The Mubarak Awad Scandal



For years there have been calls to amend the 'Law of Return’ for reasons of moral principle and religious integrity. Some proponents also suggested for long that the way the law stands now, it provides a grave security-risk to the State of Israel.- This suggestion was generally dismissed as a farfetched and altogether improbable hypothesis. Hardly anyone took it serious. Recent events, however, proved that the threat is quite real and realistic:

In June 1988, Israel expelled an Arab-American agitator, Mubarak Awad, because of his leadership role in the riots of the intifadah. When Awad saw the failure of all his efforts to avoid expulsion, he threatened openly that he would simply convert to Judaism and gain re-entry to Israel under the present provisions of the 'Law of Return'! His conversion would clearly be a hoax, with no moral or religious validity whatsoever. For the present 'Law of Return,' however, it would be fully legitimate. Where could he obtain that sham-conversion? Let the record speak for itself:

On Wednesday, June 15, 1988, the New York Times carried the following report:


By Ari L. Goldman

The leaders of Reform Judaism sent a letter yesterday to the movement's 1,500 rabbis in the United States and Canada urging them not to accommodate Mubarak Awad should he come to them seeking to convert to Judaism.

Mr. Awad, a Palestinian-American advocate of nonviolent opposition to Israeli rule in the occupied territories, was deported from Israel to the United States on Monday.

"Whatever you think of Awad or his deportation," the letter to the rabbis said, "surely we need not remind you that extraneous motivations, political motivations are not sufficient reason to respond to such a request."

Greater Autonomy

Reform rabbis have a great deal more autonomy than rabbis of the Conservative and Orthodox branches of Judaism. According to a rabbi familiar with the drafting of the letter, the message was aimed at Reform rabbis who might regard converting Mr. Awad as a way of correcting an injustice, in this case his expulsion.

Mr. Awad was born in East Jerusalem but is a United

States citizen.

Mr. Awad reiterated yesterday in New York that he might seek to convert from Christianity to Judaism so that he could go back to Israel under the Law of Return, the Israeli statute that grants the right of citizenship to everyone born of a Jewish mother or converted to Judaism.

Reform Judaism, which has the fewest requirements for conversion among the major branches of the faith, would be Mr. Awad's easiest avenue to gaining conversion to Judaism.

Three prominent figures in the Reform branch of Judaism signed the letter. They are Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations; Rabbi Eugene Lipman, president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and Rabbi Joseph Glaser, executive vice-president of the central conference...

The letter to the Reform rabbis left open the possibility of a future conversion for Mr. Awad. The letter concluded "Of course, no one can rule out the possibility of a sincere conversion in anybody's case, but this must be proved at the end of a long period of instruction."

Here we have incontrovertible evidence of the worthlessness of reform conversions. Reform-leaders are prepared to issue certificates of conversion as a simple business-transaction, for the convenience of the applicants, or as social and political statements. Their claim that "they mandate a period of study and an examination of motives before a conversion is performed" is clearly contradicted by the fact of this letter, the fact that they felt it necessary to appeal to its 'spiritual leaders' not to convert Awad in order to avoid an embarrassing exposure of the reform-movement before the eyes of the whole world. Moreover, there is an explicit admission in the words of the reform spokesmen that "the message was aimed at Reform rabbis who might regard converting Mr. Awad as a way of correction an injustice, in this case his expulsion!"

The implications of this scandalous absurdity were spelled out by Yossi Ben-Aharon, director-general of the office of Prime Minister Shamir of Israel. To quote a newsrelease of INB, carried by some Jewish papers (though ignored by most, which also speaks for itself ... ):

JERUSALEM (INB) - Passage of the "Who is a Jew" bill will prevent hostile Arabs from infiltrating Israel after undergoing quick conversions to Reform Judaism, according to a senior Israeli official.

Yossi Ben-Aharon, director-general of the Prime Minister's office, told reporters that the security angle was an additional reason for Likud's support of the "Who is a Jew" legislation.

