The Schism in Orthodox Judaism

There is an increasing schism in Orthodox Judaism and a trend by Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) rabbis not to recognize conversions performed by many Modern Orthodox rabbis. This is already full-blown in Israel where Haredi rabbis refuse to recognize conversions performed by the Chief Rabbinate. Confusingly, the Israeli Chief Rabbinate nowadays has increasingly been dominated by Haredi rabbis who do not recognize the conversions performed by their own employer. The Haredi rabbis of the Chief Rabbinate have tended to unrecognize increasing numbers of Modern Orthodox rabbis in the Diaspora and thus retroactively “annul” all conversions that those rabbis have ever performed. In Israel approximately 95% of Modern Orthodox rabbis support the new government’s conversion reform which is intended to actively encourage the country’s 500 000 non-Jewish citizens of Jewish ancestry to convert to Judaism. This is intended to safeguard the country’s Jewish character and prevent assimilation in Israel. The conversion reform is vehemently opposed by Haredi rabbis and by some among Hardal rabbis, the Haredi-leaning wing of Modern Orthodoxy.

The trend is however for Haredi rabbis not to recognize anything Modern Orthodox rabbis do and increasingly disenfranchise them. This is certainly what is happening in Israel and to a significant degree in the Diaspora as well. Modern Orthodox rabbis are all religious Zionists while Haredi rabbis are mostly non-Zionists who seek theocracy in Israel with a minority of Anti-Zionists opposing theocracy in Israel prior to the coming of the Mashiach (messiah). The schism over Zionism between Modern Orthodox rabbis and Haredi rabbis is a deep one with Modern Orthodox rabbis seeing Zionism as the beginning of the redemption of the world and the coming of the Mashiach.

The Israeli government is planning to change the procedure for electing national Chief Rabbis. There are two national Chief Rabbis in Israel with one always being Ashkenazi and the other Sephardi or Mizrahi (descended from Muslim countries). In addition, does every majority Jewish city in Israel have its own municipal Chief Rabbi. The national Chief Rabbis have for decades already been all Haredi and an increasing number of municipal chief rabbis are Haredi as well. This trend is part of the Haredi attempt to take over the Chief Rabbinate from Modern Orthodoxy. The new Israeli government in contrast intends to take back the Chief Rabbinate from increasing Haredi control. What we are seeing are the early signs of Modern Orthodox Judaism and Haredi Judaism going separate ways and becoming distinct streams of Judaism. 

It may take twenty years for Israel to catch up economically with the United States if the Israeli economic growth rate in the past decade is sustained, something which is likely considering that the growth is largely driven by Israel’s expansive high tech sector. Israel has already caught up economically with most economies of northwestern Europe. Although assimilation is extensive in the Diaspora and the intermarriage rate staggering is it quite possible that the economic attractivity of Israel will reach a point where Israel manages to attract major Aliyah (immigration) from the rabbinically Jewish Diaspora of Western countries. This is likely to be similar to the Aliyah from the former Soviet Union which has included a large proportion of olim (immigrants) who are not Jewish according to Halakha due to being patrilineally Jewish rather than matrilineally Jewish. This will necessitate once more large-scale outreach to encourage Zerah Israel (the seed of Israel, the Halakhic term for patrilineal Jews) to convert to Judaism to become recognized as Jewish by most Modern Orthodox Jews, although not by Haredi Jews.

Median Jewish mass Aliyah will also be enhanced by economic motives as was the rabbinically Jewish mass Aliyah from the former Soviet Union. There is likely to be a significant number of cases of intermarried Median Jewish immigrants, predominantly Alevis from Turkey and there will be need for large-scale conversions for patrilineal Jews in those cases as well. 

Although Hardal Jews (Haredi-leaning Modern Orthodox Jews) form a bridge between Haredi Judaism and Modern Orthodox Judaism will there increasingly be a schism between Zionist Jewry and Haredi Jewry to the point where Modern Orthodox Judaism and Haredi Judaism become separate denominations of Judaism. This has far-reaching implications for Israel where most Zionist Jews are unwilling to allow Israel to become a Haredi theocracy, a so-called “halakhic state”.

Modern Orthox rabbis are likely to become ever emboldened in taking back control over Jewish religious state and municipal institutions in Israel from the suffocating Haredi control which delegitimizes Modern Orthodox Judaism and the conversions performed by Modern Orthodox rabbis. The number of Zionist Jews who are not recognized as Jewish by Haredi Judaism is also likely to grow with immigration from both the rabbinically Jewish Diaspora and the Median Jewish Diaspora. This will increasingly contribute to the widening of the existing schism in Orthodox Judaism in Israel. 

The reality of Judaism will become ever more pluralist in Israel as both Median Jews and Rabbinic Jews are economically attracted to immigrate to Israel and this will include increasing numbers who are not halakhically Jewish and who will thus need to be proactively encouraged to undergo conversion to Judaism. While some Median Jews may opt to become practicing Orthodox Jews are the vast majority of Median Jews likely to continue to remain loyal to their own denominations of Median Judaism, thus turning Judaism in Israel increasingly pluralist and multi-denominational. Median Jewish Aliyah to Israel is likely to contribute to the undermining of the Orthodox monopoly over Jewish religious services as Israel no doubt will have to officially recognize the streams of Median Judaism (Druze Median Judaism is already recognized as a separate denomination) as official denominations of Judaism considering that Median Jews will become the majority in Israel.

Published by Daniella Bartfeld

Daniella Bartfeld is the founding director of the Aliyah Organization.

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