Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Conversion Imbroglio

The debate about the RCA/Rabbanut concordat on conversion continues to intensify. The new edition of the New York Jewish Week has no less than two articles and a joint letter on the subject (not to mention the New York Times Magazine's piece from last week). Closer to home, my posting from last week also attracted a significant amount of attention (as borne out by the number of hits it received, and the comments I received off-line). As a followup to the latter, and after having read the full text of the concordat, I think it's important to clarify a few of the points that I raised.

1) My concern was, and remains, the ongoing independence of the Orthodox rabbinate in the Diaspora. Millennia of halakhic practice demands that the acts of recognized and responsible Bate Din abroad be honored and acknowledged by their counterparts in Israel's Chief Rabbinate (some of whose members can't shine the shoes of Talmide Hakhamim in the Golah).

After reading the RCA's Gerut policy in full, and especially the elaboration published by the chairman of the commission, Rabbi Dr. Barry Freundel, I am satisfied that my colleagues abroad have created a framework that preserves the integrity of the Modern Orthodox Rabbinate in North America. The system is set up by, and for, the members of the RCA. The fact that this was acknowledged by the Rabbanut and that no questions would be raised as to the actions of RCA Bate Din is a signal achievement. In addition, the RCA has pledged to appoint qualified judges who reflect the full spectrum of its membership.

2) That having been said, it is absolutely critical that the RCA stand on constant guard to prevent encroachments upon its prerogatives. The Rabbanut has become a hostage of forces that categorically reject everything in which the RIETS/RCA community believes. I have no doubt that this is but the first round in an ongoing struggle, and here the critics have a real point. ראו חבריי, הוזהרתם.

3) There are two other issues hovering in the background here. These do not relate to the question of rabbinic authority, but to a) the nature of conversion and the requirements for conversion and b) the future of Modern Orthodoxy.

The former topic requires longer treatment. I have already stated my personal belief that the bare minimalist definition of קבלת המצוות is neither justified legally and nor historically accurate, I will אי"ה expand upon the topic in another context.

The latter is rooted in a broader sense of crisis that has marked the Modern Orthodox Community for almost three decades. I sense that the fear of these critics is not so much of the Rabbanut, but of rightward trends within their own communities, and among their own colleagues. The question here, for which I have no clear answer, requires rethinking the lines between the possible and the desireable, the justified and the wise in responding to the changing face of Orthodoxy in the twenty-first century.


Anonymous said...

"...broader sense of crisis that has marked the Modern Orthodox Community for almost three decades."

That's pretty much the bulk of the existence of MO...

Ben Bayit said...

All of this boils down to the proverbial YU/RIETS chip-on-the-shoulder vs. the yeshivishe velt??? after 2 decades of MO - I've had enough of that - time for everyone to grow up.
If MO was so significant - and moreover so positively correct about its agenda of Brisker lomdus and academic achievement capturing the hearts and minds of the masses - then MO representatives would have long ago been on TV responding to the ignoramous professors and thus leading to the natural result of getting masses and masses of TV veiwers to suddenly be chozer betshuva - rendering Shas and Aguda obsolete. Which begs the questions - why hasn't this happened? Why was Shas successful where MO wasn't? Maybe it's a problem with the message and not just the messenger?