Kol ha kavod to Rabbi Stern on drawing the line between the coercive power of the Israeli Rabbinate and their encroachment on the American Orthodox Rabbinate’s authority over American conversions. However, I wonder if Rabbi Stern would be willing to go so far as to defend the right of those who receive non-Orthodox conversions here in America? Under Israeli law, such converts have the Right of Return, but are not recognized as Jews for religious or personal status purposes, like weddings or burials. Such policies are just the tip of the iceberg on a long list of ways that the Orthodox Rabbinate in Israel has alienated average Israelis so that they generally have a very negative attitude about our tradition and Jewish observance. While there are individual Orthodox rabbis in Israel who do not fit this mold, most do. As such, the Orthodox Rabbinate in Israel is perhaps the greatest threat to Israel’s future as a Jewish State.
My converts observe kashrut, celebrate the Sabbath, learn to read Hebrew and pray. Some have become regular Torah readers in our congregation. They, like the Biblical Ruth, have embraced our God and our people and made a commitment to live their lives through the mitzvot. Yet, it is not only the Orthodox in Israel who will reject them, but much of the Orthodox Rabbinate here as well.
We have more than enough challenges facing the Jewish community than to have to fight over turf and boundaries. It is high time that the Orthodox Rabbinate here and in Israel agree to serve on joint batei din (religious courts) with their non-Orthodox colleagues to train and welcome converts. This model has served a limited number of communities well and had been offered as a compromise by the Conservative (Masorti) Movement in Israel in its efforts to come to some arrangement with the Israeli government and Rabbinate.
Ruth becomes the progenitor of King David, and thus the future messiah, perhaps as a reminder to us all to do all we can to be welcoming to those who want to join our people and embrace our laws.
Read the Full Debate: Conversion, Choice, & Shavuot’s Message