Archive for December, 2009

December 30, 2009

Focusing on Conversion, Don’t Get Distracted by Scandal

by Gedalyah Reback

As appearing in the Jerusalem Post on December 27th

Focusing on Conversion, Don’t Get Distracted by Scandal
Joshua Reback

The sex scandal purportedly involving Rabbi Leib Tropper of the Eternal Jewish Family – in which he was reportedly engaged in sexual misconduct with a woman whose conversion he was guiding – is an unfortunate situation that should not become a reason to denounce the EJF or its efforts as an organization. It is looked at as an opportunity to drag the organization through the mud and weaken it, making the situation easier for converts. These efforts by bloggers and advocates will not serve the cause of righteous converts, even those who have been unfairly dragged through the proverbial mud themselves.

Having finished my conversion just two years ago, with a family background including a Jewish father and Catholic mother, I know there is a tremendous level of introspection going on among children of mixed families. This is going to continue in this unprecedented age of shared information. Their attraction to Judaism presents the Torah-observant community with just as massive a dilemma: prepare to accommodate large numbers of righteous converts or risk a potentially larger social crisis if those would-be converts fortify themselves and integrate into liberal Jewish communities.

I fear the level of stringency we are seeing is on account of perpetuating a particular community’s standard that does not consider the minimal level of requirements to create a kosher conversion. If anything, this is a time period that calls for halachic disputes to be resolved. These are reconcilable differences that, if not settled, will leave a tremendous stain on the Orthodox world and result in the defection of potential converts to liberal Conservative rabbis and Reform authorities who will perform inappropriate conversions and perpetuate the social splits between Orthodox Jews and those from non-Orthodox movements.

THE ONLY way to help
converts – those who have already finished their transition process and those converts of the future – is to remain intellectually honest. This battle revolves around dispute in practical Halacha, which has been inarguably affected by competing social factors on the observant Jewish community. A plethora of literature is being produced on conversion. No particular individual’s misgivings, if proven in a court of law, should be able to affect the debate about proper and minimum standards for conversion.

This is not to say we should not ask our potential converts to go beyond the letter of the law. We are taught often to build fences around our practices, to use stringency to protect the letter of that law. There is a responsibility on our leaders to instruct converts about both the minor, the easy laws, and the massive responsibility of Shabbat, kashrut and family purity. We go beyond these ideas and teach so much more. So too we must maintain that principle, but that itself does not represent a minimum requirement.

I personally would suggest that the effort to protect the personal integrity of converts bounds our diverse Orthodox leadership to honor the efforts of those rabbis in the Conservative movement, who maintain strict observance of Halacha, perform conversion processes according to the standards codified in our legal codes and hold their converts to their oath to continuing learning and implementing Jewish practices as they grow in Judaism. They fight for the legal standards which are increasingly under attack within their own movement, yet receive little in moral or logistical support.

The issue still remains conversion, not the integrity of a particular individual. I recommend to all of us concerned about the integrity of conversions and their resultant converts, that we refrain from a perpetuation of lashon hara, keep ourselves focused and bear in mind what will be best for the unity and prosperity of the Jewish people.

December 13, 2009

Peace With Syria Must Include Compensation for Jewish Refugees

by Gedalyah Reback

Any peace agreement between Israel and Syria needs to consider compensation for Syrian Jews who lost their property upon leaving the country since the founding of the State of Israel.. Laws restricting Jewish emigration forced refugees to flee the country and abandon their property. Even in 1992, when Syria finally granted visas to the remainder embattled community, emigrants had to surrender their estates. Today, 75,000 Syrian Jews live in Israel, and many thousand of former refugees have come to extant Syrian Jewish communities in the United States and Latin America.
Since Israel’s creation, over 1.5 million Jews have come from Muslim countries, most under circumstances of duress. They were burdened with pogroms in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Egypt, among others. Reactions against the war with Israel spilled over into anti-Jewish rage. To speak of only the Jews of Syria, the communities of Aleppo and Damascus are among those that had to abandon their property in order to emigrate.
Sephardi and Mizrahi Jewish activists have pushed their cause for years. Last year, the Orthodox Sephardic party in Israel, Shas, made part of its platform the pursuit of compensation of Sephardic Jews and the initiation of an effort to take an accounting of Jewish property lost. The Israeli Parliament has been pushing forward a bill to make compensation a goal of any peace negotiations with the Arab League.
The State of Israel does not merely represent the interests of Israelis, but Jews the world over. Mounting military operations to protect and evacuate Jews is one of the recognized duties of the Israeli Defense Forces, such as the massive military operation that evacuated 14,000 Ethiopian Jews during Operation Solomon in 1991. It would be totally within the purview of the Israeli government to demand compensation for Syrian Jews now living in Israel who lost property, but even those living in the United States or Latin America.
Compensation could be restoration of the property itself, and the invitation of former Syrian Jews to reopen businesses and invest in Syria. True peace goes beyond merely not shooting at each other. The few hundred Jews currently living in Syria do not have political rights, however limited they are in that country. Those laws have to be repealed. Anything less than Jewish freedom within Syrian territory would not be worth the peace.

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