Making Conversion To Orthodox Judaism Easier

From The Jerusalem Post: United Torah Judaism’s rabbinic leadership is expected to meet on Wednesday night to discuss a possible compromise in proposed conversion reforms that would allow the party to join the government coalition. The meeting is slated to take place at the home of Rabbi Yitzhak Zilberstein, a prominent Bnei Brak-based halachic authority. Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the preeminent halachic authority for the Lithuanian Yeshiva world and Zilberstein’s father-in-law, announced this week that it was forbidden for UTJ to join a government that intends to implement reforms aimed at making the conversion process easier.


At sunrise on April 8, the eve of Passover, a group of Jews from the Upper West Side will gather on the roof of the JCC in Manhattan. Organized by Hazon, the New York-based group that works for a “more sustainable Jewish community,” the early-morning risers will say some prayers, do some yoga and burn some chametz.

When the sun appears over the Atlantic that morning, a similar scene will take place on Miami Beach.

Under the auspices of Temple Solel and Congregation Beth Israel, two Reform congregations, members of the Florida synagogues will recite blessings and poetry.

Sunup in Chicago that morning will find the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation of Evanston on the shore of Lake Michigan. For two hours the congregation’s rabbi and cantor…


Sitting in the darkened Jacob Burns Theater in Westchester the other night, watching “Waiting For Armageddon,” I had decidedly mixed feelings about what to say about the new documentary — as one of two respondents at a post-film program — when the lights went up.

Well-produced and edited, it is a riveting and provocative production depicting Evangelical Christians who devoutly believe in an imminent religious apocalypse, as described in the New Testament, and in the primary role that Israel and the Jews play in that End of Days scenario.

But the 74-minute film is misleading. And it is particularly worrisome that it is playing in Jewish film festivals around the country, as it did in New York City in January, and in Westchester last week.

That’s because the film leaves the viewer with the impression that all Evangelicals are as zealous as these folks, who hope the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem will be destroyed as soon as possible and who seem to relish the prospect of the monumental bloodbath that will herald the Second Coming.

One irony is that The Jewish Week was a co-sponsor of the evening’s program, along with the American Jewish Committee, whose inter-religious affairs director, Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, was my co-respondent, commenting on the film after the screening. Both of us questioned the wisdom of showing this film at Jewish film festivals without providing audiences with sufficient context, like emphasizing that the people shown in the film represent a distinct minority of Evangelicals in the U.S. (Neither of us, or our organizations, were involved in choosing the film as part of the March 12-April 2 Westchester Jewish Film Festival at the Burns Center, a high-quality annual event showcasing 28 films this year.)


Anyone familiar with the European Jewish communal scene knows the following: There are many Jews who belong to Orthodox synagogues purely for burial or familial purposes. When asked to identify themselves, these people will identify themselves as ‘Orthodox’ because they belong to an Orthodox synagogue or burial society. Many do not keep Shabbat, Kashrut, and may even themselves be married to a non-Jew. It is hardly surprising that 46% of these respondents agree, that if you have one Jewish parent (even if it is the father and therefore the rest of the family are not halachically Jewish) you should be allowed to be a member of the community. This means that many who participated in the survey are Orthodox in name only. Most significantly, there is a glaring omission of the one group of leaders who more than anyone are involved in conversion and matters of Jewish status – the rabbis of Europe. Whether this was deliberate we do not know. It is possible that spiritual leaders do not qualify to participate in the survey. However, the Rabbinical Centre of Europe, which comprises several hundred Rabbis and leaders of their individual communities, recently had a Conference in Paris dealing with assimilation and came to quite different conclusions.

About Luke Ford

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