Ben-Aharon cited the case of Mubarak Awad, the Arab-American who was expelled from Israel earlier this year because of his leadership role in recent Arab rioting. Following his return to the United States, Awad said that several Reform rabbis had offered to convert him so that he could re-enter Israel as a "Jew."

If the "Who is a Jew" bill is passed, Ben-Aharon said, conversions of doubtful validity will not be recognized, thereby disqualifying Awad and others like him from entering Israel.

Ben-Aharon pointed to quickie conversions performed in twenty-four hours. Not many Jews would accept such conversions as sincere, Ben-Aharon said, but unless the "Who is a jew" bill is passed, such converts would be regarded as Jewish under Israeli law.

It could be argued that not too many reform-leaders are that unconscionable and irresponsible. But, first of all, that would be playing a negative numbers-game, saying "there are just a few rotten apples in the bushel." How many are "just a few," and just how much damage can we afford? What guarantees are there that these charlatans will remain "just a few" and not increase in numbers?

Secondly, for as long as the reform movement will not, and can not, clean its own house (because of their fundamental doctrine of the autonomy of each individual to set his/her own standards), all its members are under suspicion. If the movement as a whole will not regard its members' individual behavior as unscrupulous, and in fact defends it as their inalienable right (see above, Part 11: questions I and 2), the whole movement must be viewed, judged and treated equally.

Thus even those people who, for whatever reasons, are not moved by the religious and moral arguments, must now reconsider their position for simply practical reasons and considerations.











Argument I:


This is a malicious falsehood to deceive and inflame the public. One need not be a scholar in Judaism, or anything else, to detect the self-evident falsehood of this argument. For the Halachic definition of jewishness is crystal-clear and unequivocal in stating that the exclusive criteria of Jewish religious identity are "born to a Jewish mother, or properly converted to Judaism."

The issue of "Who is a Jew" suffers from its misnomer (given to it by the late Prime-Minister David Ben-Gurion). The real question is not "Who is a Jew?," but "Who is a Convert?" The whole debate on amending the Law of Return deals strictly and exclusively with giving an explicit definition to acceptable conversions. (See above, Part 1: question 15)

As already stated and explained at length in the preceding pages (Part I: questions 2 and 3, and more so in Part 11: questions 6 and 7), there is no question whatsoever about the jewishness of anyone born to a Jewish mother, regardless of that person's affiliation or practices.

Argument II:


This argument, too, is altogether incorrect and designed to deceive the public and to confuse the issues.

First of all, legislation to open Israel as a haven of refuge is a secular-political issue, and not areligious one. Any country may decide, at will, to enact laws granting rights of immigration and citizenship to whoever they want. This has nothing whatsoever to do with the principle and essence of the 'Law of Return' which simply affirms the inalienable rights of every Jew to the Land of Israel as his/her traditional and historical homeland.

The State of Israel, like many other countries, thus granted, for example, refugee-status to Vietnamese boatpeople, i.e., gentiles without any claims to the land, allowing them to enter and live in Israel.

Secondly, and more to the point: The Israeli laws of immigration already make explicit provisions which expose this argument as either an ignorant or malicious falsehood.

On 2nd Adar-Bet 5730 (loth of March 1970) the Israeli parliament passed the following amendment to the Law of Return:

"1. In the Law of Return, 5710-1950, the following sections shall be inserted after section 4:

4A. (A) The rights of a Jew under this Law and the rights of an oleo under the Nationality Law, 5712-1952, as well as the rights of an oleo under any enactment, are also vested in a child and a grandchild of a Jew, the spouse of a Jew, the spouse of a child of a Jew and the spouse of a grandchild of a Jew,

except for a person who has been a Jew and has voluntarily changed his religion.

(b) It shall be immaterial whether or not a Jew by whose right a right under subsection (a) is claimed is still alive and whether or not he has immigrated to Israel.

(c) The restrictions and conditions prescribed in respect of a Jew or an oleh by or under this Law or by the enactments referred to in subsection (a) shall also apply to a person who claims a right under subsection (a).

