Skip to comments.Court Decision Reignites 'Who Is A Jew' Issue
Posted on 02/20/2002 2:16:51 PM PST by RCW2001
Battered by spiralling violence, bent under the fallout of a failing economy, Israel faced yet another powerful challenge to its social fabric Wednesday, as the Supreme Court reignited the fierce, bone-deep debate over Who is a Jew, granting for the first time formal recognition to Reform and Conservative conversions performed in the Jewish state.
By a 9-2 vote, the court ruled that persons who had undergone non-Jewish conversions whether in Israel or abroad were entitled to be registered as Jews in the state identity card rubric which reads "nationality."
Although the court steered clear of official definitions of Jewishness for the purpose of marriage, citizenship, and immigrant rights, the decision was seen as a dangerous precedent by Orthodox religious authorities, who since the founding of the state have held an effective monopoly over decisions pertaining to legal definitions of membership in the Jewish people.
The court also broke from an unstated practice by public officials of refraining from stoking the flames of religious-secular ire during times of military strife.
Perhaps mindful of the volatility of the decision, the court at the same time unanimously threw out a challenge by leftists who sought to quash the longstanding draft exemptions provided ultra-Orthodox students allowed to study in yeshivas rather than serve in the Israeli military. But the wrath of religious leaders was little assuaged by the deferment ruling that went in their favor.
Minutes after the conversion ruling was announced early Wednesday, Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau slammed the decree, saying that it would not only deepen the rifts already plaguing the society, it would also prove detrimental to the Reform and Conservative converts that it was designed to aid.
"There will be converts who are registered as Jews according to Jewish law and tradition, then there will be other converts registered as Jews only according to the High Court's ruling today, and they will be bandied about in a great storm.
"Their identity cards will now be worthless," Lau continued. "Tomorrow, if they want to register to get married, the day after if they go to the Immigration Ministry to ask for their basket of benefits or citizenship, they'll be told 'No, you're only thought of as a Jew on the population rolls, while as far as everything else goes, you remain in your goyishness."
Tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the former Soviet Union could be directly affected by the conversion ruling, undergoing Reform and Conservative conversions to be recognized on the Interior Ministry's official population rolls as Jews.
Attorneys for the converts had argued that historically, information appearing on the Interior Ministry's population registry - the data base from which the contents of identity cards are drawn - was based on personal details supplied by the bearers of the cards, and was not subject to review or revision by religious or other authorities.
Secular leftists and non-Orthodox religious leaders hailed the decision as a landmark. Meretz lawmaker Ran Cohen said, "The High Court gave us that which was already obvious - the fact that a Jew that who is converted and registered anywhere in the world as a Jew, Reform or Conservative, will be registered in Israel as well. This is simply normalization of the Jews, and normalization of the state of Israel."
Ultra-Orthodox politicians, meanwhile, were unrestrained in their rage over the decision, taking the court to task for having, in their view, meddled in an area far beyond their jurisdiction and understanding. United Torah Judaism's Moshe Gafni decried what he foresaw as the prospect of "wholesale conversions."
"The significance of this matter is one of two options: either the Knesset will pass a law barring the High Court, which doesn't have a clue in this matter, from doing whatever it wishes on these issues, or we will forced to assemble record books of family trees, something that will tear the people to pieces."
The ruling was not the courts baptism of fire on the hair-trigger issue of recognizing non-Orthodox conversion. In 1986, the High Court ordered officials to recognize Reform and Conservative conversions performed overseas. Then, seven years ago, note Ha'aretz correspondents Moshe Reinfeld and Anshel Pfeffer, the court went further, ruling that the Orthodox monopoly on conversions was illegal, but refraining from explicitly ordering the state to accept non-Orthodox conversions. "In practice," they add, "no government has ever done so."
"In ensuing years, the court repeatedly postponed hearings on petitions by some 50 people who demanded that the state register them as Jewish following local non-Orthodox conversions, while successive governments tried, yet failed, to broker a compromise that could be enacted into legislation."
The matter came to a head in 1998, when the Jerusalem District Court ruled that the state must recognize such conversions, calling it absurd for non-Orthodox conversions to be valid when performed overseas, but not when performed locally, Reinfeld and Pfeffer write in Wednesday's print edition. "The state appealed this decision, and it is this appeal on which the court ruled."
