Even before we have settled our problems with the neighbors, we are causing trouble for ourselves.
Almost 2,000 years ago Josephus wrote The Jewish Wars, in which he described wars against the Jews and wars among the Jews. Fighting among internal enemies helped the external enemies to wreck havoc among all of God's Chosen, and to destroy His Temple.
One front in the current war among the Jews deals with the efforts of a Rabbinical Court to invalidate all the conversions linked to a program run by the well known Orthodox Rabbi, Chaim Druckman. Acting with the authority of the Israeli Rabbinate, Rabbi Druckman has sought to facilitate the conversion of those among recent immigrants (mostly from the former Soviet Union) who wish to change their status of not being Jewish according to religious law (halacha).
Somewhere in religious law is an expectation that a convert will live subsequently according to religious law. Those of us born Jews can eat pork three times a day; work, light fires, and ride on the Sabbath; and proclaim that we are atheists. We will not lose our status as Jews. Not so a convert, according to some rabbis. On the basis of finding a convert who was not living according to what they viewed as a religious life, members of a court are making an effort to challenge all the conversions overseen by Rabbi Druckman.
The issue has simmered for some time without a resolution. Rabbi Druckman is not without influence and allies, some of whom occupy distinguished positions and are threatening to resign if their opponents do not back down. http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/126432
Another issue concerns the Conservative Movement.
It is broadcasting commercials on the most popular radio station calling Jews who are planning their wedding to do it with a Conservative Rabbi. The promise is that the service will be kosher according to religious law, as well as being open to modern innovation and without the strictures demanded by the Orthodox Rabbinate. Those interested may obtain details via telephone, or www.masorti.org.il.
It took me a few minutes to confirm the false advertizing I was suspecting. Those interested in checking the details may have to don a pair of magic spectacles. There is no English language button on the Conservative Movement's Israeli web site. Or you can trust me that the wedding promised would not be kosher according to Israeli rules.
A loving couple could arrange the ceremony with a male or female Conservative rabbi, and invite male or female friends as official witnesses. None of that would pass muster with the Israeli Rabbinate. Guests could be well fed and entertained, but the couple would have to marry again in order to make their union official.
The web site advises a couple to marry according to a civil ceremony in another country, and to register that marriage with the Israeli Interior Ministry.
It might also work to marry in a small office ceremony arranged by the Israeli Rabbinate, and then do the Conservative ceremony with a crowd of guests and a festive meal. That should also work, but I would not mention to the Rabbinate that there was a plan to marry again according to a Conservative ritual. Perhaps the people running the Conservative Movement web site are not advising this option in order to keep people away from Orthodox rabbis. It is possible to find an Orthodox rabbi who is flexible with respect to details of the ceremony, and who does not make a couple feel that it is subject to a cold, archaic, and sexist ritual.
The web site of the Conservative Movement also claims that there is a growing chance, in the not-too-distant future, that the Israeli Knesset will legalize weddings performed by Conservative rabbis.
I would not bet on that. There are always 20 or so Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox members of Knesset opposed to non-Orthodox weddings. One or more religious party is likely to be part of the current governing coalition, and all are likely to be wooed after an election by potential prime ministers interested in forming parliamentary majorities.
Religious politicians may start proclaiming against the Conservative Movement's advertisements, and open a new front in the wars among the Jews. Or Orthodox politicians may feel secure enough in their capacity to keep non-Orthodox wedding ceremonies non-legal and off the public agenda. Often they prefer to ignore non-Orthodox Jewish movements. Occasionally an Orthodox rabbi will say that Conservative and Reform Movements are not Jewish, and therefore none of their business.
As a secular Jew I have no stake in any of these fights.
However, I would like the Rabbinate to make a reasonable effort to help non-Jews who want to convert, without provoking battles among senior rabbis along the way.
I also have a concern for honesty in advertizing. I am inclined to accept exaggeration in claims for soap, toothpaste, or automobiles. It is another matter for religious groups to be less than candid about what they are promoting.
There is a bit of work for Conservative Jews to make sure that all is kosher in their corner of the Promised Land.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Home tel: 972-2-532-2725
Cell phone: 054-683-5325