4B. For the purposes of this Law, "Jew" means a person who was born of a Jewish mother or has become converted to Judaism and who is not a member of another religion."1

The legal code of the State of Israel thus clearly makes provisions for people of Jewish antecedents, even if but one of their grandparents was Jewish. This law was enacted out of humanitarian considerations to allow the families of immigrants to remain together in spite of some members not being Jewish. It provides also a safe haven of refuge for anyone persecuted because of Jewish antecedents, as happened under the Nazis.

y the same token, however, this law is of purely secular nature. It has nothing to do with religion or the religious status of those who wish to avail themselves of its provisions. The only part that has to do with religion is section 4B, which seeks to offer a definition of "Jew." The present controversy deals with that section, because it does not specify the meaning of "converted to Judaism," and thus grants legitimacy to any claims or pretense of conversion.

Argument III:


This argument, too, has already been dealt with above (Part 1: question 22). It is not only deceptive, but betrays an unbelievable naivete on the part of those who would fall for it.

Heterodox movements will not disappear when the law will be amended. Even in earlier times, when generally speaking there was Halachic hegemony, there have been heterodox philosophies and groups (Sadducees, Hellenists, Karaites, and so forth). The reality of human nature, combined with the human power of freedom of choice, makes this a natural phenomenon.

The 'orthodox' never did, and never will, accept the legitimacy of heterodox ideas, while the 'heterodox' do not want to submit to the dictates of orthodoxy (in the literal sense of this word). Even so, the orthodox have no interest in waging war against the heterodox. One cannot conquer ideologies or philosophies on the battle-front of condemnations, recriminations, insults, and a physical or financial flexing of muscles. Education, enlightenment, open-minded and compassionate discussions based on reason (as opposed to emotion), are the only way. He who is motivated by chauvinistic ambition, fired by a simple desire for personal victory and defeat for his opponents, has already lost before he begins.

The controversy over "Who is a Jew" is not one of sibling rivalry. It is not a case of orthodoxy trying to impose its will upon others. There are certain principles which are not negotiable, where compromise is impossible and self-defeating. The defense of such principles is not something personal or chauvinistic, but for the welfare and benefit of everyone. Torah, Halachah, demands material and spiritual concern for all Jews, whether they be orthodox or heterodox, whether they be observant or not, and whether they will change their ways and beliefs or not.

The insistence on safeguarding the historical criteria of Halachah for Jewish identity, therefore, serves but one purpose and one purpose alone: to preserve and safeguard the unity of the Jewish people. Torah is the exclusive 'common denominator' of all Jews. The standards of Halachah do not and cannot divide us. They are the only thing that unites all of us, irrespective of personal beliefs and practices. To read anything else into the demand to amend the Law of Return according to Halachah, is false and misleading.

Little wonder, then, that responsible and open-minded leaders of the reform and conservative movements have come to recognize this truth, and have stated openly that they agree that the law must be amended to accord with Halachah.2

Argument IV:



No one could rightfully argue with his premise! We stated as much above, Part I: question 23. Yet in the very simplicity of this truthful proposition also lurks its use for deception:

a) Ideally the rabbinate of Israel should assert its rightful prerogative to determine Jewish identity. However, without a legally established and enforced authority to do so, this will not solve the problem. Under present conditions this would only aggravate the problem, because the opponents of Halachah will not be satisfied. With peremptory calls for religious pluralism, they already demand that their own leaders (who reject Halachah) be granted authoritative status equal to that of the Israeli Chief-Rabbinate (which is bound by Halachah).

The official rabbinate of Israel, recognized by Israeli law as the supreme religious authority for Jews, has already oftentimes stated its unequivocal position of demanding purely Halachic criteria for conversion. Their ruling, however, had no impact whatsoever upon the secular authorities of Israel who continue to do their own thing.

