Rabbis v. Jewish Tradition: More on the Conversion Crisis

Gershom Gorenberg

My latest piece on the conversion crisis is on-line, a bit late, at the Hadassah Magazine site. Crisis is too nice a word. What’s really happening is that part of the Israeli state rabbinate has adopted a radical ultra-Orthodox innovation: regarding conversion to Judaism as something that can be annulled.

Yes, folks, I said, radical ultra-Orthodox innovation. That’s not a contradiction in terms; it may be a redundancy. Like other contemporary religious communities that claim to represent old-time religion – salafist Muslims, fundamentalist Christians – ultra-Orthodox Judaism is a creation of modernity. The ultra-Orthodox assault on conversion is just the latest bit of evidence.

So here’s the article:

Nearly two years ago, a Danish-born Israeli woman named Yael and her husband appeared before the rabbinical court in Ashdod to end their marriage. Since the couple had agreed on an amicable divorce, they anticipated a pro forma procedure.

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Does Israeli Equal Jew? On a Shared Israeli Identity

Gershom Gorenberg

A few days ago, Haim, you responded to a challenge I raised in a post on the conversion battles. Your answer made me realize that I hadn’t phrased the question sharply enough.

I wrote: “We need to define a civic Israeli identity not dependent on halakhic status.” You wrote that I was right, but that it was sad that I was. And then you said:

The secular Israeli state’s way of determining who is Jewish—and therefore who belongs to the state’s majority culture and ethnic group—is a religious definition.

It seems to me that by beginning the discussion there, you are mixing two separate questions. One is: Can someone belong to the majority culture and society in Israel without being a member of the Jewish faith? The other is: Can Israel develop a civic identity that is shared by Jews and non-Jews, including Palestinians who are citizens of the state?

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