NEW YORK (Feb. 19)
A leading Israeli Orthodox rabbi made clear his view that Halacha (Jewish law) must take precedence over intra-Jewish politics in issues of personal status, such as divorce and conversion.
Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, who heads a yeshiva in the Etzion block of settlements south of Hebron, said, in a statement made available to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, that it was necessary for him to clarify remarks he made before a National Religious Party forum in Jerusalem last month which “were grossly distorted in certain press reports.”
His remarks were interpreted in some quarters as a hint that Orthodox refusal to regard as valid the authority of non-Orthodox rabbis on documents of personal status may have to be modified in the interests of Jewish unity.
With respect to the area of personal status, Lichtenstein said in his statement: “We should strive to minimize the emphasis upon symbolic questions of pride and prestige and focus, instead, upon the substantive halachic issues. We should try to ensure that proper procedure be followed by halachically qualified personnel, and be less concerned with who gains some recognition by superintending or signing what.”
‘PART OF COMPASSIONATE ENTERPRISE’
He said “this would entail our asking others to direct their adherents to obtain a kosher ‘get’ (religious divorce) wherever necessary — this not by way of compromising their principles but simply as part of a compassionate enterprise…”
In the matter of “the composition of the Beth Din (rabbinical court) actually engaged in the specific formal steps” of conversion, “we should entertain an arrangement which would guarantee that the composition and procedures to be applied by the actual Beth Din meet our standards, although it might act under the aegis of a sanctioning Reform or Conservative authority,” Lichtenstein said.
“This would admittedly grant that authority an inevitable modicum of implicit recognition, but given the gravity of the issue, I believe we can live with that, inasmuch as we need not actually accord formal recognition but could simply skirt the issue.”
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported from Jerusalem on January 26 that Lichtenstein suggested that Orthodox conversion courts might have their decisions formally approved by a Conservative institution as a way to break the impasse.
JUST SUCH A CASE
Israel is presently embroiled in the issue of non-Orthodox conversion in the case of Shoshana Miller, an immigrant from the United States who was converted to Judaism by a Reform rabbi in the U.S. The Israeli Supreme Court recently ordered the Interior Ministry to issue her an identification card as a Jew, without qualification. Interior Minister Rabbi Yitzhak Peretz of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party resigned from the Cabinet rather than comply.
Lichtenstein emphasized in his statement that the non-Orthodox institutions acting in conversion cases would have to demonstrate the standards and “minimal scope and depth of commitment” as defined by “the leading ‘poskim’ (rabbinical interpreters of halacha) of the age.”
He admitted that, “This approach may very well be nothing more than a pipedream. Perhaps no Reform or Conservative leader will even entertain it. But do we have the moral and halachic right to abstain from its exploration? We should explore it not for the sake of Israeli law or politics … but for the sake of ‘Klal Yisrael’ (Jewish unity).”
“The card of recognition,” he said, “is far too precious to be given up in order to cope with a trickle of Susan Millers.”
Orthodox rabbis in Israel refuse to acknowledge the convert’s Hebraization of her given name.