Michael Boyden
Michael Boyden

Conversion and lies

A leading member of the United Torah Judaism charedi political party, Moshe Gafni, suggested in a radio interview that a movie clip should be made of Sudanese refugees in South Tel Aviv explaining how the Reform Movement tries to convert them. He continued: “You can’t hide the truth. Reform Jews have Bar Mitzvahs for their dogs.

Gafni added: “Judaism has a very clear book of rules.” If that is so, then why doesn’t he observe them?

Having attended the Slabodka and Grudna yeshivot, he is no doubt familiar with the Torah injunction that “You shall not lie to one another.” It can only be concluded that that particular mitzvah is one that he chooses to ignore, for he is guilty not only of slander but also of incitement against a significant proportion of world Jewry both in the Diaspora and in Israel.

As former director of the Beit Din of the Reform Movement in Israel, I can assert categorically that we have never approached anyone to encourage them to convert to Judaism – and that includes refugees from Sudan.

The charedi world represented by the United Torah Judaism party stands guilty not only of defaming Reform converts but also of denying the validity of Orthodox conversions carried out under the auspices of the IDF rabbinate.

Yitzhak Pindros MK, head of the United Torah Judaism’s charedi, male-only caucus in the Knesset, has stated categorically that a female soldier who converted to Judaism in the army was a shikse (a pejorative term for a non-Jewish woman that actually means “an abomination”). He went even further when he suggested that, should someone marry such a person, his father should sit shiva (go into mourning), rend his garments and say Kaddish.

Presumably, such a convert is good enough to serve in the IDF and defend our country, something that most Ashkenazi charedim are not prepared to do!

Pindros’s comments were both disgusting and unworthy of a member of Knesset. (He apologized later for having used the word shikse, but the term is clearly part of his lexicon.)

I wonder what form of conversion Moses’ wife Zipporah underwent. After all, her father was a pagan priest from Midian. And what about Ruth the Moabite, whom the Bible tells us was an ancestor both of King David and the Messiah? Would a Reform or IDF conversion have been good enough for them, or only one conducted under the auspices of the ultra-Orthodox charedi rabbinate?

One of their favourite klotzkashes (difficult questions) is to ask would-be converts how one should eat fish on Shabbat, since it involves removing the flesh from the bones. Most Jews are not even aware of the halachic issues involved.

Is that really the kind of Judaism we are looking for? Or do we feel more comfortable with Hillel the Elder’s response who, when asked by a prospective convert to state what the Torah was about while he stood on one foot, asserted: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. This is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary; go and study.”

About the Author
Rabbi Boyden was educated and received his rabbinical ordination in London, England. Having served as the rabbi of Cheshire Reform Congregation for thirteen years, he made aliyah with his family in 1985. He has established Reform congregations in Ra'anana and Hod Hasharon and previously served as director of the Israel Reform Movement's Beit Din.
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