Opponents of Halachah are fully aware of this. If they now claim that the issue be removed from the Knesset to the rabbinate, they do so as a hypocritical ruse, because (a) the Chief-Rabbinate's ruling is presently not enforceable by law, and (b) because they feel that the rabbinate will be an easier target for their attacks than the Knesset. If the proponents of this argument will have their way, therefore, the issue will not die but become ever more aggravated.

b) The only way that the issue can be removed from the political agenda is if, and when, the State of Israel will cease and desist from registering Jewish religious identity.

A legal precedent for this exists already in the amendment adopted in 1970, and quoted above in Argument 11: the secular laws of Israel grant rights of immigration and citizenship to the non-Jewish spouses and offsprings of Jews, and these are clearly not registered as Jews. Removing religious identity, therefore, would stop the unjustifiable governmental interference in a religious matter and solve the problem. This will also safeguard the government of Israel from no longer being a party to fraud and deception by registering non-Jews as Jews.

Complications that may evolve from this simple solution, as, for example, with regards to personal status affecting marriage and so forth, are already provided for by the legal statutes which grant the rabbinate full authority in matters of marriage and divorce for Jews.

On the other hand, many (including Israeli legislators) feel that this simple solution would create new problems with regards to national security and national identity. Thus they prefer to retain the present system. That is fine and good, but then they must also draw the logical consequences. They cannot have it both ways.

The Israeli government is the sole authority for determining its secular laws and procedures. But the Israeli government has no authority to mix into Jewish religious matters. It has no more right to determine Jewish religious identity than it has to determine Christian, Moslem or Hindu religious identity. If it insists on registering the Jewish religious status of its citizens and immigrants, it may do so only on the basis of the universal criteria of Halachah. Anything else is fraud and deception. (See also above, Part I: questions 19 and 23).

Argument V:


This argument is again factually false:

First of all, quite clearly there is no unity at present, nor has there been since the issue arose. Traditional Jews cannot, and never will, reconcile themselves with accepting illegitimate conversions. The controversy will thus continue until a universally acceptable formula will be found. The only such formula is "conversion according to Halachah."

Secondly, as the law stands now it does not recognize the jewishness of masses of members of the reform-movement. The reform-movement has arbitrarily adopted a policy of accepting the of offspring of Jewish fathers as Jewish, even if the mother is not Jewish. This novel invention of the reform movement, known as the principle of "patrilineal descent," is rejected even by the conservative movement (see above, Part II: question 1, pp. 51-52, and question 3, p. 64), and even by some reformers.

There is thus blatant inconsistency and hypocrisy in the demand of reform (and others) to retain the status quo of the 'Law of Return' as it stands now. It is, though, quite safe to assume that their present defense of the status quo is no more than a tactical and temporary ruse until they feel safe to make further demands, namely that the 'Law of Return' be amended to accept the validity of their unilateral and partisan standards and practices.

Argument VI:


This argument betrays either an incredible naivete on the part of its proponents, or they are simply deaf and blind with regards to the events of the past two decades. Cynics will be excused for interpreting this argument as a camouflage for something else, namely, "Let us keep quite for now, and eventually everyone will forget about the issue. "The fact of the matter, however, is otherwise:

Our Torah commands us: "Do not stand still over your fellow-man's blood!" (Leviticus 19:16) Anyone who believes in the Torah, anyone moved by a sense of moral integrity, cannot stand still and idle when seeing how the Jewish people is rent asunder beyond repair. The issue of "Who is a Jew threatens to break up the Jewish people into two camps which will no longer be able to marry one another and relate to one another, even as happened in the schism between Judaism and Christianity.

For that very reason, to preserve Jewish unity and to preserve the Jewish character of the State of Israel, responsible Jews, Jews committed to "G-d, Torah and the people of Israel," have not rested since the day the Knesset adopted the amendment of 1970, and they will not rest until the 'Law of Return' is corrected. Their fundamental belief in "G-d, Torah, and the people of Israel," their conscience, their commitment to truth and morality, will not allow them to rest and to keep silent until then.

