In what the Jewish Week calls, "an unusually bold move," the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) has…
… come out strongly against the ruling issued by three Rabbinic High Court judges revoking all conversions issued by Conversion Authority head Rabbi Chaim Druckman from 1999 onward.
The the RCA labeled the judges ruling:
- A violation of "numerous Torah laws"
- "Entirely beyond the pale of acceptable halachic practice"
- Constitutes a "massive desecration of God's name."
The RCA should be upset. What happened to Rabbi Druckman's conversions is most likely what will happen to the RCA's conversions in the not too distant future.
Marc B. Shapiro, perhaps the leading scholar of Orthodox Judaism in the modern era, has an opinion piece in the Jewish Week dealing with this latest twist in the conversion saga.
He calls the RCA signing a conversion agreement with the Israeli Chief Rabbinate "shortsighted":
…[H]aredi leadership rejects the entire notion that there can be Modern Orthodox and Religious Zionist halachic authorities and dayanim, and indeed has attempted to keep non-haredim off the religious courts.
Accepting the legitimacy of a Modern Orthodox or Religious Zionist posek (decisor) is in their eyes an oxymoron. This explains how the haredi Supreme Rabbinic Court could call into question so many conversions without even meeting with the individuals concerned and investigating the people whose lives they have just damaged.…
We have finally reached the point in Israel, and to a lesser extent in the United States, where the non-haredi rabbinate must make a choice. Until recently the haredi world shunned the official Israeli rabbinate, but now the haredi leadership sees it as their obligation to take it over. The haredi community survives due to Israeli government subsidies, but this community has no connection to the average citizen and its members do not serve in the army. How can dayanim rule for a population when the judges inhabit a completely different world, not merely oblivious to general Israeli society, but opposed to the national values found there?
At present, the haredi leadership is attempting to entirely uproot any vestige of a Religious Zionist stamp on official religious life in Israel.
The Chief Rabbinate’s new stringent approach on conversion has the effect of uprooting the rulings of previous chief rabbis, in particular Rabbis Benzion Uziel, Isser Yehuda Unterman and Shlomo Goren. It is incredible that the RCA has agreed to a situation in which conversions carried out using the standards of previous chief rabbis are now to be regarded as invalid.…
Yet isn’t it time to ask why the Modern Orthodox/Religious Zionist world doesn’t model itself on the haredi world in at least one area? The haredi world follows its own authorities without regard for the non-haredi rabbinate. Isn’t it time for the Modern Orthodox/Religious Zionist world to do the same?
This would mean a complete break with the haredi halachic authorities and the establishment of religious courts that share at least some of the values and worldview of the community in which they serve. (I was struck by how, in his lengthy ruling attacking Rabbi Druckman’s conversions, the haredi dayan relies on the halachic decisions of a well-known posek who serves the anti-Zionist Edah Haredit. In other words, the writings of one who believes that the creation of the State of Israel was a terrible sin — and who clearly has no sympathy with the goal of helping ease the conversion of sincere non-Jewish immigrants — is helping guide the decisions of a dayan who works for the Israeli government and is supposed to have the best interests of the State at heart.)
I am sure some readers will protest that it goes against Orthodox unity to advocate this approach. Yet with such a step the Modern Orthodox/Religious Zionist world would only be acknowledging the situation that the haredim have created, and are now pursuing with a vengeance.
…One would that think that the Modern Orthodox/Religious Zionists would take the hint and realize that the time has come to go their own way.
The problem, I believe, is that two key RCA leaders, Rabbis Hershel Schachter and Mordechai Willig, lack the vision, leadership and, in truth, the baitzim, to lead Modern Orthodoxy. (Rabbi Schachter, I think, has always viewed himself as a Brisker working in a Modern Orthodox yeshiva rather than a Modern Orthodox rabbi with a Brisker background.)
These two YU rosh yeshivas have presided over what I think history will call the destruction of Modern Orthodoxy.
As RCA members do some soul searching, they would do well to dwell on the roles these two men have played in taking Modern Orthodoxy from its enlightened, humane roots and converting it to a fawning hanger-on to haredism.
This is our Beit Hillel v. Beit Shammai moment, the tipping point, if you will in post-1948 Jewish history.
RCA membership still has a brief window of opportunity to act.
All we can ask is that it does.