Monday, July 18, 2011
Conversion goes back to 2006
Shalom uvrakha to all members and supporters of the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals. During the past several weeks, I have had many meetings during our stay here in Jerusalem. I've met with current and future authors of articles for our journal, Conversations, and our website jewishideas.org. I gave a lecture at the Pardes Institute, and will be speaking this Shabbat at one of the local synagogues. Our Institute works with like-minded groups in Israel, and I'm pleased to be able to report some important developments.
Legislation was passed last week, through the efforts of Mavoi Satum and other activists, that now requires rabbinic courts to impose sanctions on recalcitrant husbands within 30 days (or at most 45 days) from the time the court has determined that a divorce (get) is to be given. In the past, the rabbinic courts have been lax in imposing such sanctions, and cases could drag on for months and even years. The new legislation will lead to the freeing of "Agunot" and enabling them to obtain their divorces in a timely manner. Otherwise, recalcitrant husbands will be subject to serious sanctions.
While this does not "solve" the Agunah problem, it is considered to be a big step forward. Mavoi Satum continues to lobby for stronger legislation, and our Institute continues to work together with Mavoi Saturm. Our Institute is co-sponsoring, with Mavoi Satum, the publication of a book that will include essays on the Agunah issue and rabbinic law in general, and that will include specific viable halakhic options to solve the Agunah problem to the extent possible. We thank Batya Kahana Dror, the executive of Mavoi Satum, for her outstanding work.
The Institute continues its cooperative efforts with the Center for Women's Justice, led by Susan Weiss. The Center represents women, whose marriages have broken up, and whose husbands refuse to give a "get". The Center brings cases to the civil courts in Israel, suing for damages that the recalcitrant husbands have caused their wives by withholding the get. Susan Weiss has won landmark cases in this area, and this process has directly impacted on freeing women from the status of Agunot, since it is preferable for most husbands to give the get rather than to be sued in court and be forced to pay huge settlements for damages. Our Institute is working together with the Center for Women's Justice to publish materials relevant to the Agunah issue, and related issues.
Through the efforts of Rabbi Shaul Farber of the Itim organization, an agreement was reached whereby those individuals who convert to Judaism in the diaspora under the auspices of Orthodox rabbis, will have their conversions validated by the Jewish Agency rather than the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. In recent years, the Chief Rabbinate has routinely refused to accept the validity of Orthodox conversions, unless the conversions were performed by their narrow list of "approved" rabbinic courts in the diaspora. Under the new agreement, conversions performed by recognized Orthodox rabbis will be approved by the Jewish Agency for the purposes of the Law of Return.
This landmark agreement essentially re-instates the policies which had been in place until the current Chief Rabbis changed the rules in 2006. Orthodox rabbis will again have their conversions validated in Israel, whether or not these rabbis are part of the RCA conversion system.
Our Institute has worked closely with Rabbi Farber over the years, and we have been outspoken advocates of policies that will encourage halakhic conversion to Judaism, and that will demonstrate fairness and compassion to those who have undergone halakhic conversion.
Our Institute has been involved in helping the Sephardic/Middle Eastern Jewish community to foster their ideas and ideals, and to bring Sephardic ideas and traditions to the attention of all Jews. We have worked closely with Memizrach Shemesh to produce publications that foster Sephardic traditions, and that empower these communities in areas of education and social justice projects. We are hoping to partner with Memizrach Shemesh in a rabbinic training program in Israel that will provide rabbis with the broad, compassionate and inclusive worldview that has characterized the great rabbinic figures of the past generations.
We have also been working with Rabbi Haim Amsellem, a remarkable voice within the Israeli religious/political s