Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Yedidya Stern on a Conversion Law

Law professor Yedidya Stern summarizes the issues of a conversion law. America's non-orthodox Jews probably won't be able to live with his proposal, but it's as good as any other I've heard.
THE ZIONIST majority, both here and in the Diaspora, must demand that authority for conversion be transferred from stringent, haredi rabbis to moderate rabbis willing to implement a halacha that embraces converts. A lenient policy is justified today because Jewish identity is guaranteed here; Jews are the vast majority and the public domain is Jewish, eliminating concern that too many converts might endanger it. We are not a minority anymore, and halachic policy should reflect this crucial change. Moreover, potential converts are sociologically Jews even before converting. Already connected to Jewish life, they serve in the army, speak Hebrew and identify with the words of “Hatikva.” Lastly, the vast majority of candidates for conversion are “from the seed of Israel”; that is, they are of Jewish descent, even if their mothers are not Jewish. These considerations should motivate the adoption of a more open and welcoming conversion policy.


NormanF said...

American Jews won't be affected by conversions performed WITHIN Israel. The only people who will benefit are mixed Russian-Jewish marriages and bringing the non-Jewish partner into the Jewish fold will strengthen the Jewish people. A humane and welcoming policy also benefits Israel.

American Jews should be the first to welcome such a policy.

Yitzchak Goodman said...

Stern seems to think that halacha can be molded to whatever you want it to be if only you locate "moderate" enough Orthodox Rabbis. The article doesn't seem to touch on anything at all that I would consider a halachic issue. What are the issues anyway? Hair covering for women?

Lila said...

For soldiers who are halachical non-Jews, there is already a welcoming and humane option: "kurs nativ".

Anonymous said...

are you per chance trying to tell me/us that Israel is doing something right? ;-)

if so, beware, the NIF seems to be reading this blog ...

lots of happy holiday feasting to you


Backseat Blogger said...

the article goes on to say
"assimilation in Israel may prompt Orthodox and traditional Jews to create family registries that will split the Jewish people into groups that will not marry each other."

i suspect that this is probably already happening in much of the haredi sector on an informal basis ie requiring a 'kosher' conversion in front of a haredi beit din.

RK said...

Well, I'm one of America's Orthodox Jews (though I'm in Israel right now) and even I disagree with Professor Stern for essentially the reason Yitzchak Goodman gives above. In fact, his views (and I'm assuming yours) are typical of Israel's secular mainstream, while mine are typical of the religious population. Most Israelis want converts to have Orthodox conversions, but don't think they should be required to commit to living a religious lifestyle. Naturally, this is against halakha—kabbalat mitzvot is there for a reason—and just one of many ways in which the Israeli mainstream views Judaism in an instrumental fashion.

Professor Stern suggests that conversion policy should be more lax because Jews are now in control of their destiny. But surely the appropriate conclusion is just the opposite? Several scholars have pointed out that the process for converts was once much less strict than it was today, but explanations differ as to why that's so. Some people point out that there was no need to be strict, since only the committed would want to join a persecuted minority. Others trace the phenomenon to the much-discussed "shift to the right" of Orthodoxy in the 20th century. I happen to think they're both right: Jews now have freedom to be punctilious in observing halakha, including the halakhot of gerut, and therefore should.

As I think I've said before, the Israeli state not only permits the religious to lead an observant life more easily, but it also facilitates the ability of the chilonim to experience Judaism as a sort of folk culture, through speaking Hebrew or getting Rosh Hashanah off or whatever. The problem is that secular Israelis end up confusing their experience of Judaism with the real article, and treat Judaism like an institution that belongs to them, to be used and changed as necessary to serve the secular purposes of the Israeli state. Maybe you're okay with that, but hopefully you can see why the religious wouldn't like it.

Yaacov said...


Stern is very much orthodox, I assure you. As for me, well, I'm complicated, tho I daven at the same shul as he.

On the other hand, right now I"m in the middle of Shlomo Sand's book about the invention of the Jewish people, which is a fine reminder that it's possible to be a secular professor in Tel Aviv university with such a total ignorance about Jewish matters that you're not even capable of being embarrassed by it. It really is breathtaking.

RK said...

I should have made it clear that I wasn't suggesting that you and Stern are secular, just that your views were typical of the secular mainstream. Professor Stern is of course religious, and I suspected you were too, from your references to kashrut problems at the Intercontinental Hotel, learning the daily daf, from your book, etc. As I recall, you mentioned in one post that you go to Rabbi Lau's shul. Though in another post I believe you stressed that your blog had never taken a position on the existence of God.

Several religious people—especially in Israel—agree with you and Prof. Stern, just as some religious people probably agree with Shlomo Sand (the Magnes Zionist, maybe?). My point was just that you shouldn't expect American Jews of all stripes—whether Orthodox or not—to like what Prof. Stern is saying, that's all.

Jon said...

Yaacov - would that be Yakar?

Yaacov said...

Jon -

Ramban,not Yakar.

Jon said...

Oh, very cool, I've been there a number of times :-)