.Young Russian Jewish girls near Kikar Hamedina, Tel Aviv. (Michel Botman Photography, 2007).
Reflections on Paul Lungen’s excellent article regarding Israeli Rabbi Michael Melchior’s warning that “Haredi Jews slamming the door on conversions that don’t comply with their own narrow unwelcoming approach is leading to a conversion catastrophe.”
While I certainly agree with the urgency of wake-up call presented by Rabbi Michael Melchior, I do believe that he does not go nearly far enough in reproving the incredible intolerance expressed by so many members of the Jewish faith.
The rejection of Jewish converts by other Jews – not only by the ultra-orthodox fringe and Hardi zealots, but also by other congregations – and the only too common snubbing of aspiring Jews are not only tragedies and disgraces in the eyes of the most tolerant amongst us, but ultimately an unwise strategy adopted by Jewish society in general. In times where unity and common resolve are deeply needed, it is a divisive attitude that weakens the Jewish nation as a whole and Israel in its existential struggle.
Haredim do not recognized Orthodox conversions, Orthodox do not recognize Conservative conversions, and neither of them recognizes Reformed, Liberal or Egalitarian conversions. The exigencies imposed on aspiring Jews by the Haredim and Orthodox communities – and in some way by members of the Conservative movement – go far beyond the standards adopted by the vast majority of Jews in today’s modern society.
To use an expression inherited from my Christian background, what is expected from people wanting to convert “is to become more Catholic than the Pope!”
Instead of looking forward to integrating into the “great Jewish family” people of various horizons that often share a passionate love for Judaism and Israel, and bring to the tribe new resolve, dedication and support – including often much needed financial support – the Jewish nation is depriving itself from this influx of vitality and vigor.
Rabbi Melchior mentions the million mostly halachically non-Jewish Soviet immigrants that arrived in Israel during the seventies and eighties. He further declares that in recent years, more than 90,000 of their children, born and educated in Israel, have served in the IDF and have yet to be accepted as legitimate Jews.
As large as this number may appear, it is only a very small fraction of all the potential Jews in Israel and in the Diaspora who, short of being embraced by the Jewish community, have fallen off the Jewish bandwagon. Children of Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers, married partners of Jewish men and women, children born of unorthodox conversions, their children, grand children and descendents, numbering in the millions, have all but been lost to the Jewish nation.
A French ultra-orthodox Rabbi was heard recently declaring (in a YouTube video) that “intermarriage has been a greater catastrophe to Judaism than the Holocaust, … because more Jews have been lost to intermarriage than to the Holocaust”. These shameful comments are a clout in the face of all Holocaust victims and survivors, and an insult to Jewish and non-Jewish men and women who have chosen love and mutual acceptance over sectarian pressure
It is also the avowal of a terrible failure of the Jewish family to embrace its own children. With a little more tolerance and positive integration, not only could 6,000,000 Jews have been “saved” and kept in the tribe, but in addition their 6,000,000 partners and their millions of children and descendants could have been welcomed as well. In fact, with more tolerant and inclusive attitudes, the Jewish worldwide population could be twice as large as it currently is.
The numbers are staggering. In times where the very existence of Israel is being threatened by the exploding growth of Arab populations within its current borders and in times when the Jews of the world are shrinking rapidly (on a proportional basis) in the face of a growing Muslim tidal wave, it is a terrible mistake for the Jews to deprive themselves from such a large support base.
The cold shoulder presented to our brothers and sisters who may not be strictly-speaking halachically Jewish according to the most stringent laws, as well as to aspiring Jews who often have intimate relationships through marriage to the Jewish faith, is an attitude that may prove to be a long-term demographic suicide for the Jewish nation.
As Rabbi Melchior said: “If we close down the door toward even halachic conversions, we’re saying to a big part of the Jewish world, ‘You’re not wanted in the Jewish community, you’re not part of the Jewish world.”
In regards to the ostracism and exclusion endured for centuries, Jews should be the last to “slam doors” in the face of their friends, brothers and sisters. It is nothing short of a disgrace to the tribe.