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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‘How to Prove You’re a Jew’ – Afterthoughts, aftershocks

Obama Converts to Judaism” says a headline on Huffington Post, which I found via the eternally alert Laura Rozen at War and Piece.

Buffeted by criticism of his controversial Christian pastor while continuing to quell rumors that he is a Muslim, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill) took a bold step today to settle questions about his religious faith once and for all.

“I am converting to Judaism, effective immediately,” Mr. Obama told reporters…

I know this is meant humorously, because it ends with:

…the move raised the ire of one of his harshest critics, former Rep. Geraldine Ferraro. “Barack Murray Obama wouldn’t be in the position he’s in if he wasn’t Jewish,” said Ms. Ferraro…

but I still wanted to zap a message to Obama warning him: For heaven’s sake, don’t do it. It’s enough he has to prove he’s pro-Israel. Must he add the problem of convincing the Israeli rabbinate that he is a Jew? Believe me, it won’t be easy.

When I wrote “How to Prove You’re a Jew” for the New York Times Magazine, I guessed it would stir interest. I didn’t imagine how much. One friend told me it had been emailed to her 20 times. She also told me she’d had a terribly difficult time proving she was a Jew when she got married here in Israel a couple of years ago, despite

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