only those converts who have converted "according to Halachah" have given rise to a particularly vexing problem. A number of proposals have been advanced in an attempt to satisfy the desires and aspirations of the Conservative and Reform movements without doing violence to the principles of the Orthodox. The crux of these proposals is that all conversions be recognized as valid, regardless of the auspices under which performed, provided that halachic requirements of immersion and circumcision are properly carried out. Conservative and Reform groups would undertake scrupulously to adhere to these halachic requirements.
Alas, such proposals, well-meaning as they may be, are unacceptable because they ignore one crucial factor: conversion to Judaism is valid only if performed in the presence of a qualified Beis Din. There is, to be sure, a definite danger that a forthright delineation of why it is that conversions performed under non-Orthodox auspices cannot be recognized may be misunderstood. But, on the other hand, stony silence gives credence to those who insist that our failure to welcome an accommodation in this area is prompted by unworthy interests. Of such dilemmas one can but agonize, "Woe unto me if I speak; woe unto me if I do not speak." Brotherhood and harmony are very much part of the American tradition. No one wishes to exacerbate the rift which exists betweenOrthodox Jews and our "separated brethren." No one wishes to create a schism even greater than that which already exists. Most assuredly, refusal to recognize conversions performed by non-Orthodox clergymen is not born of selfish desire to protect vested interests. It is not even rooted in a quarrel over who has the power to interpret Halachah, as some Conservative spokesmen have charged.
In our country - as in most - a judge cannot sit on the bench without first being sworn to uphold the laws to the land. In the absence of such a commitment his judicial decisions are legally meaningless - regardless of whether or not they reflect the law correctly. Jewish law does not require an oath - other than the one sworn by each of us at Mount Sinai - but it does state clear requirements for holding judicial office. One need not necessarily be an ordained rabbi in order to serve on a Beis Din for purposes of accepting a convert, but one must be committed to the acceptance of Torah - both the Written and Oral Law - in its entirety. One who refuses to accept the divinity and binding authority of even the most minor detail of Halachah is, ipso facto, disqualified. Long before the Law of Return became a controversial issue, it was the stated opinion of galactic authorities that ideological adherents of Reform and Conservatism fall into this category. One of the foremost rabbinic scholars of our generation, R. Moshe Feinstein, has written in at least four different responsa which appear in his Iggros Mosheh that all who identify themselves as non-Orthodox clergy must be considered to be in this category.
There is nothing in this position which should be a cause for animus directed against the Orthodox rabbinate. The Orthodox posture on this matter is based upon objective criteria of Jewish law and in no way reflects political, partisan, or personal considerations. Those who differ ideologically may disagree, and even deplore, this position; but intellectual honesty should compel them to recognize that it is a sincerely held view which is the product of a firm commitment to Halachah in all its guises. Nor should this position on the partof the Orthodox preclude cooperative activities in areas which do not involve ideological conflict.
The desire for harmonious relationships and the love of one's fellow Jews are not the exclusive prerogative of the non-Orthodox. Yet, no amount of love and good feeling can justify the compromise of Halachah. This is a matter over which we have no authority. Difficult problems do not always admit of facile solutions; compromise is not always a viable option. Halachah is simply not amenable to quid pro quo accommodations. The result may perhaps be painful at times, but is, alas, unavoidable.
It is most unfortunate that this position must be enunciated at a time of growing rapprochement, at a time when significant sectors within the Reform movement are showing an ever increasing awareness of the vital role of law and ritual in Jewish life. It would be most distressing if misunderstandings with regard to the issue of conversion were to become a factor in slowing this trend. The stirrings of change within the Reform movement are sincerely welcomed. We pray for the day when the return will be complete both in practice and belief, for the day when the schism which divides us will be breached and we shall all be united in the service of G-d. Then, shall we be enabled to sit together on a common Beis Din in true unity.