The next move appeared to be up to Interior Minister Eli Yishai, leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas, who was quick off the mark in blasting the ruling as "horrible, dangerous, most grievous, as well as anti-democratic."
Yishai, whose party has long feuded with Israel's judicial branch over such issues as the conviction of Yishai's predecessor Aryeh Deri for a range corruption offenses, said the High Court had rendered its decision on behalf of "the tiniest of minorities, on the fringes of the very fringe of the margins of Israeli society."
The interior minister added that "A small fringe group, the Reform, cannot run the country here, and the High Court's decision is one that will lead to assimilation and the destruction of the Jewish people."
Yishai said he could not bring himself "to register a non-Jew as a Jew." He pledged to fight the decision with new Knesset legislation aimed at neutralizing the court's stance.
As one option in the interim, Yishai said, if his office registers a Reform convert as a Jew, his clerks "add next to this the word 'Reform,' so that the whole Jewish people will know that he is Reform. If he's so proud of being a Reform Jew, let's let him stay one."
The Supreme Court handed down two important rulings this morning. It instructed the Interior Ministry to accept conversion-ceremonies carried out by the Reform and Conservative movements and to register the people involved as Jews. Former Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu called on rabbis in Israel to accept converts as Jews only if they have undergone an Orthodox conversion according to time-honored Halakhic [Jewish legal] tradition. On the one hand," he said, "the court intervenes to prevent the demolition of homes belonging to terrorists. On the other hand, the court intervenes to destroy the House of Israel, bringing gentiles into the House of Israel resulting in encouraging assimilation.
NRP head Rabbi Yitzchak Levy called upon the religious parties in the government to set an ultimatum: Either a law is passed that will "right the wrong" and recognize only Halakhically-converted persons as true converts, or else "go to new elections in the hope that the national honor will be restored." Rabbi Levy said that the Supreme Court had sent an "explosive warhead at the heart of the Jewish People The justices have long detached themselves from the people, and today they totally cut themselves off from Halakhah [Jewish Law] and cut the thread of Jewish identity."
Reactions in Shas were just as harsh. "The Supreme Court has become the most radical chapter of Meretz and the Reform movement," a party statement said. "The Court is undermining the Jewish character of the State of Israel and is helping the fatal process of Jewish assimilation. Many sectors of the Israeli public simply have no trust in this Court." The Shas party has already begun preparing legislation to bypass the Court's ruling. Its proposal will stipulate that the Chief Rabbinate is the only body that can determine the validity of conversion to Judaism. Labor MK Eitan Cabel said that he would work to ensure that the legislation does not pass.
Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau said that the ruling drives a wedge in the public, and that it will be a source of "weeping for generations." Rabbi Lau said that the original leaders of the State, "headed by David Ben-Gurion, and even the British Mandate, recognized the Chief Rabbinate's authority to determine how people may join the Jewish Nation."
On the other hand, Stephen Hoffman, president of the United Jewish Communities, told a gathering of Jewish Agency board of governors members in Israel that those who are not Jewish according to Halakhah should still be accepted as members of the Jewish people. "Those who chose to join us should be made to feel welcome," he said. "There is room for a larger identification." Reform Rabbi Uri Regev said, "This ruling has historic significance, as it strengthens the Jewish pluralism in Israel and totally rejects the Orthodox establishment position."
Deputy Foreign Minister Rabbi Michael Melchior, of the left-wing religious-Zionist Meimad movement, said, "Questions of conscience and faith should not be decided in the courts or in the Knesset..."
Including such things as whether Korean dog-meat stew can be prepared Kosher.
When it comes to splitting hairs....
I agree, I'm interested, but I probably wouldn't discuss it here.
I wouldn't either. I'd expect to discuss dog meat stew on the .........(far eastern country(ies) version of FR.
I hope FR expands. I might not have a lot to add, but I'd love to participate in those threads.
PS, next time I'd rather discuss stew made of those big rats than dogs.
Thought you'd like to know.
Kinda puts the damper on those who think that a Jew is a Jew is a Jew though, don't it?
But you are right. This forum is not the place for this discussion.
Before I get jumped, I support vouchers, I support a US envoy to the Vatican and I support aid to Israel. I am just sick of liberals trying to always have things their way.
