No room for compromise
by Jonathan Rosenblum
October 24, 1997
The Neeman Committee, charged with finding a compromise solution to avoid a clash with Diaspora Jewry over the conversion bill, set itself a task worthy of Rumpelstiltskin. Predictably, however, the alchemists' attempt to turn straw into gold has failed.
To understand why, it is necessary to know only one fact: A convert to Judaism must accept upon himself the mitzvot of the Torah. Without that acceptance, the formal procedures that follow - circumcision, immersion in a mikve, etc. - are meaningless.
Maimonides states the matter clearly: 'When a gentile wishes to enter the covenant, and dwell under the wings of the Divine Presence, and accept upon himself the yoke of the Torah, then he needs circumcision and immersion..." Acceptance of the mitzvot is the necessary precondition for the procedures that follow.
Even in theory, both the Conservative and Reform movements reject, in one way or another, the binding authority of Halacha. For Neil Gilman, a professor of theology at the (Conservative) Jewish Theological Seminary, a binding mitzva is whatever a particular individual chooses to recognize as binding at a given moment in time.
And for Reform theologians, like Eugene Borowitz, the very idea of mitzva, which binds a Divine Commander to the one who is commanded, is anathema. Borowitz recognizes the individual conscience as the only valid guide and rejects all external authority: 'As long as we do not establish our own standards of conduct, we are not autonomous ethically, not fully mature."
And in practice, virtually no Reform Jews and few Conservative Jews observe even a small fraction of the mitzvot. As a result, a would-be convert who continues to identify with either of the heterodox movements is effectively declaring that he does not accept upon himself the binding force of Halacha in all its details.
That is where the Neeman proposals flounder. To be acceptable to the Reform and Conservative movements, any compromise must guarantee that their candidates for conversion will be duly certified by an 'Orthodox" rabbinical court. Yet for an Orthodox court to do so, it would have to ignore the evidence in front of its nose and eschew any serious inquiry into the candidate's intention to keep mitzvot.
In short, the fix must be in. No subsequent immersion in holy water can cure that infirmity.
THOSE who charge that the Orthodox parties' rejection of the Neeman proposals is determined by extra-halachic considerations are thus either ignorant of Halacha or contemptuous of it. The charge is but one more shot in a sustained disinformation campaign conducted by the Conservative and Reform movements for the past year.
American Jews, who have, in most cases, never met an Orthodox Jew in their life, have been treated to sermon after sermon proclaiming Orthodox Jews the greatest threat to Jewish unity and the conversion bill the most important issue facing the Jewish people.
In their cynical campaign to extract more money from communal coffers and gain official recognition in Israel, the heterodox movements have waged a no-holds-barred war. They have not even stopped at lobbying congressmen to condition vital American aid to Israel on withdrawal of the conversion bill, according to a recent front-page article in the Jewish Forward.
The big lie that Orthodox Jews do not view the non-Orthodox as Jewish has been repeated so often that denials fall on deaf ears. Yet no Orthodox organization or leader has ever suggested that halachic status as a Jew is a function of one's level of belief or observance.
As a practical matter, the conversion bill is totally irrelevant to Diaspora Jews. It applies only to conversions performed in Israel and does nothing more than preserve in legislation the status quo that has prevailed since the creation of the state. The Interior Ministry was required by the High Court nearly a decade ago to recognize Reform or Conservative conversions performed abroad, and the proposed conversion law does nothing to challenge that decision.
As Ruth Wisse has pointed out, political elites throughout history have recognized Jew hatred as the best formula for uniting the antagonistic elements in society, as well as a proven success at diverting attention from the failure of those elites. The Conservative and Reform leadership has taken a page out of the antisemites' book in turning the Orthodox into the bete noire of modern Jewish life.
Want to know why 80 percent of Los Angeles' 600,000 Jews are not affiliated with any synagogue, or why American Jewry has been in numerical decline for 70 years, or why, at current rates of reproduction and intermarriage, the non-Orthodox segments of American Jewry will decline by nearly 75% over the next two decades, look no further: It's the Orthodox.
Until the last 200 years, Jews maintained a remarkable degree of unity despite their dispersion over the globe without a land of their own.
That unity was made possible by their common law. How odd, then, that the one group committed to the preservation of that law should be pictured as the ultimate threat to Jewish unity for insisting that Halacha is not whatever you want it to be.
Related Topics: Pluralism
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