We would like to add the following to Rabbi Bleich's incisive analysis:
The "Central Conference of American Rabbis (Reform)," at its 98th annual convention in May 1987, adopted a resolution "to explore possibilities for a North American Beit Din made up of rabbis from all Jewish religious movements to oversee conversion and divorce." In the preceding discussion,R. A. Soloff spoke against the proposal.
He quoted Walter Jacob, chairman of the CCAR Standing Committee on Responsa: "We have looked at Halacha in a different and, we believe, more creative way than other Jewish groups. We have not looked to the Orthodox for approval; rather, our responsa and the guides which we have written have linked the past to the present and sought to make Halacha meaningful to new generations."
Soloff comments cogently:
"Now in all honesty, this is not what rabbis of the Orthodox, or even the Conservative movements, have in mind when they use the term Halacha. We are all aware of the sharp divisions within our own Conference over various responsa regarding marriage. Would we want a Beit Din of the CCAR to decide Reform Halacha on these issues? This is the prior question, I submit, before we enter discussions with other movements.
"I urge the defeat of the ‘Proposal for a National Beit Din' because we have not settled among ourselves what we want or what we are willing to give, regarding Halacha. The CCAR, which refuses to consider enforcing ritual requirements on our own members when they perform wedding ceremonies, is not ready to enter into discussions with other Jewish religious movements to explore possibilities for a North American Beit Din."*
All and any calls for a "national" or "neutral" Beit Din, therefore, regardless of who proposes or supports such, are clearly no more than smokescreens, deceptive exercises in futility which are a priori doomed to failure.
WHO IS A JEW?*
by MENACHEM BEGIN
In the discussion today, certain people would like to suggest that the time has come to change the status quo.
What exactly is meant by that?
We are speaking about passing a law which purports to separate Jewish nationality from Jewish religion.
(By the way, the term status quo is a Latin one, and more correctly it is not just status quo, but status quo ante, or status quopost.)
The status quo ante is the history of the Jewish people: a history that existed before there was a State of Israel, before there was a movement called Zionism; before there was a Socialism; before the Communist Manifesto; before the political concepts of right and left; before the Inquisition; before the tests by blood and fire that our people have undergone.
Can this be changed?
How can we logically imagine that by a bill we can change the status quo ante of the Jewish people?
On the other hand, to oppose this bill - to oppose this so-called ‘change of the status quo'- is to affirm the continuity of the Jewish people, from the day it appeared on the historical arena until now.
To oppose this bill means that in fact there is no separation between nationality and religion, nor can there be.
And this is my personal view, that from the standpoint of religion or nationality, the question of "Who is a Jew?" is and will be determined only by Halacha - Jewish Law.
The War on Halacha:
Some people get very upset when they hear the word "Halacha." They Shout, "This is reactionary! These people rebel against enlightenment! They are the carriers of darkness! They cannot be counted among progressive and modern thinkers!"
Sorry. I am neither shaken nor horrified. I only wonder, why are you so against Halacha? Why do you attack it? Why do you belittle it? Is not our whole civil life built up around Halacha? Is it not Halacha which has enabled us to survive all those trials by blood, fire, expulsions, and wanderings?
Yet these "progressive thinkers" spew out their obscenities against Halacha, and claim that it is racist, that it reminds them of Nazism. Woe to our ears that must hear this!
In these days, Jews slander Jews and call them Nazis!
Our mortal enemies attack us that way. They say the liberation of our Land of Israel, is a "Nazi conquest." They who signed treaties with the Nazis, they who initiated events that unleashed all bounds of evil and led to World War II, now call us that ugly name!
And here, in our own country, our very brothers come and cast this same sort of insult against our people forever that the Halacha reminds them of Nazism!
What do these "progressive thinkers" want? That our children should feel ashamed because their parents were born Jews? Do they want us to flee from the heritage of our fathers? Do they imagine that this will make them respectable people, and then no one will call them Nazis and racists?
Have we come here to feel ashamed of our jewishness and our forefathers, or in order to continue their heritage?
