Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Conquering the Conversion Conversation

You know me -- I really try to ignore all of the "who is a Jew" convert business because it saturates the news in Israel and the U.S. at all hours of every day every few weeks or months. Something happens, there's an outcry, and then it settles down, we go about our business, and then something else happens. I don't like to dwell on the negativity that swirls around conversion in the U.S. versus Israel, but lately it seems to really be taking on a life of its own.

There's the outcry that it's easier to have a "liberal" (i.e., Conservative or Reform) conversion and make aliyah than for the Orthodox convert who went through the process outside Israel. Personally, this seems pretty ridiculous, and it will drive converts to go Conservative and live a happily Conservadoxish life. It defeats the purpose of trying to get converts to go on that happy Orthodox path of truth and light (sarcasm, folks).

Then there is the story about the Modern Orthodox Canadian convert who has been denied immigration, even though he had an Orthodox conversion and is married to an Israeli Jew! The policy has always been that if you're a convert and married to a halachic Jew, it's like a golden ticket for aliyah. So what gives? Oh, right, he converted with rabbis who are on the International Rabbinical Fellowship (read: heretical rabbis who want to overthrow the Rabbinical Council of America's domination of the Orthodox conversion process in the United States). I'll admit that I am a little troubled by the fact that this individual had an Orthodox conversion and continued to work on the Sabbath and not fully observe, which is a requirement of the post-conversion life, but in reality, they converted him, he's Jewish, that's that (maybe this bothers the power that be in Israel, too?) What he chooses to do is up to him (this, of course, is a simplification -- post-conversion you're watched like a hawk).

On that note, this little morsel from the tail-end of the story surprised me, I'll admit, but it makes me feel pretty solid with my conversion.
For immigrants from North America, the Chief Rabbinate is only recognizing conversions carried out by the Rabbinical Council of America, a primarily ultra-Orthodox group.
I guess that means I'm ultra-Orthodox? Oy to the vey.

For all intents and purposes, there is a list that is regularly updated list that includes all of the batei din accepted by Israel for the sake of conversion. Of course, this is for Orthodox conversion, but the point of all of this hullabaloo is that Reform and Conservative conversions have the potential to be less problematic when it comes to moving to Israel -- what happens when you're there is a different story. But wouldn't this encourage people to have a Reform conversion in the U.S. or anywhere else, make aliyah, and only then have an Orthodox conversion? In Israel itself? Is that good enough?

What's my point? My point is that this is all the usual, run-of-the-mill junk that is out there regarding whose conversion is good enough, whose is the best, whose is accepted, and who should go back and restart the game of geirus. It's hard, and it's tough, and it's mind-bogglingly frustrating, but it's the reality of the situation right now. As Harold Kushner surely would say, it's how we respond to it that makes a difference. We cannot control the powers that be, nor can we control who says whether our conversions are good enough. What we can control, however, is how we react to the situation -- with grace and dignity and patience or with anger and disengagement and giving up. I encourage everyone to choose the former. To get angry only fuels the fire of those who surely would say that only a born-Jew is good enough to be a Jew.