The Rock from Which They Were Cleft
ZERA YISRAEL (SEED OF ISRAEL)
by Haim Amsalem
Mekabetz Nidchei Yisrael, 456 pp., 120 NIS
MEKOR YISRAEL (SOURCE OF ISRAEL)
by Haim Amsalem
Mekabetz Nidchei Yisrael, 388 pp., 120 NIS
Over the last two decades more than a million people from the former Soviet Union have immigrated to Israel through the Law of Return, which grants citizenship to anyone (and their spouse) with at least one Jewish grandparent. This has facilitated the immigration of hundreds of thousands of people who are not recognized as Jews by Jewish law (halakha). Although these newcomers and their children now identify with the Jewish people and live as Jews within the Jewish state, Israeli law—which defers to the rabbinic courts in these matters—does not allow them to marry full-fledged Jews in state-sanctioned weddings, nor are they permitted burial in a Jewish cemetery.
Many of these Israeli citizens would like to convert to Judaism. However, the High Rabbinical Court of Israel has held that would-be converts not only have to affirm an obligation to observe every single commandment in the Torah, but that their conversions can be retroactively annulled if they subsequently fail to do so, thus placing the Jewish status of thousands who have already been converted under a cloud of halakhic doubt, not to speak of personal anxiety.
In an interview last spring, High Rabbinical Court Judge Rabbi Avraham Sherman questioned the validity of "all modern-era conversions in Israel and in the world since the start of the Jewish Enlightenment period" and affirmed that Israeli converts must "undergo examination by an authorized rabbinic court before they can enter the community of Jewish people. They are not Jews for certain." The requirement that all converts accept the commandments is, along with circumcision and ritual immersion in a mikvah, central to the halakhic definition of conversion. Nevertheless, the position that once such a conversion has taken place they are still "not Jews for certain" is surely an innovation. In fact, as rabbi and Member of Knesset (MK) Haim Amsalem has argued, there is great latitude within the tradition regarding how the requirement that the convert accept the commandments has been applied.
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