Indeed, how do they claim that the Jewish Halacha which has been in existence for thousands of years is racist! Since the days of the blood libels cast upon our people, there has been no lie more terrifying that this one which we Jews have ourselves originated.
"The Ger" in Halacha:
Racism is vicious. Racism is cruel. Racism hates foreigners and proselytes. Halacha is just the reverse.
The concept of the "ger' has two meanings, the stranger and the convert. Concerning the stranger, the Halacha says:
"He dispenses justice to the orphan and widow, and loves the stranger giving him bread and dress.... Thou shalt love the stranger because you were strangers in the land of Egypt... And thou shalt not torment nor oppress the stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt."
Every time we refer to the stranger, the order is repeated, "because you were strangers in the land of Egypt." Where can you find a more sublime anti-racist tradition?
The second meaning of the word "ger" is the convert.
The Halacha says:
"If he is the son of converts, he must not be told: ‘We remember the deeds of your parents. ‘If he is a convert and has come to study Torah, he must not be reminded of his past, or humiliated, for he has come to study the Torah which was given by the Almighty."
And the progressive thinkers would ridicule this! The 'Torah is profoundly anti-racist. Halacha rebuffs any person who reminds the stranger of his origin. Halacha greets the proselyte with love, with charity, with compassion, and with sincerity, And they call the Halacha racist!
Intermarriage and Racism:
True. The Halacha prohibits intermarriage between. Jews and non-Jews. Is this racist?
If so, perhaps our Hebrew language is also racist. Whyare we clinging to the ancient tongue? It was already forgot-ten in the course of the ages; but then we said, No. We shall speak Hebrew.
And is our cleaving to the Land also racist? Yet for centuries, in the Diaspora, we have prayed for rains here in our Land, even though we were thousands of miles away, and could derive no benefit from our prayers.
So now, a "progressive thinker" stands up at this rostrum and tells us, "The time has come for a new proposal, for a change in the order."
I challenge him. Let him lock himself up in a room and ask himself honestly: "Would our people exist today if it were not for that prohibition against intermarriage? Would we not have disappeared along with other, more powerful peoples, who vanished without a trace?"
Perhaps only a memory of our people would have remained. The few facing the many - it was necessary to protect the few! Had mixed marriages been permitted, not a sole survivor would have been left!
Imagine. Our people is one of the oldest on earth. Its thread of continuity has not been broken even for one day in thousands of years. We ought to be 200 to 250 million souls! Why have only 13 million of us survived? There are two reasons: slaughter and assimilation. Who knows if assimilation did not take what slaughter spared; certainly millions in each generation. Were it not for the prohibition, we would surely have disappeared long ago.
Yet some would even argue, "Why does the Jewish people have to go on existing?"
We Jews and Zionists have not accepted their argument. We do not accept the theory of disappearance. We ask for no justification to exist. We do not ask that our right to exist be recognized by the word of a king, a general, a ruler, or a government. We exist. We have the right to exist, and we shall continue to exist. We do not propose to step down from the stage of history. We do not want to assimilate. We do have something to contribute to ourselves and to all mankind. This is the essence of Judaism and of the national liberation movement called Zionism.
The Danger of Intermarriage:
This is the prohibition against intermarriage:
"And you shall not intermarry with them. You shall not give your daughter in marriage to his son, and you shall not take his daughter for your son, because your son will abandon Me and serve other gods."
Our Sages explained this verse, that when your son marries a non-Jew, their child is not Jewish. When your daughter marries a non-Jew, their child is Jewish. Therefore, you should not give your daughter to a non-jew in marriage,because their child (who is still "your son") will go after other gods, and will abandon Me.
What about the child of your son who married a non-Jew?
The Torah is silent. The child is lost. He is not a Jew.
This is how the Halachic ruling came about, that the son of a Jewish mother is a Jew, even if his father is not a Jew but not the reverse.
Is this racist?
