Huge News for Orthodox Converts

This amazing news, shared by eJewishPhilanthropy (full text below also) is rapidly making its way around the web and the Jewish blogosphere.  However, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share it as well. I don’t even know what to say, other than that it is an amazing step in the right direction for Jews who underwent an Orthodox conversion and have the desire to make aliyah. Wow, just wow.

 

Shas and Jewish Agency Reach Agreement on Orthodox Conversion Aliyah

June 14, 2011 by Dan Brown
Filed under In the Media

In a letter dated yesterday, the Interior Ministry of the State of Israel notified the Knesset of a change of policy as to procedures for granting Oleh status to Orthodox converts. Instead of turning to the Chief Rabbinate for eligibility approval, it will now turn to the Jewish Agency for Israel.

According to sources close to the issue, Chief Rabbi Amar supports the move which also had to gain approval of [Shas] Interior Minister Eli Yishai.

This agreement represents the first real compromise between the Shas led Interior Ministry and Jewish Agency Chair Natan Sharansky on a question of Jewish identity.

Many conversion questions are up in the air and the only forum actually dealing with the issue is the conversion roundtable chaired by Sharansky. This is only one of many issues, but it represents the first real agreement to come from the process.

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The (Evil) Rotem Bill

Ok, so I am sure that some of you are surprised at the lack of commentary on this blog about The “Rotem Bill” which has been all over the Jewish news lately.  For those of you who live under a rock (ok, maybe that was too harsh) and haven’t heard about it,  in short the bill began as a way to ease the conversion process and questions, especially in regards to the relatively recent immigration of Jews from the Former Soviet Union.  However, over time the bill evolved to the point in which it grants all authority over conversion to the Charedi Chief Rabbinate, including retroactively saying conversions are not Kosher.

The reason I have neglected to say anything on it is not because it has not been on my mind, but the exact opposite.  It has been such a heated part of my life, I could not think of how to express myself in words suitable for public consumption.  In fact I still cannot, however I also cannot go another day without mentioning it.  So instead, I will share links to many other prominent organizations and leaders who have written and spoken about the topic. This is by no means a complete list – merely a list of what I have seen and found interesting so please feel free to share more.*

Organizational Statements:

Masorti.org (link)

USCJ.org (link)

Anti-Defamation League (ADL) (link)

Professional Statements:

Rabbi Steven Wernick, CEO and Executive Vice President of USCJ (link)

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, Executive Vice President, Rabbinical Assembly (link)

Rabbi Marc Angel, Founder/Director of the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals, Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Shearith Israel (link)

Arnold Eisen, Chancellor, Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) (link)

Opinions:

“Are you Jewish Enough?” – Jewish Journal – 07.13 (link)

“The Diaspora Need Not Apply” – New York Times – 07.15 (link)

“Rotem’s Bill Promises but Doesn’t Deliver” – The Jewish Week – 07.20 (link)

“Editors Notes: Unconverted” – JPost  – 07.23 (link)

*As much as I am open to different viewpoints, sometimes I have to hold my ground and this is one of those times.  If you do not agree that this is bad for world Jewry, kindly keep your opinions to yourself or share them on your own blog.  This is something neither Jessica nor I are distant from and we ask you to respect that.

Reflections on Tisha b’Av and the B’nai Anousim

This year, I was educated in advance of Tisha b’Av (the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, which fell yesterday), about a resolution passed last year by the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ).  The USCJ unanimously passed a resolution stating that the Conservative movement should educate about the B’nai Anousim and the Spanish Inquisiton during Tisha b’Av.  However, this has not yet become a wide-spread practice. As such, I am taking this space to share some links for your education on the matter.

Who are the B’nai Anousim?

http://www.bechollashon.org/projects/anusim/anusim.php

http://www.alizahausman.net/2009/09/spotlight-rabbi-juan-mejia-and-bnai.html

http://jta.org/news/article/2009/05/18/1005189/the-secret-jews-of-the-southwest

http://koltuvsefarad.com/

What do the B’nai Anusim have to do with Tisha b’Av?

http://www.uscj.org/Tisha_BAv_Observance8243.html

http://www.uscj.org/images/bnai_anousim_out_of_fear.pdf

http://www.uscj.org/images/bnai_anousim_tisha_bav_program.pdf

I think that at a time when we look at the historical destruction of the Jewish people, it is imperative to reflect upon the more recent historical destructions.  The fact that the expulsion from Spain occurred also on Tisha b’Av in 1492, only furthers the need for its inclusion in our commemorations.  We need to think about those who were forceably converted and fought to practice their Judaism in secret for hundreds of years.  These individuals did not allow their Judaism to be wiped out  by others, and that is a critical lesson to learn today.  Today their descendants are finding their way back to Judaism and need to be included in Jewish life the way that their ancestors were not.  Please take a moment to educate yourself, and the next time you meet a Jew with a Spanish last name take a moment to listen to their story – you never know what you may learn.

Save Conversion!

Post by Melissa

Ok, so my computer got a bad virus and I just got it back with not much time in my day for a good post, however the topic would have been the same — what is going on in Israel’s Knesset now is absurd and makes me so upset I don’t have good words for it.  Please read the following posts from JPostJewsByChoice and the Conservative Movement (after the jump) and take a moment to speak out.  Contact anyone you think might listen and pass it on.