Those who reject the principles of Torah and Halachah will also not retire. Time does not cure or quieten them. On the contrary. The history of the past two decades has shown and proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that they become ever more vociferous. In the 1970s they kept relatively quiet, and there were many opportunities to have the law amended without too much trouble and tumult. If this had been done then, there would no longer be a problem, and even the heterodox movements would have reconciled themselves with the facts of reality.

The postponement of amending the law did not achieve any rapprochement. On the contrary: procrastination was seen by the heterodox as a sign of weakness. It encouraged them to become ever more arrogant. Instead of looking for accommodations to strengthen Jewish unity, they initiated new and more serious breaches in Halachah. By now they have become so sure of themselves, that they dared create a new precedent of crass immorality in Jewish history, namely, to persuade their members to use blackmail, financial and political threats, against the State of Israel and fellow-Jews, against Jewish educational and social institutions, to force their way.

The heterodox movements will thus continue hardening their position, and not soften it. This raises the simple question: "When will be the proper time?" just as medical treatment and surgery cannot be postponed indefinitely, so, too, with this moral and religious issue. Our sad experience with 'Munich 1938' is the best answer to this argument.

Moreover, the State of Israel is essentially a secular state. Thus it incorporates a number of statutes and practices that are irreconcilable with Halachah. The 'Law of Return' in its present formula, however, is the only law that is directly, specifically and flagrantly aimed against Halachah. This constitutes a most serious chilul Hashem (desecration of the Divine Name, act of blasphemy) - the worst of all sins (Yoma 86a)!

How, then, can any Jew, with even minimal pride in his Jewish identity and heritage, accept arguments such as, "Let us wait a while," or "The whole fuss isn't worth it for the (at most) handful of illegitimate converts that would immigrate to Israel every year," or "The whole fight is counterproductive in view of the most serious financial repercussions for traditional institutions in Israel and abroad" etc., - in the face of an unparalleled chilul Hashem?!

Of what substance and value are teachings of Torah and morality when they are subject to expediency, when they depend on an income from selling ourselves and our most fundamental principles, which underlie that Torah and morality (see Deuteronomy 23:19; Isaiah ch. 1; etc.)?! This is the very hypocrisy decried and condemned by all our prophets as the ultimate antithesis of all that Judaism stands for.

Practical considerations, accommodations and compromise are possible in matters of personal disagreements, social or political conflicts and philosophical differences of opinions.

They are repugnant and impossible, however, in matters of a priori premises of truth, morality and actual reality.

Argument VII:


It has been said that weak and fallacious arguments are usually defended by reference to statistics. With statistics one can play all kinds of games, 'cooking' the numbers and interpreting them whichever way will best suit the argument. The same applies here as well.

Spokesmen for the reform and conservative movements have come out with all kinds of wild and totally unfounded claims. Some went so far as to state to a gullible press that "95 percent of American Jews are not orthodox. So much for their credibility even in matters that are subject to empirical evidence. Even the membership-lists of their temples are totally unreliable. For these membership-lists include masses of gentiles: gentile spouses of Jewish members, gentile offspring of Jewish men (partilineal descent), and alleged converts who are not Jewish because they were not converted according to Halachah. In any case, all this is totally irrelevant.

The whole argument is based on a numbers-game, which may be valid in sports, politics and gambling, but has no place whatsoever in religious, moral and philosophical discussions. Religious, moral and philosophical truth is not decided by popularity-contests and democratic votes. Truth, morality and logic are what they are, regardless of the numbers of their supporters, and even if no one is prepared to accept them. (See also above, p. 65, note 30).

If there were any substance to this argument, its proponents would have no choice but to convert to Christianity. After all, the founders of Christianity were Jews, and a basic doctrine of Christianity is that it is the "new and true Israel," the "continuation and fulfillment of Biblical Israel." Christianity, therefore, claims to be "reformed Judaism," and succeeded in gaining numbers exceeding historical Israel more than a hundred-fold! (See also above, p. 28).