Racism will seize a person, for a single drop of Jewish blood, and condemn him to a place of no return. While Jewish Halacha says: If the mother is a Jewess, even though there is no certainty that the father is a Jew, even though there is certainty that the father is not a Jew, the child is a Jew. He is one of us.
Were it not for that prohibition of intermarriage, were it not for that Halacha, who could have withstood disappearance and the problem of existence in the Diaspora?
And now, what do "progressive thinkers" want? That the Jewish State for which the Jewish people paid the price in human efforts, superhuman and even inhuman sacrifices, that the Jewish State proclaim to the world: There is no longer any prohibition against intermarriage. We do not object.
What fence will there then ‘be to stem the tide of assimilation? Within a few generations our people will be doomed to disappear. Go to Scandinavia. See what is left of her Jewish residents as a result of the mixed marriages. In a little while there will be no more sign of them, save the synagogue which still stands on its foundations.
The Dignity of Halacha:
So then, considering that Halacha determines and legislates on the issue of "Who is a Jew," is the problem that we have grievances against Halacha per se?
Take a look at the way the State of Israel is run. Its laws are interpreted in the light of English Common Law. If in the days of Elizabeth 1, Queen of England, a British judge passed a sentence, the Israeli judges are still bound by that precedent in their interpretation of our laws and in passing fair sentence.
The English Common Law is a fine humane creation. It has many beautiful things. Its panel procedure is one of the best on earth. It is by far the most humane and progressive of all penal law systems in Continental Europe.
Still, the English Common Law contains certain things which are outdated, which are no longer good. Yet no progressive thinker ever rose in the House to argue: Why do we continue to be bound by a Common Law that is hundreds of years old and contains certain things which are good andothers which are not good?
What then is wrong, what is sinful with the idea that in the hugely significant matter of "Who is a Jew," we should be bound by the interpretation of the Jewish Common Law pardon my expression - the Jewish Halacha, which is in force thousands of years? What intelligent person can be insulted by it?
Who is Compelling Whom?
Finally, Mr. Speaker, there is the question of compulsion:
is one group of people forcing its views on others?
I propose the following rule to the entire Knesset without distinction of party:
That Judaism not be forced on any person, and that no
person be forced on Judaism.
Consider what I say. Judaism shall not be forced on any person: If the mother is not a Jewess, the child is not a Jew. But if a person, being a non-Jew, wishes to join the Jewish people, he must go through with a conversion. Such is the Halacha. If the person does not want to be converted, he must not be converted. He will not be counted as a member of the Jewish people.
But if he does not convert, according to Halacha, how can our courts then classify him as a Jew? Is that not compulsion? Is that not forcing him on Judaism? Is that not forcing him on the entire Jewish people, today, and for generations to come - on the millions no longer alive, and the millions still to be born? According to the knowledge and laws under which Jews have lived for thousands of years, this person is not a Jew. Yet certain people would say to them, "Accept him! Now he is a Jew!"
Other than Halacha, there is no constraint.
If a person does not want to convert, he must not be converted. If he does not want to be registered as a member of the Jewish nation, he will not be registered as such.
He can remain a citizen, a free man, enjoying full equal rights. If he wishes, he can write in, after the word, "nationality" - not registered. He can be a person without religion.
But why force a non-Jew on the Jewish people!
Compulsion is a serious matter when it applies to an individual. How much more so, when it applies to the majority of Jews who have ever lived on the face of this earth! Again, I repeat to the "progressive thinkers," Where is the compulsion?
WHO IS A JEW?
In the end, the Orthodox approachis really the only one Israel can take*
By J. IMMANUEL SCHOCHET
Jews around the world are engaged in heated debate over attempts by Israel's Orthodox parties to tighten the Law of Return, which entitles every Jew to immediate entry and citizenship in Israel. The Orthodox parties, which hold the balance of power after the recent Israeli election, refuse to recognize conversions that do not follow traditional Jewish law.
