Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Who Is Not A Jew

I've held back from commenting on the recent scandal involved Rav Chaim Druckman and his conversions because (a) lots of other blogs have picked up on it and (b) I still want to see how it finally plays out.
In short, Rav Chaim Druckman, a Mizrachi rav has been working hard at converting many people who wish to join Am Yisrael. For years, the Chareidi press has been busy slandering Rav Druckman with some pretty awful loshon horo. Things really came to a head a year and a half ago when an Ashdod rabbinical court, supervising a routine divorce case in which, oddly enough, there was little conflict between the separating partners, suddenly discovered that the soon-to-be ex-wife, a convert who had been accepted into the Jewish people by Rav Druckman, was not keeping a Torah-observant lifestyle. The judge immediatley ruled that she, and by extension, her children were not Jewish, nor could they ever convert or marry Jews in the future! The cruelty of these ruling, both unexpected and unrequested, sent the Chareidi press apologists into a mad frenzy to prevent the negative spin from causing too much damage.
Things might have eventually settled down but shortly after, the news came out that the Rabbanut in Israel was strong-arming the Rabbinical Council of America into accepting its demands for conversion standards and procedures with the threat that if it didn't, Israel would cease recognizing their conversions as valid. The conflict only ended when the RCA capitulated to the Rabbanut's demands, giving up a large amount of its autonomy, authority and legitimacy in the process.
And then the Rav Druckman case broke. In short, the Supreme Rabbinical Court of Yerushalayim ruled that all conversions ever performed by Rav Druckman are retroactively invalid. Countless people who have spent years living as Jews, thinking that they were Jews, and sharing in the fate of Am Yisrael, were suddenly told: Yo, goy boy! Guess what? Drop the knishes and go for a BLT!
Am I the only one seeing a pattern here? First of all, why are there Chareidi rabbonim in the Rabbanut in the first place? The Chareidi community has its own leadership and does not recognize the authority of the Chief Rabbi to pasken for them. Indeed, the only real stakeholders in the authority of the Rabbanut and its officials are the Mizrachi and their representation in the various courts and offices is minimal compared to the influence they place in the organization. Yet over the years the Chareidi leadership has taken over an organization it does not really respect, the better with which to assert its power of the religious life of the State.
Secondly, having taken over the largest and most influential rabbinic body in the Jewish world outside their own community, they then set their eyes on the Rabbinical Council of America, the second largest and a non-Chareidi organization. Consider: the authority of any rabbi is linked to his ability to perform three things and have them recognized by all major Jewish bodies - conversion, marriage and divorce. Is it any surprise, then, that the Rabbanut would choose conversion to begin its process of delegitimizing the RCA as an Orthodox authority? Having successfully done so, one can be sure that in the near future similar demands regarding marriage and divorce standards will crop up.
So who's left? The only other major non-Chareidi Torah observant group of Jews outside of the Modern Orthodox of North America are the Mizrachi/Dati Leumi in Israel. And just as with the RCA, the Mizrachi legitimacy to perform rabbinical functions has now been challenged in the most severe fashion possible - with a blanket condemnation of one of its major authorities along with an effort to completely discredit him.
Now, I will not go so far as to say that these moves have been undertaken with malicious intent. I highly doubt there was a secret "Gedolim conference" or some such where the leading Chareidi authorities sat around a table in a smoke-filled room and drew up a plot to destroy the rabbinical power of the non-Chareidim.
However, one must understand something about Chareidi philosophy. Within that community, the belief that their form of Torah Judaism is the only real and legitimate one is quite strong. it is almost universally felt that there is something deficient and inadequate about Modern Orthodoxy and Mizrachi. Thus Chareidi authorities who challenge the standing of their Modern Orthodox and Dati Leumi counterparts aren't doing it out of spite but because of a sincere desire to end what they see as improper and misguided forms of Torah Judaism. Certainly it is considered agreeable that there be universal standards for such things as conversion, marriage and divorce in order to minimize confusion and problems in quesitonable circumstances. The problem is that the Chareidi attitude is not conciliatory in the least. It's their way and that's it.
With all this in mind, one might counter with the obvious fact that, from the Modern Orthodox and Mizrachi side, there isn't that much to fight back with. The Chareidi community can boast of hundreds, if not thousands, of top-notch halachic scholars. It has produced countless volumes of responsa and novellae in the last several decades. Quick, other than Bnei Banim by Rav Yehudah Henkin, can anyone name another set of responsa by a Modern Orthodox authority? Other than YU, are their any world-class, legendary Modern Orthodox yeshivos anywhere?
Even the Modern Orthodox leadership leaves something to be desired. The leading lights of Yeshivah University are certainly not slouches when it comes to their halachic expertise and religious piety but unlike Rav Soloveitchik, zt"l they are certainly not prepared to challenge and stand apart from the Chareidi world. The idea of taking a stand against the Eidah Chareidit and becoming persona non grata in Israel in that community would not be considered feasible.
On the Mizrachi side, things are little better. Obsessed with the development of Yehudah and Shomron as it has been, the movement has not produced enough superior scholars to present a successful challenge to the halachic hegemony of the Chareidi community. Yes, there are genius and saints within the movement. Where are their works? Where is their influence?
Thus the non-Chareidi Jewish components of the Torah world have a stark choice being forced upon them.
One is to admit that the natural evolution of real Torah Judaism has resulted in the Chareidi form today and that Modern Orthodoxy and Mizrachi are illegitimate deviations from that standard.
The other is to admit that until now the models of Modern Orthodoxy and Mizrachi are not meeting the needs of their constituents. Being Chareidi is not for everybody and it can't be. Judaism is far too complex to force all its adherents into one restrictive model. But those who are on the outside of that model must be given something to rally around, to identify with other than vague statements of autonomy and modernity. Only with that change will this encroachment cease.


Noah said...

I have a lot of problems with this modern trend to re-neg previously recognized conversions. If a properly sanctified bet-din can declare a new moon is on the incorrect date thereby changing the day we celebrate our holidays, without fear of any retroactive change, then a properly sanctified bet-din should be able to designate someone a member of am Yisrael with the same authority. To go back and question the rulings of a properly formed bet-din years after the fact goes against thousands of years of tradition.
Furthermore, as part of our duty to love our fellow Jew, it is a duty of ANYONE who knows that some conversions have come under question to contact everyone involved. If a bet-din is questioning the conversions of one of their rabbis, then they have a duty to contact every convert and their family to explain the situation. Failure to do so can lead to inadvertent intermarriages or worse.

Anyway, those are my two cents.

Garnel Ironheart said...

I agree whole-heartedly with the second part of your comment - this incident was handled as shamefully as possible. Even if the Supreme Beis Din Yerushalayim is 100% in their determination, there was no way that justified the mass humiliation their decision caused.
However, vis a vis the first argument about Rosh Chodesh, the two situations aren't analogous. For one thing, not just any old Beis Din could declare a new month. There was a specific procedure and a specific Beis Din to do it. Also, in thos days it was universally accepted that the Sanhedrin was the senior legal authority in Jewish life.
Rav Druckman's case is different because his authority came from the State which the Beis Din Yerushalayim does not recognize as authoritative over them. So in this case, their position is that they are putting down an upstart secondary court.