How Should Religious Zionism React To The Conversion Controversy?

Shahar Ilan writes in Haaretz:

If anyone thought that religious Zionism should continue having anything to do with the Chief Rabbinate or the rabbinic courts, along came the ousting of Rabbi Haim Druckman from his position as head of the Conversion Authority to show religious Zionists their new place: beyond the pale. The religious establishment’s new masters, the ultra-Orthodox, do not care about the Zionist farmers who need rabbinic permission to sell their produce during the shmita (sabbatical) year, about the religious women whose husbands refuse to grant them a divorce, or about those few Russian immigrants who think it is so important to be Jewish that they are willing to meet the difficult conditions imposed by Rabbi Druckman. Their policy has become one of turning their backs on the people of Israel.

Religious Zionists will soon need to do some difficult soul-searching and answer some tough questions: Will they accept a situation in which the Chief Rabbinate views their rabbis as second-class? Will the religious Zionist community establish an alternative chief rabbinate, which would involve violating several laws passed to bolster the current rabbinate when it was under religious Zionist control? Will religious Zionism renew its historic alliance with secular Zionism? Will it set up an independent conversion system that will ignore the demands of the ultra-Orthodox and finally carry out a mass conversion of immigrants from the former Soviet Union?

Secular Israelis also have to do some soul-searching, but of a completely different sort. The ousting of Rabbi Druckman, along with the Rabbinical Court of Appeals ruling invalidating the conversions he conducted, clearly show that it is impossible to leave the keys to the Jewish people in the hands of the aloof ultra-Orthodox any longer. For 18 years, the national challenge of conversion has been placed in the hands of the Chief Rabbinate and the rabbinic courts, and they have failed utterly. Instead of finding every way to make it easier, to bring people closer, to encourage, they scattered obstacles and fences, they dug ditches. When Rabbi Druckman tried to make it a little bit easier, they waged a campaign of delegitimization that ended in his removal.

The conclusion is clear: Judaism is too serious a matter to be left in the Chief Rabbinate’s hands. We must divest the rabbinate of the task of integrating immigrants with no religion into the Jewish people.

Who is Shahar Ilan? "Shahar Ilan has written extensively for Haaretz on the ultra-Orthodox community and on issues of religion and state. Ilan, who edits the daily features section of the paper, joined Haaretz in 1991. In a series of investigative articles in 1998, he revealed the large sums of state funding that were being channeled to yeshiva students who do not work, as well as the monies being funneled from various government ministries to Haredi educational networks. The series formed the basis for a book. Before moving to Haaretz, Ilan wrote for the paper’s Jerusalem weekly Kol Hair, later serving as editor."

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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