Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Gripe and Whinge and Gripe and Whinge and Gripe and Whinge....

As first detailed on FailedMessiah and elsewhere, the son of famed Jewish philosopher Emil Fackenheim was recently surprised to discover that although he was converted by a valid Beis Din as a child after being adopted:
The son of the late Jewish theologian and Holocaust survivor Emil Fackenheim plans to fight a decision by a Jerusalem Rabbinical Court Judge to retroactively annul his conversion of 27 years.
In August of 2008, Yossi Fackenheim, who was converted to Judaism at the age of two by an Orthodox Rabbinical Court in Toronto, had his conversion revoked by Rabbi Yissachar Dov Hagar, a judge on Jerusalem's Rabbinical Court.
Hagar's decision was made during divorce proceedings between Yossi and his former wife Iris, who were married as Jews in Jerusalem by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel in 2001.
The two came before Hagar to finalize their divorce. But in the midst of the divorce proceedings Hagar told Yossi that there was no need for a get (divorce writ) since Yossi was not Jewish as his mother was not Jewish at the time of his birth. She later converted to Judaism.
Orthodox Jewish law does not recognize marriages between Jews and non-Jews.
Hagar ignored various documents provided by Yossi including a copy of his conversion certificate, an official recognition of Yossi's conversion by Jerusalem Rabbinate Marriage Registrar Rabbi Yitzhak Ralbag issued before the marriage and a document issued by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel recognizing Ralbag's document.
In response to Hagar's decision, the Rabbinical Court administration said, "during Mr Fackenheim's divorce proceedings it became clear that he converted while still an infant, before he was able to make a conscious decision to convert.
"It also became clear during the proceeding that Mr Fackenheim never adhered to an Orthodox lifestyle. The rabbinic court decided that since Mr. Fackenheim's personal status was unclear, a get would be issued to the wife. However, no official decision was made regarding Fackenheim's status."

Not being an expert in the dinim of geirus, I'm not going to offer an opinion on the halachic validity of childhood conversions. Instead, I want to focus on the reaction to this event.
Like what happened when Rav Sherman invalidated all the Israeli Conversion Authorities candidates in one fell swoop, the responses from the non-Chareidi Torah world have been essentially emotion. Like Rav Riskin's famous crying Torah, they are full of outrage, hurt and shock. However, they are all missing the one thing they need to be meaningful: halachic validity.
As documented on this blog and elsehwere, over the last few decades the Chareidi community has been slowly working to invalidate all other forms of Torah observance and concentrate control over halachah and Torah observant issues amongst their leadership. Whether its refusing to recognize conversions they don't sanction, disqualifying non-Chareidi rabbonim from positions of authority, or simply refusing to acknowledge that the halachah is more multi-dimensional than they care to admit, the community has worked steadily to unify Torah observance under its mantle. And to a large extent they have been very successful.
One major reason for this is a lack of competition to this end goal. For Torah observant Jews looking for leadership, there is really only one place to look: the Chareidi community. Within that camp leadership is clearly defined, an all-encompassing ideology is already in place and structure and identity firmly established. Within the Modern Orthodox community, all these features are missing. As a result, when a Chareidi beis din or gadol releases the latest chumra-of-the-week, there is no credible response from outside their community to dispute its supposed universal validity. In the absence of that response, the chidush becomes universal.
Such would be the case exemplified by Yossi Fackenheim. I won't deny that what happened to him seems to me to be halachically improper but, not being an expert, I may be wrong. There are nuances of the law I'm unfamiliar (hell, there's whole books I've been meaning to read) so it could be that the Rav presiding over the case came to the correct conclusion, as unfair as it seems. A court's job is, after all, not to do what looks right but what it objectively believes to be right. Otherwise, why not institute mob rule?
But I'm also sure there is enough depth to halachah to preclude this opinion from being the only, right opinion in these circumstance. A good lawyer doesn't scream "foul!" He rather gathers precedents and statutes and then presents his case as to why he feels the judge was wrong in his decision. Bringing a crying legal intern into court and saying "Well, this decision really sucked, so it must be wrong!" will not change any secular court's position. Why do the Modern Orthodox think a crying Torah will do any different within the halls of halachah?
In the end, there is only one response that will make a difference and that is one well-ground in halachah and composed by the leading scholars of the Modern Orthodox community. Using the Chareidi style, showing how their reasoning is either not universal or even that it is in error is the only legitimate way to put Rav Hagar's beis din in its place and start to end the ongoing campaign of delegitimization.


Baruch said...

Lichora, R' Henkin destroyed R' Sherman's teshuva in his 4 page article in Hakirah.

I agree with you that our response shouldn't be "that's unfair" but rather thought out teshuvas like the ones R' Henkin did.

An example of a related (but not entirely the same) phenomena: biographies of gedolim. So when I was in yeshiva I always heard two opinions -- one should censor the bad and one shouldn't censor the bad (of course, they censored stuff that wasn't bad too, but that's another story). The former were saying, "Well, it degrades the gedolim to learn bad things about them -- what's the purpose of knowing bad things about the gedolim? It doesn't increase your yiras shamayim." (see for example the Jewish Press's interview with R' Nosson Scherman) The latter were saying, "Pumfakeret! To know that the gedolim struggled with human struggles -- that inspires us to show us that even us, human beings who didn't learn Shas at 3, can be great!" But I was always under the impression that the latter group didn't have source literature; they never quoted any. Then I find out that this concept's in R' Hirsch, other places...when they make the argument they should say, Look, I certainly have whom to rely for my opinion.

Freelance Kiruv Maniac said...

Rav Hutner makes this latter argument in the compilation of his Iggros.
I guess the charedi attitude to hagiography isn't so monochromatic...