Thursday, May 10, 2007

Standardizing Orthodoxy

Rabbi Josh Yuter has a good post on the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America's recent agreement with the Israeli Rabbinate on the standardization of the conversion process. The backstory is that the Israeli Rabbinate has been refusing to recognize conversions performed by North American Orthodox rabbis with whom they are unfamiliar. As a result, converts who believed their credentials to be impeccable have been unable to marry in Israel or to move to Israel under the Law of Return.

As Yuter notes, easing these tensions with the Israeli rabbinate has the potential to make the lives of many converts a great deal less onerous. Standardization may have its own benefits as well. Judaism is known for discouraging potential converts in order to make sure that those who do convert are genuinely comitted. This policy has some merit, but all too often it becomes an excuse for what can only be described as hazing, as religious courts attempt to prove their rigor by making the lives of conversion candidates as difficult as possible. People I know who have persued Orthodox conversions have been dragged through a lengthy procedure during which they had little sense of the court's requirements or how much progress they were making toward fulfilling them. This is a particular hardship for young singles, since potential converts are not allowed to date or have romantic relationships. Standardization of the conversion procedure could eliminate some of the ambiguities that make the process so difficult for converts as well as alleviating regional courts' perceived need to compete with each other over the rigor of their conversions.

On the other hand, standardization in the Orthodox world usually means capitulation to the right. Those who call themselves Orthodox Jews — and Orthodox rabbis — espouse a wide range of beliefs and practices. The RCA, however, is now claiming the right not only to determine the criteria for conversion but to decide which rabbis are worthy performing conversions. In addition, children who convert are required to attend an Orthodox day school through 12th grade, and the RCA reserves the right to decide which day schools are "serious" enough to qualify. Yuter observes, "as the religious and political dynamics of the RCA/BDA [Bet Din of America] changes, the regional Batei Din [religious courts] will be forced to adapt or lose their authorization." More distressingly, so will the converts.

All in all, I'm troubled. But of course, I have no say in this matter. We'll see what happens.

1 comment:

elf's lil sis said...

1. I think it's important to note the reason why potential converts are not allowed to date. This is because it might lead to their wanting to convert simply in order to marry a Jew. Or worse, if they end up not completing their conversion, it might lead to intermarriage. While sometimes it seems unfair, the logic behind the rule should be acknowledged.

2. I don't like the having to attend Jewish school thing, mostly, because all too many orthodox schools lag in secular education. Once the rabbinate begins such outrageous policies as not allowing parents to choose their children's school, it will become little better than the papacy with its index of banned books. Additionally, the financial burden of sending one's children to private school is immense. Unless the rabbinate is willing to initiate some sort of welfare program or scholarship fund, the idea is really irksome, and I think, will only turn more people off to Orthodox Judaism.