The Conversion Controversy

Until a few decades ago was there no question as to the Orthodox definition of who is a Jew. A Jew was someone born from a Jewish mother or converted by an Orthodox rabbi. This is in itself problematic since Halakha nowhere requires the involvement of a rabbi for a Jewish religious court, a beit din, to perform a conversion to Judaism. Furthermore, Conservative conversion of children (girls below the age of twelve and boys below the age of thirteen) are clearly consistent with all the requirements of Orthodox halakha since children below those ages do not need to take on the yoke of commandments in order to convert.

For decades was there no rabbinical controversy or disagreement regarding conversion of partially Jewish immigrants to Israel and spouses of Jewish immigrants. Iraqi-born former Sephardic Israeli Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (1920-2013) is known to have automatically converted immigrants on their first visit to the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem. This is conveniently forgotten now in Shas, the Sephardi-Mizrahi Haredi political party rabbi Ovadia Yosef founded in 1984.

In recent decades has there been a trend in Orthodoxy not to recognize conversions from many fellow Orthodox rabbis. This was unheard of in Orthodoxy for most of the 20th century. The definition of a recognized conversion has thus changed substantially in recent decades. 

Until two thousand years ago was Jewish ancestry passed down patrilineally and not matrilineally. Formal conversion to Judaism did not exist in Biblical Judaism but this was invented by the rabbis. When the Median Maggid Kohanim converted peoples to Median Judaism in the Middle East and around the world did they not convert individuals but rather appointed themselves their hereditary religious leaders. This is how the Canaanites embraced Atenism in becoming Israelites and this is how the Medes embraced Crypto-Atenist Israelite religion.

Most Reform Jewish children in North America are not halakhically Jewish by Orthodox standards and the same process is underway in Conservative Judaism and the smaller non-Orthodox denominations of Rabbinic Judaism in North America such as Humanist Judaism, Reconstructionist Judaism and Jewish Renewal.

As Israel’s rapid economic growth (5% a year in the past decade) increasingly makes Israel an attractive destination for Jewish immigration from countries not in distress will the secularized, assimilated and intermarried Jewish masses of the Western world increasingly make Aliyah to Israel for economic reasons in order to attain a higher standard of living just as did the secularized, assimilated and intermarried Jewish masses of the impoverished former Soviet Union.

The unity of the Jewish nation is at stake. The need for Israeli children to undergo Orthodox conversion to Judaism in order to remove the stigma of disputed Jewish personal status will only increase in the coming decades.

Jewish religious pluralism is a fact and the existence and discovery of the particularly diverse Median Judaism in and beyond the Middle East proves it. Jewish religious pluralism is furthermore a fact that Orthodox rabbis will have to come to terms with as tens of millions of Median Jews immigrate to Israel from both within and beyond the Middle East. 

The government initiative to let municipal Orthodox rabbis set up conversion courts in keeping with the system that was in place prior to the 1990s is primarily meant to convert partially Jewish children who are zera israel, seed of Israel. Those Orthodox rabbis of the Chief Rabbinate who recently gathered to protest this laudable Zionist initiative should be ashamed of themselves and should be individually be fired from the Chief Rabbinate should it turn out that they actually refuse to recognize such clearly halakhically valid conversions.

Published by Daniella Bartfeld

Daniella Bartfeld is the founding director of the Aliyah Organization

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