6/13/2006

Spinning the RCA-Rabbanut Agreement

Haaretz reports on the RCA-Rabbanut agreement. In it, Seth Farber says what’s on the opposite side of the coin: that according to the text of the agreement, there’s nothing to say that the Rabbanut won’t ultimately decide to make every single American conversion an ‘exception’ to the rule. As such, it “does not provide a complete response”. But as I pointed out, and as RBF told me before he even left for Israel (so saying that it’s merely an attempt to put a positive spin on a bad deal won’t wash), the goal was to get the two organizations talking. As such, it was a success. The joint commission will be convened, and in three months we’ll see how this shakes out. In the mean time, every RCA conversion reviewed by the Rabbanut – even if accepted – will be scrutinized.

Shmarya goes after the RCA with both barrels blazing. I think that there’s definitely room to criticize the way that the RCA has handled this from the beginning, but to suggest that their delegation to Israel failed and that all we have is a poor attempt to put a positive spin on it simply isn’t true. Whereas earlier, the Rabbanut had stopped accepting RCA conversions pretty much altogether, they are now assuming them to be OK as they had always been, until the joint committee gives its report. It’s a bit convoluted, but they’re trying to figure out if they should accept past conversions in the future (for the lomdishly inclined, it’s a mi-kan u-lehabo lemafrei’a). Personally, I think that the RCA will compile some sort of list, make better use of their semi-abortive regional scheme, and give the Rabbanut a ceremonial veto power over conversions they certify.

Finally, I really can’t stress enough that any agreement that is reached – and the RCA seems to have gone to great lengths to preserve this – must give a degree of trust to local Rabbis. It’s the ones on location alone who are truly in position to judge the sincerity of potential gerim – and so it should be, according to Rambam, Beit Yosef, Shach, etc. “Ha-kol le-fi re’ot einei ha-Beit Din” is Halakha Psukah.

There are places – Toronto, for example – where the giyur standards are objective and well beyond anything mandated by halakha psukah. They administer a 500-question test which includes need-to-know topics like demai. The impulse is to guarantee sincerity by imposing a draconian process. Never mind that there is no guarantee of sincerity, for any court. It’s a process that simply can’t address the infinite human nuance that comes into play in these situations. It’s devoid of sensitivity and compassion. What would they say about children of mixed marriages? Adopted children? Bnei Anusim, Falash-mura, Russians, Bene-Menashe and the other tribes of doubtful or dubious Jewish lineage, whom we can neither shun nor embrace without some type of giyur? Tell them to stay away from Toronto?

At the end of the day, there’s no substitute for good, old-fashioned Rabbinic intuition and sensitivity to the situation of the prospective ger. Unfortunately, that’s a very difficult attribute to quantify – it’s much easier to grade a test – and tends to get crushed by the wheels of bureaucracy, potentially along with thousands of gerei tzedek. Kudos to Rabbis Freundel and Billet for making sure that the framework of the agreement will trust Rabbis, not Standards.
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