Conversion: The American Machers Protest!

Gershom Gorenberg

If there’s one subject that forces U.S. Jewish leaders to express their views on Israeli politics, it’s “Who’s a Jew.” In previous years, the crises began when it looked like the Knesset would change the Law of Return so that non-Orthodox converts would not qualify to immigrate as Jews. That threatened the legitimacy of Reform and Conservative Judaism. The Israeli government couldn’t ask for U.S. Jewish support based on eternal family ties while telling part of the family that, oops, we don’t recognize you as family.

Those were the good old days. Now the rabbinic courts have shown themselves willing to disqualify most Orthodox conversions, performed in Israel or abroad. Conversions performed by the head of the government’s own Conversion Authority, Rabbi Haim Druckman, have been annulled ex post facto, and Druckman has been told to go home. (Read the background in my article in Moment magazine.) Now the leaders of the organized Jewish community are demanding the Prime Minister Olmert fix the broken Orthodox conversion system. But I don’t think they’ve yet recognized the depth of the crisis.

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