By the same 'logic,' the proponents of this argument must also accept the validity of the United Nations resolution that "Zionism is racism, " as it was adopted by an overwhelming majority of the nations of the world. The absurdity of playing the numbers-game is too self-evident to be belabored any further.

Moreover, this argument suffers from inherent inconsistency and hypocrisy. The followers of reform and conservatism argue for pluralism, for mutual recognition, but they do so only vis-a-vis the orthodox. In reality, there is division within the reform and conservative movements themselves, where various groups do not recognize the legitimacy of one another, even among their own colleagues. Furthermore, the official policy of the conservative movement rejects the validity of religious rites performed by reform. (See above, pp. 52-53, 64, and 69-70). So much for their sacred dogma of religious pluralism.

The very same reasons and arguments used for justifying the mutual rejections of reform and conservative procedures and practices, underlie the orthodox rejection of the heterodox movements. If that reasoning is good enough for them, then it is good enough for everyone else.

Again, truth stands on its own. Judaism never did, never can and never will pay attention to numbers and trendy fashions. "It was not because you had greater numbers than all the other nations that God embraced you and chose you, for you are the smallest of all the nations!" (Deuteronomy 7:7) "Abraham was one" (Ezekiel 32:24): alone he stood with truth against the whole world, and that made him the father of the Jewish people and the personification of Judaism. Anyone who claims to be concerned about Jewish identity and survival, would do well to ponder the eloquent words of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch:

"Was Judaism ever 'in accordance with the times'? Did Judaism ever correspond with the views of dominant contemporaries? Was it ever convenient to be a Jew or Jewess?

"Was the Judaism of our ancestors in accordance with the times, when compelled by the Egyptians to bend their necks during centuries under the yoke of slavery and to suffer their babies to be buried in the waves of the Nile?

"Was the Judaism of the Maccabees in accordance with their times, when they resisted to the utmost introduction of Grecian manners prevailing in their days?

"When the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans and the sons of Judah were slaughtered, sold in slave-markets, cast before wild beasts or scattered through every country then known; when Worldly Wisdom would have taught, ‘Now it is certainly impossible for us to remain Jews' - did not the Hillels and the son of Zakkai teach yet more earnestly the holiness of our laws and our customs, and so order and regulate things that not a fibre might be lost from the ancestral sanctuary?

"Was that Judaism in accordance with the times, for which, during the centuries following the Dispersion, our fathers suffered in all lands, through all the various periods, the most degrading oppression, the most bitter contempt, and a thousand-fold death and persecution?

"And yet we would make it the aim and scope of Judaism to be always 'in accordance with the times' . . .?!"

In conclusion: Let truth speak for itself. Above all, let us be honest and decent enough to accept the truth regardless of its source and regardless of its consequences. That is what our issue and everything else are all about.

And let it be stated again, loud and clear, so that there is no chance for misunderstanding and misinterpretation:

The demand to amend the 'Law of Return' has nothing whatsoever to do with chauvinistic ambitions, or with attempts to insult and vanquish other groups and movements!

The demand to amend the 'Law of Return' is based on nothing but the inviolable principle of the unity of the Jewish people, and the inviolable sanctity of every Jew and Jewess regardless of his/her affiliation, beliefs and practices!

The demand to amend the ‘Law of Return’ is based on an absolute and unqualified concern for, and commitment to, every Jew and Jewess - regardless of his/her affiliation, beliefs and practices!

We do have serious differences in matters of belief, ideology and practices, but all Jews share common roots, a common bond that always does - and must - supercede our differences. If we are sincere in those things that divide us, let us argue our differences with vigor and conviction. At no time, however, are we permitted to forget what unites us. That which unites us is far greater, more powerful, and much more important, than anything that may divide us.

The writing of this book was motivated by these sentiments, which represent fundamental doctrines of our common faith. All those who share this spirit cannot but cooperate and help in promoting our ultimate goal of "justice, truth and peace."