Prime Minister Sharon lashed out at the rabbis in last week’s cabinet meeting for being too strict in converting new immigrants. "I’m no rabbi," began the Prime Minister’s pro forma disclaimer, "but why should the new immigrants be subjected to demands none of us could meet?" One can almost picture him nodding his head appreciatively at this bit of talmudic sharpness.
Sharon recognizes that hundreds of thousands of non-Jews immigrants, with their proliferating churches, demands to be sworn into the IDF on the New Testament, and brisk trade in the classics of anti-Semitic literature are not exactly the kibbutz galios of which the Zionist forefathers dreamt.
He wants the rabbis to solve the problem by sprinkling a bit of rabbinic fairy dust on immigrants and calling them Jews. He would thrust rabbis into the role of problem solvers for a situation that they did not create and about which they were not consulted. (Sharon now seeks to import another one million immigrants, over 80% of whom will not be Jewish.)
Unfortunately no such rabbinic fairy dust exists. Nor can conversion be subject to government quotas or numerical timetables. (Sharon has called for the IDF to create special conversion panels to convert 3,000 soldiers a year.)
Every decision to convert, especially by those raised in a society in which religion was systematically disdained for 80 years, is a miracle. Miracles by their very nature cannot be mass produced; nor can the deepest choices of personal belief be coerced according to the needs of the state.
There is a simple answer to Sharon’s question as to why more is demanded of converts than born Jews. One is born Jewish because his ancestors accepted upon themselves certain obligations at Sinai. Those who would become Jews today must do the same. Conversion, as described by the Rambam, is a reenactment of the original acceptance of Torah at Sinai.
Thus the barriers for entry into the Jewish people are higher than the requirements for remaining Jewish. A nation may have many pickpockets among its citizenry. But no nation would grant citizenship to someone who listed his profession as pickpocket.
Those, like Sharon, who view anyone who wants to live here and serve in the army as Jewish confuse Judaism with Yisraeliut. Our demographers have already put their imprimatur on this confusion. When they speak of the Jewish population of Israel, more frequently than not, they simply mean the non-Arab population.
By defining Jew in terms of army service or some other indicia or Yisraeliut, Sharon has proven too much. For if all we care about is that the non-Jewish immigrants seek to live like their most non-observant Jewish neighbor, there is no reason to demand that rabbis make a farce of halacha by converting them, or to be angry with the rabbis for their refusal to do so.