The Law of Return affirms that Israel is the natural and historical homeland of every Jew. Its original wording was ambiguous, thus compelling the Israel parliament to define Jewish identity as "one born of a Jewish mother or converted to Judaism." This definition is based on Jewish religious law, and was the sole criterion throughout Jewish history. For purposes of Jewish identity, therefore, the secular parliament of Israel intentionally adopted a Jewish religious standard.
The current form of the law was adopted in 1970, and immediately generated new problems. Matrilineal descent is straightforward. But what constitutes conversion?
Jewish tradition stipulates the standards for a legitimate conversion. First, there must be a sincere conviction of the truth of Judaism and a commitment to abide by its laws and practices. This is followed by the rites of conversion, and all this must be done before a tribunal of three qualified religious judges.
A serious problem exists nowadays, because new Jewish movements no longer accept the binding nature of the Code of Jewish Law. Their spiritual leaders ignore the above requirements in whole or in part. Reform Judaism rejects the validity and binding nature of Jewish laws altogether, regarding them, as mere cultural traditions that may be accepted or abandoned at will. Many Reform rabbis are self-professed atheists and agnostics.
The Reform movement has no compulsory standards for conversions, or other religious rites. Its procedures for conversion range anywhere from simple requests by would-be converts to become Jewish or a short interview in the rabbi's office, to formal conversion classes of varying duration.
Some Reform rabbis offer the rituals as an option, subject to the candidate's feelings, but the overwhelming majority does not. Recently, the movement breached all traditions by unilaterally equating patrilineal descent to matrilineal descent.
Both the Conservative and the Orthodox reject these conversions and other actions by Reform rabbis as altogether illegitimate.
On the other hand, more and more Conservative rabbis now also set their own standards without regard to Jewish law. Their conversions are rejected by the traditional branch of their own denomination (Union of Traditional Conservative Judaism) as well as by Orthodox Jews.
All these differences, however, must not be misunderstood as attempts to delegitimize any Jews. The Jewishness of the members of the heterodox movements is not in question at all. Traditional Judaism does not recognize Reform, Conservative, Orthodox or secular Jews. Either you are Jewish or you are not, regardless of personal beliefs or practices.
The controversy over who is a Jew relates exclusively to the legitimacy of conversions that do not meet the universal standards of Jewish religious law. Reform conversion are
rejected by everybody else. Conservative conversions are rejected by the Orthodox for the same reasons the Conservative reject Reform conversions. The only standard acceptable to everybody is the traditional procedure of the Jewish religious laws.
This controversy is not one of sibling rivalry. It is about fundamental principles, a battle for the very soul of Judaism.
No one in Canada can impose the constitutional changes of the Meech Lake accord without the universal assent of all provinces. Likewise, no one can impose constitutional changes in the faith of Israel; no one has the right to take unilateral actions to change the universal rules of Judaism and then demand recognition and acknowledgement as a legitimate expression of historical Judaism.
Reform and Conservatism have unilaterally broken the rules, and now demand that their changes be legitimized for the sake of Jewish unity. Thus they demand that traditional Jews abrogate their most fundamental doctrine of the divine source and authority of Jewish law. They seek to establish "Jewish unity" by having their opponents commit religious suicide.
Reform and Conservatism may determine any standards for themselves. They cannot, however, impose their acceptance upon world Jewry. Reform may permit its followers to eat pork. It is something altogether different, though, for it to declare pork to be kosher. That would be malicious fraud, punishable even by secular law. For Jewish law is the sole source and standard for what is kosher food and what is not. That selfsame Jewish law is also the sole source and standard for what is a kosher conversion and what is not.
Israel's Law of Return now makes Israeli authorities party to fraud and deception. For they affirm and register the unqualified Jewishness of anyone coming to Israel with a certificate of conversion, without regard to its authenticity. The Israeli government thus assumes illegitimate authority
to decide a purely religious and theological issue. Obviously, though, it has no more right to determine anyone's Jewish status than it has to determine anyone's Christian or Moslem status.
