While the government considers it a national task, the state of conversion in Israel continues to deteriorate. Official data indicate a 12% drop in the number of conversions to Judaism in Israel in 2009. Just 986 out of 300,000 people with no religious affiliation have converted to Judaism in the last year. The drop in the Israeli Defense Forces stands at 4% compared with 2008. The reason for this drop is because of the feeling shared by many potential converts who fear that the Haredi rabbis in Israel may invalidate their conversions for whatever the reason they conjure. Therefore, the state itself – no longer considers them or their descendants to be Jewish.
What are the practical implications of such a scenario unfolding? All denominations of Judaism–from the Reform to the Modern Orthodox–suffer from the Haredi approach Halacha that violates both the letter and the spirit of the Shulchan Aruch. In an earlier blog, I have already demonstrated why revocations of conversion has never existed until fairly recent times. In a country where all personal status issues – from birth through marriage, divorce, and death – are all controlled by Haredi rabbis, this means children who suddenly will not be able marry, spouses can’t be buried next to one another. Unfortunately, this type of policy making establishes a cast system where converts have a second class status. We have not seen this type of marginalization of an entire group of people since the Spanish Inquisition period, where the Marranos were singled out for stigmatization by their fellow Jews.
Why is there so much distrust toward the “Jew by Choice” in the ultra-Orthodox world?
I often wonder whether Haredi or Hassidic Orthodoxy suffers from a psychological illness that I call, “The Groucho Marx Syndrome.” The story goes that once Groucho Marx wanted to join a certain country club. Much to his surprise, they refused to give him membership. You see, the club had a policy: No Jews allowed. In one of the more spirited exchanges, Marx wrote:
‘I have received your reply, and I think I understand. It seems that I cannot join your country club because I am Jewish. Now, my wife is not Jewish, so I expect that she could join. Where I am confused is about my son, whom I guess you would consider half-Jewish. Does this mean that he could join, but only go swimming up to his waist?’
Several years later, when Groucho Marx resigned from Hollywood’s Friar Club with the following quip: “Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.” Continue reading “Religious Contortionism, Conversion, and the “Groucho Marx Syndrome””