30 April 2012

by Noam Shelef

Social change is a long, drawn out process, frustratingly so. Sometimes it’s hard to decide whether to welcome modest change, or wait to celebrate until the change amounts to a significant revolution.

Two of our colleagues — Rabbi David Rosenn (our COO) and Naomi Paiss (our Communications Director) — had an instructive email exchange earlier last week about the significance of a recent High Court ruling. I thought it was worth sharing.


Israeli advocacy groups (including our grantees) are talking about this latest High Court ruling: a victory (although partial and complicated) over the ultra-orthodox hegemony on the conversion issue.


It’s still a situation where you have to convert Orthodox to be considered Jewish in Israel, so the impact is limited. And this is a case where the Orthodox were trying to reverse other Orthodox conversions – nowhere is there a hint of recognition for Conservative or Reform conversions.


I won’t argue about limited impact, but the story here is that the High court told the rabbinical court that they had gone too far. That is a positive within the current framework.

Also, there’s an underlying outrage. The rabbinical courts had, in a radical interpretation of Jewish law, retroactively annulled the conversions of people who had been living for years as Jews.

It’s like the U.S. Supreme Court telling Madeline Albright that she’s no longer a U.S. citizen because they deem her current behavior to be so unAmerican that her oath of citizenship must have been a lie and therefore her status as a U.S. citizen was never valid. Crazy!

We shouldn’t have to wait until there is a story about the elimination of Orthodox requirements for conversion, to see progress. Even this more limited issue is significant.


Excellent point, that last one. Unfortunately, if we insist on real pluralism in conversion to celebrate, or even better for the disestablishment of the ultra-Orthodox hierarchy, we might be sitting next to each other at the Hebrew Home when we break out the champagne.

But in the meantime, I’m more worried about by the link you sent me regarding the ordinary, Masorti woman who was threatened in her ultra-Orthodox neighborhood. When the modesty police become vigilantes, the trend we’re seeing of extremism shading into violence should be our central concern.