If Israel feels compelled to determine the Jewish status of its immigrants, it can and may do so only in terms of universally recognized standards. The only such standard is "one born of a Jewish mother or converted to Judaism according to Jewish law." Anything else is fraud.
The Reform and Conservative argument that they represent large numbers is a shocking absurdity. Religious and moral issues are not settled by numbers. By their logic, they must also accept the United Nations resolution that Zionism is racism because it was adopted by an overwhelming majority.
Thus, in this context, it is tragic that neutral organizations such as the Canadian Jewish Congress and the United Jewish Appeal allowed themselves to be hijacked by their ultra-Reform and ultra-Conservative members to become involved in a purely religious dispute. The tyranny of the majority forced organizations that unite all segments of the community to fight on one side in this battle. Still worse is the treacherous act of involving gentile media and politicians to help exert political and financial pressure on Israel.
This kind of behavior betrays the morality of those behind it. Numerical and financial might does not make right, nor will the most sacred end ever hallow the immoral means used to achieve it.
A number of Reform and Conservative rabbis, and many more laymen, do recognize that the unity of the Jewish people can be achieved only by adopting the lowest common denominator. That denominator is a universally acceptable standard. The only such standard is kosher conversion, a conversion based on Jewish law. That is why the Law of Return must be amended as soon as possible.
"WHO IS A JEW?":
Facts and Fictions*
By J. IMMANUEL SCHOCHET
The perennial problem of the "Who is a Jew" legislation in Israel is once again agitating Jews throughout the world. As with most emotional controversies, very few people understand the real issue, and see but the partisan propaganda flooding the media. What is the argument about?
The State of Israel has a "Law of Return," which entitles every Jew to immediate entry and citizenship in Israel. This law formally affirms that the state of Israel is the natural and historical homeland of every Jew. It also provides a safe refuge for anyone persecuted because of his Jewish descent, in case the world at large will again lock its doors to Jews as it did in the time of the Nazi persecutions.
The original wording of the law was very ambiguous. It was challenged in the courts, thus forcing the Israeli Knesset, or parliament, to define Jewish identity as "one born of a Jewish mother or converted to the Jewish faith."
This definition is based on Jewish religious law. It has been the sole criterion throughout Jewish history. For purposes of Jewish identity, therefore, the secular parliament of Israel intentionally adopted a Jewish religious standard.
Modern circumstances, however, present a serious problem. Jews are no longer monolithic in the definition and practice of their faith. There are groups who no longer feel bound by the traditional Jewish code of laws known as Halachah. The Reform and Conservative movements reject orsuspend either all or part of Halachah as antiquated or irrelevant. They view the Bible as a purely human document with an undefined "Divine inspiration" restricted to some humanistic ideals. All precepts are subject to the variables of popular assent or rejection.
To limit these attitudes and practices to their own temples is one thing. It becomes something altogether different, though, when their actions affect the Jewish people as a whole. Problems arise when the heterodox groups ignore and violate the explicit religious laws relating to marriage and conversion.
There has hardly ever been a time that all Jews were fully observant. There have always been assimilationists, secularists, agnostics and heretics. Nonetheless, the unity of the Jewish people was preserved throughout by virtue of adherence to the universal standards relating to Jewish identity and family life. The whole crisis of "Who is a Jew" now centers around the unilateral violations of these standards by the heterodox movements.
Most leaders of the Reform and Conservative movements do not feel bound by any universal standards. Even the concept of the Deity, basic to any definition of religion, has undergone a drastic evolution in the minds of many of them. Studies undertaken and published by the Reform movement show that a large percentage of Reform rabbis are self professed atheists and agnostics, and the majority of the leaders and members of that group are at best deists who deny the concept of a Personal God. It is likewise, or worse, with the Reconstructionist arm of the Conservative movement. The Conservatives do pay lip service to Jewish tradition, but make it subject to what they call "controlled experimentation" of each congregation's "outgrowth of practice," with "undefined limits."
