New Route to Conversion Challenges Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox Establishment

By JODI RUDORENAUG. August 11, 2015

JERUSALEM — The newest combatants in Israel’s raging battle over ultra-Orthodox control of Jewish law and institutions are six children, ages 1 to 11, who were converted to Judaism on Monday by Orthodox rabbis operating outside the official system.

The conversions were not expected to be recognized by Israel’s Chief Rabbinate or by the Interior Ministry. But after the Israeli government bowed to pressure last month from the ultra-Orthodox, also called Haredim, and reneged on a plan to ease conversion, a group of respected rabbis has expanded its private conversion court in what analysts see as a significant challenge to the establishment.

An article in the daily newspaper Yediot Aharonot said, “The initiative reflects a deep crack in the wall of the religious rabbinate that is going to be impossible to fix” and could lead to the institution’s collapse.

Ben Caspit, a columnist in the newspaper Maariv, called for a stampede to the new conversion courts, describing them as “perhaps a one-time opportunity to save ourselves from the closed and dark ghetto in which the Haredim are trying to imprison us.”

At issue is the status of about 300,000 Israeli citizens, mostly descendants of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who consider themselves Jewish but require conversion in order to marry because their lineage is not clear. The conversion of children has been particularly problematic, with Haredi rabbis generally requiring that parents prove their religious observance.

The conversion debate, which has also enraged many American Jewish leaders, is part of a broader struggle between Haredim and virtually all other Israeli Jewish groups, from the avowedly secular to the so-called religious Zionists, or modern Orthodox. The Chief Rabbinate is also facing a challenge to its monopoly on kosher certification, with a nonprofit group recently issuing its own stamp of approval to about two dozen restaurants in Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv.

Ultra-Orthodox leaders managed last week to persuade a new cafe in Independence Park in Jerusalem not to open on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath, by threatening the kosher certification of its related coffee business. They have also vowed to demonstrate outside a 16-screen cinema opening in the city this week because it will show films on Saturdays.

“The more dominant the ultra-Orthodox sector becomes, both numerically and politically, it’s challenging the status quo of Israel” because “their margin for flexibility and for compromise are practically nonexistent,” said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, who wrote an article on Monday calling for Israel to give equal recognition and funding to Reform and Conservative rabbis and institutions.

“Their view,” he added, referring to the ultra-Orthodox authorities, “drives a wedge between Israel as a state and many in the Jewish community in North America, but also drives a wedge between the rank and file of many Israelis and their Jewish identity.”
Daniel Bar, the spokesman for the Chief Rabbinate, declined to comment on the new conversion court, but Moshe Gafni, an ultra-Orthodox member of the Israeli Parliament, called it “a grave thing,” from “a legal point of view and also from an ideological view.”

“There is law in Israel,” Mr. Gafni said in an interview on Israel Radio on Tuesday, saying the conversion of the children “borders on the criminal.” The rabbis involved, he said, “simply want to replace the Chief Rabbinate.”

Ziv Maor, who was the rabbinate’s spokesman until March, said that unlike the alternative kosher certificates, the conversion courts presented a severe threat to the current system because they dealt with central issues of identity.

If people converted by private courts petition the Supreme Court for recognition, as expected, Mr. Maor said, the court will also have to consider conversions done by non-Orthodox rabbis, whose interpretations of Jewish law vary widely. Those converts would then presumably be permitted to marry, something Mr. Maor called a “disaster.”

“It will be a collapse of the entire system,” he said. “The question of whether or not the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, the official religious establishment of Israel, has control of three issues — marriage, divorce and conversion — will eventually determine if the State of Israel is a Jewish state in name only or in fact.”

Rabbi David Stav, who is modern Orthodox and two years ago ran unsuccessfully to be one of Israel’s two chief rabbis, said the new conversion court was a necessity after the government’s reversal on the conversion bill.

He said 4,500 children are born each year to Israeli families whose Judaism is not recognized, “boys and girls who are going to the university, they are going to the army — if they are not converted, there will be an assimilation crisis in Israel.”

Rabbi Stav, who attended the conversion ceremony on Monday, said the children’s parents had been required to sign papers to prove they understood that the rite would not be recognized by the government or by the Chief Rabbinate, even though it had been performed according to Jewish law.

“It is recognized by God,” he noted. “Eventually, there will be no other way but to recognize them officially.”

Según tomada de,http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/12/world/middleeast/orthodox-jews-conversions-israel.html?emc=edit_tnt_20150812&nlid=64717990&tntemail0=y el miércoles, 12 de agosto de 2015.

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