Judaism’s Conversion Controversy

A lot of people ask me for my opinion — as a convert to Judaism — on this controversy.

I don’t have one.

I accept reality.

I’m not trying to change it (in this instance).

Some Orthodox shuls count me in a minyan and some don’t.

Big deal.

When I’m feeling down, I feel at the mercy of outside forces such as rabbis and bosses and women and I wail and gnash my teeth.

My meds are at the right level now so I don’t care much.

Judaism is exclusivist.

The deeper you go into Judaism, the more exclusivist it is.

I don’t care that Orthodox Judaism makes it difficult to convert to Judaism.

I don’t care if chareidi rabbis invalidate the conversions of Modern Orthodox rabbis.

That’s the nature of the religion.

In Jewish history, the religious extremists have always won out and they always will.

I don’t care that people are upset. I don’t care that there are hurt feelings. There are values more important than feelings and Chareidi Jewish values will inevitably triumph over Modern Orthodox ones just as the RCC has triumphed over all other Beit Dins in Los Angeles.

I don’t care that there is enormous turmoil among many families that thought they were Jewish according to Jewish law. Many of these same families would not have accepted a convert to Conservative Judaism as a Jew. Now they’re dismayed to find out that they’re Modern Orthodox conversion is not kosher.

That’s the nature of the Jewish beast.

I take no sides.

I got an amusing email this morning from a loyal reader outraged that I would publish a point of view sympathetic to the chareidim on this issue.

A community leader emails me: "I loved your take on the conversion controversy. Very refreshing. You take nothing personally. You just look at the beast and you marvel."

From Jewcy.com:

On May 6, the RCA reacted with outrage to the High Rabbinic Court’s revocation of thousands of Modern Orthodox conversions:

“T]he RCA finds it necessary to state for the record that in our view the ruling itself, as well as the language and tone thereof, are entirely beyond the pale of acceptable halachic practice, violate numerous Torah laws regarding converts and their families, create a massive desecration of God’s name, insult outstanding rabbinic leaders and halachic scholars in Israel, and are a reprehensible cause of widespread conflict and animosity within the Jewish people in Israel and beyond. The RCA is appalled that such a ruling has been issued…

The RCA also claimed it had been “assured” by Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, the haredi president of the rabbinic court system, that the High Rabbinic Court ruling “directly countermanded his instructions and policies” and had “no legal standing at this time.” Reports in the Israeli media noted that Rabbi Amar was “trying” to annul the ruling.

How Many Kids: do you have?How Many Kids: do you have?

On May 11, the Jerusalem Post reported that many of Israel’s marriage registrars—all Orthodox—are refusing to register marriages of converts until Amar clarifies the status of Sherman’s ruling. In a country without civil marriage and with no other recognized Jewish options, this leaves converts in a limbo that could continue indefinitely. Amar says he wants to have the Chief Rabbinate’s governing council discuss the issue, but the council is not seated. Therefore, Amar plans to wait for elections to the council to be held. His spokesman claims to be unsure how long this might take.

HAREDIM SEE ULTRA-ORTHODOXY as the only true Judaism. They don’t view non-Orthodox Judaism as a theological threat, because in their minds Reform, Conservative, and post-denominational Jews are only a few years from irrelevance. In the US, for every 1.36 children a Reform Jewish couple have, haredim have 6.72, and Modern Orthodox have 3.39.

Although they still have Modern Orthodoxy to contend with, the reality is that haredim now control Israel’s Chief Rabbinate and rabbinic courts. They provide teachers for Modern Orthodox day schools, dominate Jewish outreach, and serve as rabbis in Modern Orthodox synagogues.

Through control of the conversion process, haredim can determine who is a Jew, who is an Orthodox rabbi, and therefore what traditional Judaism is. The pawns in this haredi power play are the thousands of Orthodox Jewish converts who, just like Sarah, woke up one day to find they are no longer Jewish, their marriages are null and void, and their children are forbidden to marry Jews.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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