Conversion in Israel

Parsha and its fulfillment - Parashat Vayera - Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald - 5769

The link between the revelation of G-d to Abraham at the beginning of Parashat Vayera, and the end of Parashat Lech Lecha is the Brit Milah: "And Abraham took Ishmael his son, and all that were born in his house, and all that were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham's house, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in the selfsame day, as G-d had said unto him." (Genesis 17:23). The Brit allowed the Divine revelation. This is preceded by the Divine commandment to Abraham and his descendants on the Brit Milah: "And God said unto Abraham: 'And as for thee, thou shalt keep My covenant, thou, and thy seed after thee throughout their generations. This is My covenant, which ye shall keep, between Me and you and thy seed after thee: every male among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of a covenant betwixt Me and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every male throughout your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any foreigner, that is not of thy seed. He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised; and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant."(Genesis 17, 9-13)).

From this point on, the commandment of the Brit is attributed for generations of Abraham Avinu. .אשר קדשנו במצוותיו להכניסו בבריתו של אברהם אבינו

Circumcision is the sealed sign in our flesh for the covenant that man has with G-d, and this sign also constitutes one of the three conditions for joining the Jewish people: "In three things Israel entered the covenant: circumcision and immersion and sacrifice. And so, for generations, when the non-Jews want to enter the covenant and be under the wings of the Divine Presence and accept the yoke of the Torah, they will need a Brit Milah, an immersion in the mikva and the commandment of a Korban.

Abraham and Sarah were the first to engage in conversion: "The soul that they made in Haran" - … Abraham converted the men and Sarah converted the women …"(Rashi on Genesis 12, 5).

Since then, the issue of conversion and the joining of gentiles who are interested in joining the people of Israel is a complex issue. Judaism is not a missionary religion that strives to bring everyone into its ranks. However, it views positively the joining of those who are truly interested in it, and are willing to accept the yoke of mitzvot and to be like every Jew from birth.

The complexity of the conversion issue takes on and takes shape in each period according to its characteristics. In recent years it has taken a central place due to the blessed immigration from the former Soviet Union. Several hundred thousand of them are not defined as halachic Jews. They are part of Israeli society and bear the brunt of serving in the army and are entrenched in society. Most of them are considered "Zerah Israel" (seed of Israel), born to a Jewish father and to a non-Jewish mother. In their countries of origin, they were considered Jews and some were persecuted by their surroundings for this reason. Not all of them are interested in converting completely halachically, and do not see any problem in their status. This is a complex and challenging social and halachic situation, because the integration of society leads to the formation of a relationship between those who are defined as halachically Jewish and those who are not halachically Jewish, who cannot marry according to Jewish law (and even are forbidden). And if the mother is not defined as a Jew according to Jewish law, her children are not defined as halachic Jews. Anyone who looks to the future from this problem is likely to worsen in the future to the point of creating a division within Israeli society.

In light of this situation, there were those who sought to solve it by making the conversion process more lenient and adopting halachic approaches to leniency, and relying on the critical fence of Rabbi Uziel Zt"l regarding the "seed of Israel. " Thereby encouraging as much as possible to convert, and reducing the extent of the problem. On the other hand, there are those who believe that this should not be taken lightly. And anyone who wishes to be considered a Jew according to Jewish law must go through a complete and meticulous conversion process that includes receiving the yoke of the mitzvot with sincerity and with a whole heart. Against this approach, some have argued that "one who worsens the laws of conversion is more lenient on intermarriage." However, it has not been proven that the leniencies they think should be taken will indeed cause this large public to convert in droves. There are those who also seek to reduce the dimensions of the problem by using the halachic tool of conversion for minors, but on the other hand, those opposing stringently argue that this option does not exist when parents do not observe Torah and mitzvot. In the course of the discussion, a public debate arises about the exclusive status of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, some of whom regard it as the statutory authority that bears state responsibility, as the gatekeeper, and others who attempt to present it as a body whose strict conduct eliminates the chances of solving the problem

In light of the complexity of the issue, there were several attempts to solve it, by enacting a National Conversion Law, while others proposed that the authority be transferred from the national level to the municipal level, unfortunately, in the end, nothing come to fruition. There are various initiatives on this issue, most of which are not practical. Some of them stem from a tendency to uproot conversion from the world of Jewish law, and some stem from simplistic approaches that do not address the complexity of the problem.

Recently, as a result of the High Court of Justice's intervention, the committee of former minister Moshe Nissim sat on the table and formulated controversial recommendations on the one hand, and determined that conversion would be carried out only according to accepted halachic rulings (Orthodox) by qualified rabbinical judges recognized by the Chief Rabbinate. On the other hand, the authority responsible for conversion will be a new body that includes representatives from various bodies, including Reform and Conservative, thereby ending the process of conversion from the exclusive authority of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. Therefore, this committee will probably not bring about a solution in the foreseeable future. The complex reality of the issue of conversion has not yet received a redeeming formula that will solve the problem without creating another problem that is no less serious. And therefore, it will remain at the center of public discourse for a long time.

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