Orthodox Judaism is presently the only segment that adheres to the time-hallowed traditions of Jewish law. In the eyes of Orthodoxy, the stipulations of Halachah are Divinely revealed, sacrosanct principles: The Code of Jewish Law is the inviolable constitution of the Jewish faith, the covenant between God and the people of Israel.
Most Reformers and Conservatives have for long followed alternate lifestyles in matters of Jewish religious laws (as, for example, with the dietary laws and Sabbath observance). Until recent time, however, very few dared tamper in any blatant way with the laws of personal status such as conversion. They realized that this would lead to an irresponsible breach to Jewish unity, to the standards of universal Judaism.
But things have changed. Our open society brought with it ever-increasing assimilation and intermarriage. The reaction of the heterodox movements to this phenomenon has been twofold. Many have undertaken wholesale conversion of the non-Jewish spouses (and/or children), while others simply legitimized intermarriage without any conversion. Some Reform rabbis founded the "Rabbinic Center for Research and Counselling" in Westfield, N.J., which issues annual lists in which presently more than 200 members of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), the central organization of Reform rabbis in America, advertise openly that they will "officiate at intermarriages without requiring any conversion."
In larger centers, as in Florida and New York, one can find Reform rabbis advertising in newspapers and the Yellow Pages that they will perform intermarriages and quicky conversions "while you wait." CCAR figures estimate that at least 70 percent of CCAR members are somehow involved with intermarriage.
The official policy of the CCAR states that "intermarriage is contrary to the Jewish tradition and should be discouraged," but it will not condemn, forbid or censure its practice. It declares that "resolutions of the CCAR are advisory and therefore rabbis (may)continue to officiate at mixed marriages."
The Reform movement does not demand any standards for conversion into the Jewish faith. Every Reform rabbi can and does do whatever he or she sees fit. They are accountable to no one but themselves. Recently Reform went so far as to abolish conversion altogether for children born of a Jewish father, equating patrilineal descent to matrilineal descent.
These practices are condemned and rejected by both Orthodox Jews and the Conservative movement. Thus neither the Orthodox nor the Conservative accept Reform conversion or "patrilineal members" of the Reform movement.
The Conservative movement itself has also undergone revolutionary changes. Leftist elements succeeded in having the Rabbinical Assembly and the Jewish Theological Seminary (the supreme bodies of the Conservative movement) adopt ever more resolutions that breach traditional standards in matters of Jewish law. This has led to a split within the Conservative movement and the founding of a "Union of Traditional Conservative Judaism." This group no longer recognizes the ritualistic procedures (as in marriage, divorce and conversion) of their own colleagues within the Rabbinical Assembly if they do not measure up to its own standards. Many Conservative procedures, therefore, are rejected not only by the Orthodox, but also by an ever-growing number of Conservative rabbis.
The only actions and procedures that are accepted by everyone, without distinction, are the historical and universal standards of Jewish traditional law followed by the Orthodox.
At this point it must be stated loud and clear, and this cannot be over-emphasized: The "Who is a Jew" controversy relates exclusively to Reform and Conservative conversions! In spite of the malicious disinformation propagated by the opponents of Orthodoxy, no one questions the Jewish identity of Jews who follow the practices of Reform and Conservatism, or even of altogether secular Jews. Their status is not
in question at all. By Jewish law and tradition, anyone born of a Jewish mother, regardless what he or she may believe or do, is no less a fully legitimate member of the Jewish faith than the most devout and observant Orthodox rabbi!
In Judaism there are no hyphenated Jews. There are no such things as "Orthodox Jews," "Conservative Jews," "Reform Jews" or "secular Jews." Either you are Jewish or you are not. All those labels are purely artificial and meaningless!
