Saturday, November 18, 2006

Them that hath the gold make the rules.

Entry for Thursday, 14 July, 2005

I haven't actually read today's paper yet today, and seeing as it's nearly 4:30pm EST, it's not likely that I'll get to it until late tonight, if at all.

So, I thought I would talk about orthodox conversion.

There are several sects of Judaism, most of which don't like each other and claim the others are not legitimate. They are: Chasidim or Lubavitcher (ultra-orthodox), Modern orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Karaite, and Messianic. The whole issue of "who is Jewish" is a knock-down drag-out political and religious fight that outsiders are hardly aware of, much less understand.

In the orthodox view, you are only Jewish if your mother (maternal lineage) was Jewish, period.

Everybody else has more lenient views on the subject, accepting various combinations of other qualifications, such as paternal lineage, grandparents, documented remote ancestors, or persons who have been converted by sects of Judaism other than orthodox.

Orthodox Judaism accepts none of these. So while you may be able to show evidence to a Reform or Reconstructionist rabbi that they will accept, the orthodox require everyone who is not an immediate descendant of an officially documented Jewish mother to "convert" to receive orthodox documentation. Or you can be "converted" by another certified orthodox Rabbi outside their community, and they will accept that. Everybody else can forget it. You either "convert" by their rules or they don't consider you Jewish.

Now, you might think - so what? Well, without "proper" orthodox documentation you cannot be accepted in many programs and communities - in other words, if you were a gentile your conversion may or may not be accepted, and if your mother was not a practicing Jew and/or practiced another religion, your status may or may not be accepted. It is also at this time impossible for you to become a citizen of Israel, and you cannot aliyah - "go up," that is, move to the state of Israel permanently.

Americans can hold dual citizenship, in case you didn't know. It is beneficial for Jews to also hold Israeli citizenship for several reasons: ease of travel, ability to vote in elections, ability to participate the national health care system, preference for you and your kids to Israeli universities and colleges, and so on. Basically the same good stuff being an American citizen gets you here in America.

Not too many people are interested in making aliyah right now, for obvious reasons. But I for one would like the opportunity to visit without being hassled and be able to enroll at Hebrew university for at least a semester of graduate school to study linguistics. So when my formerly christian husband decided to convert, we decided he needed a legal conversion - that is, an orthodox conversion. This way there would be no question about his conversion.

This is not as easy as it sounds. First of all, an orthodox conversion requires you to commit to following Halakah - the Rabbinic interpretation of the correct ways to observe the commandments of the Torah. Now, let me tell you as members of the local reform congregation that the vast majority of Jews do not observe Torah correctly by orthodox standards. In reform congregations, especially, they do not accept the validity of the Rabbinic interpretations and do not teach anyone how to do them. Following halacha means you have to spend lots and lots of $money$ to buy their products and do things their way. The orthodox book no competition.
More on this later, but you get the idea. Who is a Jew is a very convoluted issue, class. And at least at the moment, the orthodox get to decide who is a Jew, and they don't care how that affects other people. Their goal is to keep their own communities in poverty so they can't challenge the rabbinic leadership, while at the same time luring in baal teshuvai (those wishing to repent of their secular ways and become religious) and converts to bring in fresh cash flow.

Sounds wrong, somehow, you say? Go with your first impression.

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