Chuck Davidson
Chuck Davidson
Featured Post

It’s time to decentralize conversion

The solution to Israel's conversion crisis is for rabbis to take the traditional Jewish approach: go rogue

According to an article published on Monday about the conversion law initiated by MK Elazar Stern, and which passed more than two months ago as a cabinet decision, “It seems that from the perspective of the Chief Rabbinate, the goal remains to bury the law by way of returning it to the cabinet, a move which would cause great delay (in its implementation) and to the reversal of the decision by the ministers of religion and justice in the next coalition.”

A few thoughts in the wake of this development:

We should, perhaps, repeat to ourselves over and over an important point: the illusion of a solution is yet worse than no solution. In the wake of six years of activity in the conversion arena, I can only conclude that an effective solution will not come from legislative or judicial initiatives, certainly not in the absence of tremendous public pressure – pressure which does not exist today and will not develop in the foreseeable future.

I wonder when we — rabbis, the religious sector in Israel, and the Israeli public at large — will internalize the near prophetic statement of Rabbi Nachum Eliezer Rabinovitch (Dean of the Birkat Moshe yeshiva), that “It is clear that there is no (legitimate) room for legislating a law or for creating a policy that subjects all conversions to one central Halakhic authority. No such policy ever existed and is liable to uproot conversion initiatives entirely. If conversions are subject to the approval of one central Halakhic authority, a situation may arise where the doors to potential converts are closed.”

What, then, is the solution? Perhaps the time has come to simply ignore the illegitimate attempts to subject all conversions in Israel to one central Halakhic authority and to establish conversion courts independent of the Chief Rabbinate. The implementation of such a solution is in the hands of any rabbi who wishes to establish such a conversion court.

The legitimate Halakhic latitude for performing conversions is detailed in Rabbi Chaim Amsalem’s monumental work, Zera Yisrael, and the practical experience in performing conversions can be gained via any number of experienced rabbis, many of whom are in favor of the establishment of independent conversion courts.

Now that it appears that the conversion law will not create an effective solution to Israel’s conversion challenge, it may be wise for the students of Rabbi Rabinovitch and other rabbis who share his opinion, to encourage them to openly support the establishment of independent conversion courts.

Regarding marriage options for these converts, numerous Orthodox rabbis are prepared to marry them outside of the framework of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate. And in order to gain recognition as a couple by Israel’s governmental institutions, a number of options exist, including civil marriage in Cyprus, common law marriage, etc.

If independent conversion courts focus for the next ten years primarily on the unconditional conversion of children in Israel (as proposed by Rabbi Rabinovitch and those who share his opinion), it is possible to convert tens of thousands of children, and upon their reaching marriageable age, they will create the public pressure that is absent today; pressure which will force the Chief Rabbinate to recognize them as Jews, or, alternatively, force the government to recognize marriages performed outside of the Chief Rabbinate’s framework.

I welcome feedback, insights, and comments via email Those who wish can follow me on Facebook, where I post almost daily on the conversion issue:

About the Author
Rabbi Chuck Davidson is an Orthodox rabbi working to promote freedom of religion in Israel. Among his activities toward that end, Rabbi Davidson has led efforts to create alternatives to Israel's Chief Rabbinate in the fields of marriage and conversion to Judaism.
Related Topics
Related Posts