UK rabbi uses ser­mon to at­tack con­vert annulments as ‘in­sane’

The Jewish Chronicle - - News - BY SI­MON ROCKER

A LEAD­ING United Syn­a­gogue rabbi has hit out at the re­cent de­ci­sion of a rab­bini­cal court in Is­rael call­ing for the an­nul­ment of thou­sands of con­ver­sions car­ried out in the coun­try.

Rabbi Naf­tali Brawer con­demned the ver­dict of the Supreme Rab­bini­cal Court of Jerusalem as symp­to­matic of an “in­sane and op­pres­sive in­ter­pre­ta­tion” of Jewish law.

In his ser­mon at Bore­ham­wood and El­stree Syn­a­gogue in Hert­ford­shire last Shab­bat, Dr Brawer said: “There is a most dis­turb­ing trend in the Charedi world to be more and more strin­gent: to find rea­sons to for­bid, to ex­clude, to con­demn, in­stead of find­ing ways to per­mit, to in­clude, to vin­di­cate.

“Such op­pres­sive and exclusive Ju­daism does not up­hold the To­rah, it de­grades it.” The Jerusalem court ruled that con­ver­sions per­formed un­der the author­ity of Rabbi Haim Druck­man, head of Is­rael’s spe­cial con­ver­sion court sys­tem, should be an­nulled — a de­ci­sion which could strip 15,000 con­verts of their Jewish sta­tus.

Is­rael’s Sephardi Chief Rabbi, Shlomo Amar, has in­di­cated he will move to over­turn the rul­ing, but has yet to take for­mal steps to do so.

Rabbi Brawer, vice-chair­man of the Rab­binic Coun­cil of the United Syn­a­gogue, said: “The To­rah com­mands us not to op­press a con­vert. The 19th­cen­tury Rosh Yeshivah, the Net­ziv of Voloszhin, says that this pro­hi­bi­tion also ap­plies to those who stand by silently.

“What we see is noth­ing less than a real vi­o­la­tion of the dig­nity of the con­vert and I want no part of it. What we also see is symp­to­matic of a broader trend and that is the in­sane and op­pres­sive in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Jewish Law. This too, I re­ject un­equiv­o­cally.

“I be­lieve in a To­rah that val­ues hu­man dig­nity and in­structs its fol­low­ers to do all they can to min­imise hu­man mis­ery and suf­fer­ing.”

Mean­while, the Lon­don Beth Din, which su­per­vises con­ver­sions for the United Syn­a­gogue, said there was “no change” in its pol­icy.

In the past, the Lon­don Beth Din has re­fused to recog­nise some Is­raeli con­verts, al­though it ex­am­ines the va­lid­ity of for­eign con­ver­sions in­di­vid­u­ally.

The Con­fer­ence of Euro­pean Rab­bis has stressed that it has “not taken a po­si­tion” on the Is­raeli rul­ing.

“Our dayanim felt that the courts de­ci­sion was not the fi­nal word on this,” Aba Dunner, the CER’s sec­re­tary-gen­eral, and Rabbi Pin­chas Gold­schmidt, chair of its stand­ing com­mit­tee wrote in a let­ter. “We are wait­ing to hear the opin­ion and rul­ing of Gedolei Yis­rael [To­rah au­thor­i­ties].”

They added: “In the past, the CER has been crit­i­cal of the con­ver­sions made by Rabbi Druck­man’s courts in Europe, many times cir­cum­vent­ing the lo­cal rab­binate and very of­ten pro­duc­ing con­verts who do not con­form to the vow of life of To­rah and Mitzvot they have been tak­ing at the time of the con­ver­sions.

“The Euro­pean rab­binate should do con­ver­sions in Europe and the Is­raeli rab­binate should deal with its own prob­lems at home.”

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