First, I must thank Ilana-Davita for honoring me by posting an essay by me on her blog, as part of her Mesorah project.
Shimshonit writes (here) about the recent decision in British civil court, ordering an Orthodox day school to admit children with non-Orthodox conversions. The British said that the discriminatory admissions policy was racial (as opposed to religious) and therefore invalid.
There, I respond:
I felt that the judge’s opinion was totally erroneous – the admissions policy is clearly based on religion and not race, for the child could get an Orthodox conversion and be immediately granted admission – but nevertheless, I could not help but secretly support the court’s ruling.
If non-Orthodox converted children will be admitted, perhaps then more lenient conversions standards will be necessitated. The Sephardim and German Neo-Orthodox tended to be extremely lenient on conversion, and I wish that the whole Orthodox world would follow them on this. (Rabbi Benzion Uziel advocated an almost universal policy of converting non-observant non-Jewish spouses of Jews, while Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits advocated Orthodox rabbis performing an Orthodox conversion for all non-Orthodox converts, with the aim of ensuring Jewish solidarity.)
Additionally: if the parents desire to send their child to an Orthodox school, then it shows they have some consideration for the Orthodox understanding of Judaism. We should celebrate this and encourage them to send their child to the Orthodox school! Rabbi David Zvi Hoffman, regarding all non-Orthodox non-Jewish spouses of Jews, who come to the Orthodox beit din asking for conversion, said that even if the non-Jewish spouse is not observant and doesn’t plan on ever be, his/her very coming to the Orthodox for conversion shows some limited amount of desire to have approval from and solidarity with the Orthodox. Similarly, Rabbi Marc Angel says that if the Orthodox would be as lenient as possible in conversion standards, and actively court all the non-Orthodox converts, then Orthodoxy would be more prominent in the public sphere, and would be considered a more worthy and influential contender, not closed behind its own ghetto walls.
In all this, a more Sephardi understanding of Judaism is evinced, in which the non-observant populace can live Jewish lives under Orthodox auspices, with the Orthodox authorities trying to satisfy the needs of the non-Orthodox with every bit of compassion and leniency they can muster. Traditionally, a Jewish community encompassed many elements – observant and not – and the rabbinic establishment had to accomodate everyone, and satisfy everyone’s needs and desires. It is only in recent times, with the dislocations of Jewish communities and the rise of “voluntary communities”, that rabbis started considering only their own personal constituencies, leading to humra and intolerance.
See my Importing Reformism into Israel.
But I’m wary of supporting this intrusion into internal Jewish affairs, by the non-Jewish authorities, even if perhaps good will come of it. The halakhot of mesirah come to mind, as does the result of inviting Rome into Judea to arbitrate between two Hasmonean princes.
So I would never actively encourage the British court to do what it did, but perhaps, after the fact, it is not so lamentable. I don’t know.
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