It has been said that the "Who is a Jew" controversy is really a question of "Who is a rabbi." There is much truth in this. For the term "rabbi" means a "judge of Jewish law." Now in any system, religious or secular, one cannot be a judge or legislator without a prior commitment to the constitution and legal code of that system. Thus one cannot be a legitimate rabbi without a prior commitment to the laws and tenets of Jewish law! Alexander Schindler, head of the Reform movement, declared loud and clear: "On theological problems, either you accept Halachah or you are outside Halachah. We [i.e., Reform] have chosen to be outside."
No group or movement, regardless how large they may be, has the right to take unilateral actions to change the universal rules of Judaism, and then to demand to be recognized and acknowledged by all as a legitimate expression of Judaism. Reform and Conservativism have unilaterally changed and broken the rules, and now demand that everybody else must follow them for the sake of "Jewish unity."
This controversy is not one of sibling rivalry. It is a fight about fundamental principles. The Reform and Conservative demand to be accepted by the Orthodox as fully legitimate expressions of historical Judaism in spite of their violations of historical Jewish law. They demand that Orthodoxy abrogate its most fundamental doctrine of the Divine source and authority of Jewish law. Thus they seek to establish Jewish unity by having their opponents commit religious suicide.
Reform and Conservatives argue that they represent large numbers, perhaps a majority of American Jews. They forget that religious and moral issues are not settled by numbers. Christianity regards itself as the "New Israel," the continuation and fulfillment of Biblical Israel. Following the logic of the Reform-Conservative argument, therefore, these movements should accept Christianity by virtue of its much greater numbers! By the same logic they must also accept the validity of the United Nations resolution that "Zionism is racism," as it was adopted by an overwhelming majority of U.N. members! The absurdity of playing the numbers game is too self-evident to be belabored any further.
This brings us back to the Israeli Law of Return. As that law stands now, the Israeli secular authorities are party to fraud and deception. For they affirm and register the unqualified jewishness of anyone coming to Israel with a piece of paper signed by anyone purporting to be a "rabbi" and stating that the bearer is a convert to judaism, without regard to who the signatories are. The Israeli government thus assumes the illegitimate authority to decide a purely religious and theological issue. The state of Israel has no more right to determine anyone's Jewish religious status than it has to determine anyone's Christian or Moslem religious status.
If the state of Israel feels compelled to determine the Jewish status of its immigrants, it can and may do so only in terms of universally recognized standards. The only such standard is "one born of a Jewish mother, or converted to Judaism according to Halachah." Anything else is fraud.
The Reform and Conservative movements may determine any standards for their own congregations. They cannot, however, impose these standards upon world Jewry. It is the prerogative of Reform to permit their congregants to eat pork and shrimp. It is something altogether different, though, if they would declare pork and shrimp to be kosher food. Everyone would recognize that to do so constitutes malicious fraud, subject to penalties, even by secular authorities. For Jewish law is the sole source and standard for what is kosher or non-kosher food. That self -same Jewish law is also the sole source and standard for what is a legitimate conversion and what is not. Traditional Jewish law is the sole authority to determine what constitutes a kosher conversion.
In this context it is sad and tragic that the Jewish Federations and the United Jewish Appeal allowed themselves to be hijacked by their Reform and Conservative members to become involved in a purely religious dispute. The tyranny of the majority (playing the numbers-game) forced communal organizations, which unite all segments of the Jewish community, to fight the battle of one side in this dispute by means of financial threats. Still worse is the act of high treason against the Jewish people by involving Gentile media and American legislators to exert political and financial pressure on the State of Israel. The crass immorality of such behavior betrays the sincerity and morality of those behind it. Financial or numerical might does not make right. The most sacred end will never hallow immoral means used to achieve it.
A number of Reform and Conservative rabbis, and many more layman, already recognize that the unity of the Jewish people can be achieved only by adopting the lowest common denominator, a universally accepted standard. That standard is only kosher conversions, conversion on the basis of Halachah. That is why the Israeli Law of Return must be amended, as soon as possible.