Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Conversion in Israel, We're at it Again.

I really want to be up in arms about this, I really do. I want to be up in arms because I have a lot of good friends who didn't go through an Orthodox, RCA, Israel-approved conversion like I did. I want to be up in arms because even my conversion could go kablooey if one of my beth din rabbis decided to do something drastically un-rabbi like.

But I just can't. I can't be upset about what's going on in the Knesset because I get what the bill is trying to do. For those of you who don't know what I'm blabbering about, I'm blabbering about the big fat Conversion Bill that's floating through the Knesset as we speak.

The crux of the bill is actually to ease the process for potential converts by allowing local batei din convert folks instead of using a big centralized system. The tag-on to that has folks up in arms "expands the Orthodox-dominated Chief Rabbinate’s jurisdiction by bringing conversions, until now the province of special conversion courts, under the explicit authority of the Chief Rabbinate."

The former has the ultra-Orthodox in Israel peeved because it would make the process "more lenient" (right ... ) and the non-ultra Orthodox in the rest of the world are peeved because the latter would bring non-Orthodox conversions up for consideration as non-halakic/legitimate.

You can't please anyone, right? Listen, I get what the guy who proposed the bill is trying to do. He's trying to help converts, but in the process, there are things tagged on that have to be used to please all sides of the battle (if you can call it that). It's just like bills in America. We want something, but we don't like all the add-ons that make us wonder whether the actual bill is worth it.

I guess that's what I have to suggest: Is making the conversion process in Israel less-centralized worth all of the stuff that's going to come along with it? Is allowing hundreds of Russian olim the ability to finally say "we're Jewish" worth putting all Reform, Conservative, and other non-Orthodox conversions on the line? If you ask a Russian olah, they would say yes. If you ask a Reform convert from Middle of Nowhere, U.S.A., they'd say no. So who gets the weight here?

I really want to be upset about this, but I can't. My big thing is to not let this stuff bother me. It ruins the lives of people who dwell on it, it puts chips on the shoulders of converts and potentials everywhere, it makes people live their lives as if they're under a microscope rather than living their lives as Jews. And I can't buy what they're selling. I have to approach it from a positive angle, and perhaps I'm lucky for my "status" as a convert. I really feel for my friends who are drowning in this debacle, the what ifs and the what will I do?

My advice: Only HaShem knows who is a Jew, so continue to live your life as you do as a Jew, and don't let anyone dictate who you are. The conversion question and the "Who is a Jew?" question is a deep, dark, messy one that I'm often asked about. People want to know whether I consider my Conservative-converted friends Jewish or my patrilineal friends Jewish, and all I can say is: Is it my place to say? Everyone's on their own journey. I know that going the Orthodox, RCA, Israel-approved route was the best for me at the crossroads of my life. Our journeys move at different paces and I'm happy to support converts as they move through their Judaism, whether they end up Reform and end up Orthodox or start Conservative and end up Conservative. It takes a huge neshama to take that step, in whatever form you take it.

So live as you live, don't let this bill ruin your hope and your confidence in who you are.

Also: Remember, halakicly you can't "revoke" a conversion. You can be excommunicated, you can be shunned, you can be treated like trash, but once you're converted, you're Jewish. If some rabbi out there wants to correct me and point me to where the law says you can revoke a conversion, I'd be happy to take up that conversation. The way that conversions are done (i.e., the process, the requirements, the tests to make sure you know how to tear a bag on Shabbos, etc.) is a very really new concept (save circumcision and mikvah, of course). Look at Ruth, Yitro, Na'aman, and Rahab -- the Rabbis took their simple declarations about HaShem being the only G-d out there as enough to deem them awesome, rocking, righteous converts. The way we do things now would probably make the Rabbis roll over in their graves.