Judaism: No more lifetime membership

by Maskil on January 15, 2009

The retroactive annulment of Orthodox conversions was – until 2 or 3 years ago – almost unheard of. Given the high profile cases we’ve seen in the last few years, however, I think one can say safely say that this trend will become increasingly significant as the ultra-Orthodox (Haredim) tighten their grip on the Orthodox world.

The latest case involves Yossi Fackenheim, adopted son of Emil Fackenheim OBM, a prominent philosopher and (Reform) theologian. (Please see the links below for details of the case.)

There’s no doubt in my mind that these annulments are contrary to the letter and spirit of Halacha. From the point of view of their impact on the victims (and converts in general), the practice is beyond contempt and should be rejected due to the hurt and suffering it causes.

Apart from disgust, what can one get out of this? A number of things:

Those in the Diaspora: If you’re a convert, or you have any concerns whatsoever regarding your “Jewish status”, stay well away from these guys! You’re not going to get the answer you were hoping for. Stop giving them a power they don’t have, don’t deserve and will continue to abuse. You’re going to get hurt here!

Those in Israel: Your options are far more limited, given that Orthodoxy is the “official” form of Judaism there, and is increasingly dominated by those in black. Avoid dealings with the religious hierarchy as far as possible, fight hard for your rights, get help from bodies such as IRAC in need, and vote for any party that promises to end the unholy alliance between the State and Orthodoxy.

The leaders of progressive Judaism (ABO, or Anything but Orthodoxy): Orthodoxy no longer has the answers. It no longer even understands the questions. Stop deferring to Orthodoxy on this or any other issue; it is no longer the Gold Standard of Judaism. Condemn this practice forthrightly and point out the options to anyone considering conversion to Judaism, or undergoing any other change to their personal status. Most importantly, ensure that your congregations understand the importance of the status of progressive Judaism in Israel, and suggest concrete steps they can take to change matters.

The Haredim are happy with a contracting Jewish population, provided it adheres to their standard of observance. Many of us, however, are not happy with such a scenario, and believe there is room for all of us – in all our diversity – within the tents of Jacob. The ultra-Orthodox strain of Judaism is steadily driving away many from within (and on the fringes of) Judaism and the Jewish people, because too few voices are challenging its unjustified claim to speak for Judaism as a whole. We need more voices to speak out and affirm that there are manifold ways of being Jewish, and that not all of them (shock, horror) have to involve formal religion or observance. (Also, more importantly, that observance doesn’t need to be measured by the yardstick of Orthodoxy.)

Get out of the swamp and dive into the Jewish sea. The water’s great!

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