Women vs. Canceled Conversions
"We knew all along that the rabbinic judges could not see beyond the noses on their faces out of fear for the 'purity of the Jewish nation.' Too bad everyone else figured this out only after the Rabbinic Courts stepped on Rav Druckman's toes." Rivkah Lubitch explains how women have joined forces in the battle over conversion.
Rivkah Lubitch 06-11-08
Last week, the Center for Women's Justice filed a petition with the High Court of Justice that challenged the cancellation of conversions by the Supreme Rabbinic Court. In the meantime, Judge Edmond Levi issued an interim order preventing the Rabbinic Court from putting the appellants on the black list of the "unmarriageable." Why is an organization like the Center for Women's Justice, which works on behalf of agunot using its efforts to prevent the repeal of conversions of a woman and her children?
First, there’s the obvious connection between women and conversion. Most converts are women. It's not by chance. According to halakha, Jewish identity is determined maternally. Meaning, if a Jewish woman marries a non-Jewish man, her children are considered full-fledged Jews. However, if a Jewish man marries a non-Jewish woman, halakha considers his children to be non-Jews and they will not be allowed to marry in a Jewish ceremony. The couple takes this distinction to heart. Families put a lot more pressure on women to convert than they do on men. It is, therefore, crucial that organizations defending women's rights in the household take note of this.
Second, we cannot separate between the issues of conversions and those of personal status. Conversions usually (although not always) take place within the context of marriage or divorce. The attempt to cancel conversions and to reject converts happens when a convert comes in contact with the Rabbinic Court while registering for marriage or filing for divorce. To the extent that rabbinic rulings regarding converts have economic consequences, it's usually women who are affected and whose interests are harmed. It is certainly the duty of all the organizations that work on behalf of women's rights to look into this matter.
The third and main reason for our getting involved in the matters of conversion is that we realize and understand the similarities between the ways that the religious courts handle matters of conversions and the ways that they handle divorces. And why shouldn't there be similarities? It’s the same judges. Canceling conversions is "surprisingly" similar to nullifying gittin. The lack of humanity demonstrated by a court that can repeal a 15- year-old conversion is similar to that demonstrated by a court that annuls gittin and turns children into mamzerim (illegitimate). The intolerable ease with which the court is willing to destroy the worlds of both adults and children runs as the common denominator to these different halakhic rulings. The way that the Rabbinic Court conducts their fight with the Religious Zionist Movement at the expense of a poor convert is similar to the way that they conduct their fight with the civil courts at the expense of agunot. The same way that the Beit Din assumes jurisdictions that it not theirs over matters of conversion, is the same way that they assume jurisdiction over other matters.
We, at the women's organizations, are not surprised by anything. We know that there are rabbinic judges who are worried about the "purity of the Jewish nation;" who are not forward thinking in the least; who do not show signs of care for the collective and certainly not for those standing right before them; and who are always nervously peering over their shoulder.
We knew all this the whole time. Too bad others woke up only after severe harm was done to Rav Druckman's good name, and to the name of the Religious Zionist Movement and to that of the special conversion courts. It’s too bad that others figured this out only when the threat hit home. Good Morning, Israel.
Rivkah Lubitch is head of the Center for Women's Justice Haifa office. She is a rabbinical pleader with six years experience and has an MA in the history of the Jewish people.