Saudis and Egyptians are, far as I know, not trying to repress religion in America, are not suing when the Ten Commandments are put up in a public building and do not oppose vouchers to religious schools. Most liberal supporters of Israel are and do.
You are "preaching to the choir" by ranting against "Jewish" liberals to this forum. I don't like them any better than you do.
Well, now it looks as though non-Jews can immigrate there too.
Don't confuse liberal Jews with Israel.
Liberal Jews are undermining Israel, by destroying its economy, destroying its cohesiveness, and pushing for the Suicide, err Oslo Accords.
Reform and Conservative perversions
And this relates to Conservative and Reform conversions in Israel how........??????????????
3. The point about Orthodox vs non-orthodox Jews is about CONVERSION. Many Jews believe noting that non-Orthodox conversion is easy, and that Reform Judaism has no respect for Jewish law, question the veracity of any Reform conversion.
Think about it this way. If you were converted to Christianity by a Unitarian minister, should you be considered Baptist?
Finally, while Israel is not a theocracy and its elite are secular, it is tied to Judaism. There is a trinity to Israel
There is the land and country "Medinat Yisrael"
There is the religion of Abraham Isaac and Jacob (Jacob was renamed Israel)
And there is the people/nation, the decendants of Jacob/Israel "B'nei Yisrael"
Just as the French differentiate between French and non-french citizens, so to does Israel. Whi;le non-Jews can be citizens they are not Israeli Israelis.
This differentiation is a little strange in the US, but it is the US whihc is the exception in the world. We are one of the few countries based on an idea instead of a race.
No matten how tolerant another country is, this distinction will confuse leftists and libertarians who seek to impose their view of secular non-racial Americanism on the world.
Do you really want to be in bed with those people?
The next move appeared to be up to Interior Minister Eli Yishai, leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas, who was quick off the mark in blasting the ruling as "horrible, dangerous, most grievous, as well as anti-democratic." . . . Yishai said he could not bring himself "to register a non-Jew as a Jew". . . . As one option in the interim, Yishai said, if his office registers a Reform convert as a Jew, his clerks "add next to this the word 'Reform,' so that the whole Jewish people will know that he is Reform."
These people are talking about benefits and identity documents provided by the government, and one of them is the Interior Minister overseeing said documents. This is hardly just a matter affecting people's religious activities.
Why does your driver's licence give race?
Part of the concern is to differentiate between Israeli arabs and Palestinians.
And why would the Israeli government need to to do that if both Jewish and non-Jewish citizens have "full rights"?
If you were converted to Christianity by a Unitarian minister, should you be considered Baptist
Thankfully, my government would leave that determination up to the Baptists.
It sounds as though many Israelis and Jews have already forgotten about those little yellow stars that were just supposed to be a helpful way of identifying who's Jewish and who's not. These programs tend not to turn out quite the way their purveyors advertise them at the outset. Be glad that Israel is moving away from this sort of thing, however incrementally.
If you wouldn't mind explaining something , I am one of those now very confused . In American , there are various levels ( sects ? ) of Judaism ; all of whom are considered to be practiionors of the Jewish religion : Orthodox, Conservative, Reform , and Hasidim ( Hasidic ? Oh well. the Lubervitchers and the other ones) . Forget , for the moment, about the secular Jews, whose only religion is LEFTISM !
If foreiegn conversions ( I take that to mean in the USA... os that correct ? ) have been okayed, in Israel, this new law is ONLY about conversions in Israel ? Are Conservative and Reform Jews NOT considered to be Jews , in Israel ? Since Jewishness is inherited through the mother, if a woman marries a nonJew, and he converts, is the baby still a Jew, and why wouldn't the man's convesion strengthen Judaism and NOT help to make it less so ?
These are honest questions, my dear friend. I am really out of my depth here and confused. Please help me to understand, and in so doing, help others as well.
Yes, I know, you have every reason to be angry about the " theocracy , blah, blah, blah ... " !
Page 2 article,
"Judge: Shabbos Starts at Midnight"
A Tel Aviv Labor Court judge has ruled that Shabbos begins at midnight...
Holy vs. profane, Part...
Click on my Profile for the background history on who is called a Jew, and why.