The Conspiracy

Conversion and Zionism; Jews in the Woods; and more. [Required Reading: Conversion Edition]

A ritual immersion is one of the elements of conversion to Judaism. | Photo by Flickr user diamond geezer (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Not Jewish enough [Huffington Post]

While it is widely known that the Orthodox world does not accept the halachic decisions of the non-Orthodox (Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, etc.), including their conversions, being one of those converts carries with it a certain emotional weight: the knowledge that, for many, you just aren’t “Jewish enough.” In this powerful piece, Rivka Cohen talks about her experiences as the daughter of a convert:

“Doubt found me anyway, introducing himself at my university’s Hillel as I discussed conversion with a friend. My mother converted, I said proudly. My friend’s eyebrows raised. ‘Through what movement?’ She asked. I did not know. The atmosphere changed. ‘You should find out,’ she said. I did, and reported back. She was the first to tell me that I might not be Jewish.

The Orthodox movement requires three male, Jewish witnesses who observe halachah (traditional Jewish law) to validate a conversion. Given the differences in observance across different Jewish movements, many Orthodox leaders consider the witnesses in a Conservative conversion to be problematic. Having been raised Orthodox after my family moved to West Virginia, I can understand why they might feel this way. Even so, I cannot describe the pain I felt that day. It was like being deeply in love for 18 years, only to learn suddenly that the relationship was ‘maybe’ over.”

“Can you be our Shabbos goy?” [Tablet]

In this piece from Tablet Magazine, Anne Grant (a potential convert to Judaism) shares her experiences at a Jewish retreat, and its impact on her relationship to Judaism:

“Shortly after I arrived at Jews in the Woods—a spiritual Shabbaton at a campground in Rhode Island—on a Friday evening in March, I was approached by two girls who asked if I’d come with them for a moment. Following them over the hardened snow, I came to a small blue sedan loaded with food. Visibly nervous, they took turns explaining that, since sunset had fallen and very observant students would not eat meals carried inside by other Jews, they needed me, a gentile, to bring all of the food to the kitchen. To alleviate the discomfort of observant Jewish participants, I had been appointed the Shabbes goy.

My head was spinning; I was surprised, angry, humiliated. It was not the best way to start the weekend.”

When is a convert no longer a Jew? [Jerusalem Post]

Once a Jew, always a Jew, right? What if that wasn’t the case? Instances have arisen where the conversions of Jews have been revoked by a rabbinic court. But is that a valid undertaking? In effect, when is a Jew no longer a Jew? In this “ask the Rabbi” piece from the Jerusalem Post, the history of this phenomena is explored.

“The most controversial conversion nullification took place in 1972. Against the previous rulings of several judicial courts, then-IDF chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren nullified the (undocumented) conversion of a distinctly non-observant Polish man that had allegedly taken place 30 years earlier in order to declare his wife to have been legally unmarried when she married her ‘second’ husband. This ruling was celebrated by many politicians because it allowed her children to marry without the stigma of being mamzerim (born of a relationship that is considered illicit according to Halacha) and partially led to Goren’s election as chief rabbi. Yet it was derided by many rabbinic scholars, including Rabbi Yosef Elyashiv, as logically flawed and against all norms of protocol. As such, scholars from a wide ideological spectrum believe that at times a conversion may be nullified.

The recent controversy relates to the standards of conversion and who has the authority to determine them. Rabbi Sherman asserted that Israeli population registries must follow the ruling of leading haredi (ultra-Orthodox) decisors including rabbis Elyashiv and Eliezer Schach, who had declared that any conversion that did not entail full-fledged mitzva observance was meaningless. He further contended that his court had supervisory jurisdiction over all courts in the state’s system, and that in contemporary times all declarations of fidelity to Halacha remain subject to examination based on future observance.”

“Who is a Jew” and Zionism [Jerusalem Post]
In this analysis by David Turner, the links between the debate over Jewish identity and the basic tenets of Zionism are explored. Can Zionism support a traditional, halachic interpretation of Jewish identity, or must the umbrella be wider?

“Also in 2007 Hebrew University professor Ruth Gavison, described as a ‘perpetual Supreme Court candidate’ maintains, ‘The desire to complete the ingathering of the exiles is counterpoised with the state’s interest in maintaining the wellbeing of all its citizens. A responsible country (that is a post-Zionist country with no obligations beyond its borders) should not volunteer to absorb groups of people with little chances of being absorbed and who are likely to live on the fringes of society in anger and frustration.’ In plain English, the ‘perpetual Supreme Court candidate’ would abolish both the Grandparent Clause, and the Law of Return of which it is an amendment!

A Zionist definition of Who is a Jew is embodied in Israel’s Basic Laws: anyone facing persecution as a ‘Jew’ will be provided sanctuary in the state of the Jews. By any standard of imagination, even were the haredim ‘religious Zionists,’ an effort to conform Who is a Jew to a strictly halachic interpretation is, by definition, anti-Zionist.”

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