Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Collapse of Will

The papers are trumpeting the new RCA-Rabbanut agreement concerning conversion procedures. According to the Jewish Week: 'The new arrangement requires that all judges overseeing conversions in the U.S. be approved by Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, with the RCA providing domestic oversight.' Opposition to the new deal is, predictably enough, confined to the left wing of the Orthodox rabbinate, which supports the minimalist theory of the requirements for conversion (as discussed below). The rest are, meanwhile, silent.

The rest are making a mistake.

Now, let me be clear. As I wrote the other day, I am far from being a minimalist in matters related to conversion (except in the case of child conversion, which is an entirely different matter, and on which I wrote one my only responsum. Even there, I based the conclusion on an explicit responsum of Reb Moshe Feinstein זצ"ל).

The issue here, though, is not only one of conversion. The issue at hand is the integrity, autonomy and authority of the American Orthodox Rabbinate. Except in rare cases, the acts of one Bet Din have always been accepted and respected by other Batei Din. א"כ במה מצינו כח בית דין יפה? By what right does the Israeli Chief Rabbinate arrogate to itself the authority to sit in judgement upon the acts of colleagues abroad? Do they know anything about Diaspora Jewry? Would they dare pasken a קורקבן without looking at it in context? Are they familiar with the codes and nuances of diaspora life? Do they understand, or accept, the fact that the education and דרך הלימוד imparted at RIETS might be different than that taught in Porat Yosef or Hevron, and that it might lead to different though אויסגעהאלטענער פסקי הלכה? As the Rav זצ"ל, once said in shiur: אווירת ארץ ישראל מחכים, אבער איך זאג א בעסערער סברא.

It will be averred that the new arrangement puts מורי ורבי Rav Herschel Schechter and Rav Mordekhai Willig in charge of approving the new דיינים. That may ameliorate the situation, but only partially since the Rabbanut has maintained right of veto over their decisions. Will they, would they, excercise it? I have no doubt that they would, and will.

Don't forget that the rabbanut is, largely, composed of second and third rate appointees (the ones who didn't rate becoming Rashe Yeshiva or senior Ramim, but who need the high salaries to support their families). It's a system based on power politics, and rife with nepotism. Many, many of the rabbanim and dayyanim with whom I've spoken have only contempt for the great Talmide Hakhamim of the Golah. As I noted before, one senior dayyan stated that it is absolutely impossible that any rav in the Diaspora should be able to learn as well as a rav in Eretz Yisrael! When Rav Schechter's name was mentioned, it took a few minutes for him to begrudgingly admit that Rav Schechter knows how to learn (sic!).

In a word, this new agreement bodes ill for relations between the Orthodox communities in the world (and Europe hasn't weighed in on the issue yet.) It drives a knife into the back of רבני צוהר and the wonderful תלמידי חכמים produced by כולל ארץ חמדה.

What, one may ask, is the correct model for international rabbinic relations, prior to the reestablishment of the Sanhedrin? I suggest we take a new look at the Gemora in Horayot 11a:

Rabbi enquired of R. Hiyya: 'Is one like myself to bring a hegoat?' 'You have your rival in Babylon,' the other replied. 'The Kings of Israel and the Kings of the House of David,' the first objected, 'bring sacrifices independently of one another!' 'There,' the other replied, 'they were not subordinate to one another, here, however, we are subordinate to them.'

והמבין יבין

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

and now the New York Times Sunday Magazine is on the story! which I find kind of bizarre.
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/02/magazine/02jewishness-t.html?ref=magazine

Anonymous said...

The issue here, though, is not only one of conversion. The issue at hand is the integrity, autonomy and authority of the American Orthodox Rabbinate.

That is one of the important issues. There is also no indication that this new system will provide better results. The nature of Rabbanus is local. In the US a local Rav is one who knows the facts best. Thus, for example RYBS would sometimes refuse to pasken for a local Rav-he would go over the sugyos with the Rabbi and explain parameters -but the final decisions have to be made by those with the local knowledge.
Another big problem-this procedure questions the geirus of many who were converted previously. The procedure for decades which the Israeli Chief Rabbinate accepted is that local Rabbonim did the conversion and sent a letter signed by all 3 to the RCA Beis Din certifying that on such and such a day etc so and so converted andtook this name etc. To change ones procedures smells of lack of trust and onat hager.

mycroft

Anonymous said...

Mycroft touches on an issue I was wondering about as well. What does this agreement mean for the thousands who converted through the RCA in the previous decades, particularly if they did it through Rabbeim not on "The List"? Are they now all expected to undergo a giur lechumra?

Tzura

Anonymous said...

converted through the RCA in the previous decades, particularly if they did it through Rabbeim not on "The List"? Are they now all expected to undergo a giur lechumra?


If so, the RCA can never be trusted. People followed their procedures in good faith and now the RCA because of vayakam melech chadash won't stand behind the geirus as lechatchila? Who knows?

mycroft

Moshe said...

My guess is that American Rabbis are not protesting because they have no idea who they are dealing with.

They think that they are dealing with people who are more or less Yirai Shomayim - whereas the truth is not so clear.

Those of us who live in Israel know who it is that we are dealing with, and as such, are far more hesitant to give the Haredi hacks in the Rabbanut any more power.