The torah tells us countless times to welcome those who convert as full fledged members of the tribe and to treat them as our neighboors, not as strangers.  Apparently, this got lost in translation from Biblical Hebrew to Modern Hebrew/Yiddish.  If we do not do something, it will reach a point beyond all recognition where no one from outside Israel will be able to make Aliyah without undergoing an Orthodox conversion.

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Continue reading

Opening, not Slamming, the Door

Two weeks ago today, a rabbi in London proposed a solution to the conversion issues surrounding Orthodox Judaism. In the last ten years, conversion has increasingly become complicated by politics as the Israeli rabbinate was taken over by Haredi rabbinate, and so suggesting solutions makes sense, in the grand scheme of things. His idea was so radical that I think it took me the last two weeks to digest it, and even now I am not fully convinced that I totally grasp his understanding of what he was suggesting.

So, what does Rabbi Schochet suggest? Stopping conversions entirely.

Although Judaism has always accepted converts, and does, in fact, have a lot of rules about welcoming strangers and converts, there have been situations in which conversion has been suspended. This, however, doesn’t seem to be the time to do it. Rabbi Joel Katz has a theory (check it out here – his theory is that because Schochet accepts the Lubavitch rabbi as the messiah, that would indicate stopping conversions), but either way, the idea is ridiculous. To consider that the system is so “morally bankrupt” that the only solution is to stop the conversion process for good? It’s a preposterous idea on any account, but it’s as though he has no understanding or idea what it is to be a convert to Judaism. Sincere converts give so much to the Jewish community, and should be embraced, and we should be trying to help them not telling them that we don’t want them.

As so many stories I have heard illustrate, conversion is a long, difficult process, often celebrated with a sense of relief. More and more, converts are required to make concessions to their beit din, their panel of judges, about their practice and their future practice that no born Jew would ever, ever have to make, except, perhaps, if they chose to become community leaders. It just isn’t done, and yet, we ask these people, individuals who, for whatever reason, often just out of their love of Judaism, have chosen to join us, to do things that we would never consider of those that are already “in”. Or even the list of acceptable rabbis issued a few years ago by the Israeli rabbinate that retroactively made many people (and their children!) not Jewish anymore.

Yet. Yet. Rather than dealing with the myriad issues, we should just stop. Because, generally, when things in Judaism get difficult, we just stop and take it lying down. We don’t argue or have multiple opinions or even validate multiple opinions at once. No, we are the people of the book, but that book records the minority opinion as well as the majority opinion and we take pride in the fact that for every two Jews there are three opinions. And to suggest shutting down a debate like this, without a true understanding of what that does to the Jewish community – like cutting off an arm, seems totally outrageous.

There is a good side to this story, however. While it may exist, nowhere have I seen this idea registered favorably. In fact, the London Beit Din rejected the idea outright (here) and the same paper that published the opinion article published another opinion article rejecting his claims outright (here). As the daughter of a convert, married to a convert, I find Rabbi Schochet’s position personally offensive. The conversion system may be broken, but this is certainly not the way to fix it!

Redefining Rebbetzin

Nearly six years ago, a new graduate student in social work (Melissa) met a junior undergraduate (Jessica) at the Hillel Foundation onthier newly shared campus. Three years later, Jessica got married, and Melissa was her bridesmaid, and two years after that, Melissa got married and Jessica returned the favor.

The crazy part? Both boys turned out to be Spanish-Portuguese Jews who are aspiring rabbis. Now, we face, together, the prospect of being rabbi’s wives, traditionally known as rebbetzins. All four of us are Baal Teshuva (someone who lives a more traditionally observant Jewish life than they did ) in some form or another, two of us have converted, and none of us really knows exactly what to expect.

The seed of the blog idea came from the logo – the bird and the giraffe. Melissa feels a special affinity for giraffes, and Jessica for birds, and so it was the perfect logo for a joint venture. Since Jessica’s husband had just gotten into Rabbinical School and Melissa’s husband was planning a trip to visit the Rabbinical School he hopes to attend, the subject of becoming rabbi’s wives was very much in mind, and we knew that we wanted to talk about this through the lens of our Jewish journeys. All the rabbi’s wives we know are modern, independent, amazing, proudly Jewish women and we hope to reflect the best of all of them in our attempt to find our own paths. Thus, Redefining Rebbetzin was born!

We plan to update four times a week (only three times this week), chronicling the process of our husbands becoming rabbinical students, our own Jewish journeys as well as our thoughts, feelings and opinions on a variety of Jewish topics, especially those relating to women’s issues in Judaism. Two days a week we will post on the same topic, providing our unique perspectives, and the other two posts a week will be completely independant, based on that which has shaped us, articles we found particularly compelling, current events, and updates to our journey. We also hope to bring in guest posters, to bring new perspectives and ideas and broaden our discussion.

We’re really excited to be starting this new venture, and hope that you will join us as we share our wanderings through this exciting time of our lives. Hopefully you can get something out of this too. We love to hear from readers, and are especially excited for suggestions of topics of discussion. Just hit the tab at the top labeled “suggestions” to submit your ideas directly to us!

If you like what you find here, and want to stay connected, feel free to email us directly via the links in the side bar, follow us on Twitter (http://twitter.com/RedefiningRbtzn), or become our “fan” on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Redefining-Rebbetzin/272758166979?ref=ts)!

So, welcome! Let’s get this show on the road!

Stay tuned! Wednesday: Melissa’s story, a.k.a How the girl everyone thought would be a Rabbi found herself on the path to being a Rebbitzen.