Friday, July 4th, 2008...11:23 pm
“Geirus Furor Renews Assessment of Rabbi Goren’s Psak” Matzav.com
“Rabbi Goren, who had just recently been elected Chief Rabbi, was personally called in for a private meeting by Prime Minister Golda Meir and ordered to come up with the politically correct psak. In an unprecedented procedure, which involved breaking all the procedural regulations of the rabbinate itself, Goren invalidated the Supreme Rabbinical Court’s decision and put together a beis din comprised of anonymous rabbis whose names he refused to reveal (”lest they suffer persecution”) to perform the necessary sleight of hand. Mrs. Langer’s first husband was declared a non-Jew, and her children were declared kosher to marry their fellow Jews.“
The Israeli press has been full of angry editorials from the religious Zionist and secular community denouncing the decision of the Supreme Rabbinical Court to invalidate the Druckman giyurim for a whole range of reasons which are mistaken or irrelevant to the halachic process.
Much of this confusion is based on errors in understanding of the definition of Judaism and Jewry. Some claim that non-Jews who have shown their dedication to Jewry by throwing in their lot with the State and serving in the army should be granted Jewish status — as if army service has anything to do with Judaism or membership in Jewry.
There are groups with (arbitrary) definitions of who is a Jew. Still others rail against the “exclusive” attitude of chareidim in comparison to the “inclusive” attitude of the religious Zionists and the secular, again implying that halacha is endlessly flexible and can be manipulated.
Many intellectuals and even intelligent commentators like Jerusalem Post editorialist Caroline Glick have fallen into this trap, believing that the give and take and negotiating principles that apply to the political world apply equally to halacha.
Arba Kanfos published an editorial which adds a completely new dimension to the furor raging in Israel over the Supreme Rabbinical Court’s decision to invalidate Rabbi Druckman’s giyurim, showing it to be a two-pronged sword.
The dispute over the geirus system which until recently was headed by Rabbi Druckman, is generating calls to remove from the Supreme Rabbinical Court the authority to invalidate the geirus of converts who never undertook to keep Torah and mitzvos. But these calls may have an unintended effect — they may renew the demand to cancel the State’s recognition of Rabbi Shlomo Goren’s psak din to remove the mamzerus state of a brother and sister based on disqualifying the geirus of their mother’s first husband.
This famous affair which caught public attention in the early 1970’s involved Miriam and Chanoch Langer, whose mother had married Bolak Borkovsky, a Polish ger and then left him without getting a get. She then married Yehoshua Langer, and gave birth to a son and daughter. The two were serving in the army and wanted to get married, but the Rabbinate, after extensive research, declared them mamzerim. The dayanim had checked out their mother’s first husband, and concluded that he qualified as a Jew. The fact that Mrs. Langer had not bothered to obtain a religious divorce from him was the cause of the tragedy her children now found themselves in.
The Langer siblings did their army service in Moshe Dayan’s office, and this way he became aware of the formidable dilemma they found themselves in. Golda Meir received them in her office for a personal meeting and promised to solve their problem. Secular groups rode the affair to demand canceling the rabbinate’s monopoly over marriage. A proposal was submitted to the Knesset to permit civil marriage in the country.
The political echelons and media applied heavy pressure on the rabbanim and dayanim to “make halacha more flexible.” Among the issues which were regurgitated in public was whether the geirus of Bolak Borkovsky was valid. The press crisply advocated to check it out. Die hard secularists claimed that if he had never accepted upon himself keeping mitzvos, then his marriage to Mrs. Langer was invalid and the children born to her could marry other Jews.
The file went back and forth from the courts to the rabbinical courts until the Supreme Rabbinical Court in Yerushalayim determined that Borkovsky was a Jew and there was no way to kasher the brother and sister.
Rabbi Goren, who had just recently been elected Chief Rabbi, was personally called in for a private meeting by Prime Minister Golda Meir and ordered to come up with the politically correct psak. In an unprecedented procedure, which involved breaking all the procedural regulations of the rabbinate itself, Goren invalidated the Supreme Rabbinical Court’s decision and put together a beis din comprised of anonymous rabbis whose names he refused to reveal (”lest they suffer persecution”) to perform the necessary sleight of hand. Mrs. Langer’s first husband was declared a non-Jew, and her children were declared kosher to marry their fellow Jews.
Rabbi Goren’s decision made the headlines in all the newspapers, and leftist parties praised his psak and expressed their hope that the Rabbinate would continue to provide solutions suitable for an “enlightened and progressive society.” The very day that Rabbi Goren stated his psak, the Army Chief Rabbi arranged their weddings and the two couples received a congratulation telegram from Golda Meir herself.
Gedolei Yisroel including Rav Elyashiv and Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach did not mince words about Rabbi Goren’s psak. They called it a “fearful chillul Hashem which made a mockery of the halacha process.” Protest demonstrations were held in Yerushalayim and Bnei Brak, and many booklets were published attacking the psak, its false halachic premises and the political pressure which had produced it.
After Rabbi Goren publicized the rationale behind his psak, it became clear that he relied primarily on various testimonies which claimed that Borkovsky did not lead a Jewish way of life and didn’t know how to keep even basic mitzvos. It was claimed that Borkovsky didn’t even know how to say Shema Yisroel or Lecho Dodi, he raised his child as a Christian, ate treifos, and didn’t know how to daven.
Rabbi Goren claimed further that even if Borkovsky had sincerely converted, we can rely on the halachic view that a convert who backslides and stops keeping mitzvos, his conversion becomes invalid.
Ironically, Rabbi Goren’s view put a halachic landmine in the way of mass assembly giyur. If not keeping mitzvos is a reason to cancel a giyur which was even valid at the time it was done, as Rabbi Goren claimed in the Langer affair, then a large question mark hangs over all the mass assembly giyurim where it is obvious to all that the “ger” has no intention of adopting a Jewish lifestyle.
During Goren’s time, there wasn’t sufficient awareness that this was a ticking time bomb, because the number of conversions carried out were relatively small. In the wake of large numbers of non-Jews arriving from Russia, this dilemma became an acute problem.
Paradoxically, those heading the State giyur administration share Rabbi Goren’s religious Zionist philosophy, but today they claim the exact opposite of the reasons he utilized to kasher the mamzerim.
Rabbi Goren claimed that one can dig into the personal life of a ger and if it appears that his intentions to convert were not sincere, he never intended to keep mitzvos and he was just fooling the beis din, one can and one should cancel his conversion.
Today, Rabbi Goren’s colleagues and heirs claim the opposite: that the Supreme Rabbinical Court should ignore the secular lifestyle of the ger and suffice with the fact that he successfully passed a course on Judaism and answered enough questions correctly, even if testimony exists that he never intended to keep a Jewish lifestyle.
Today, it is obvious that if the lifestyles of the thousands who passed through Rabbi Druckman’s giyur ulpanim were checked, the vast majority would have their geirus status revoked. The potential for family tragedy is, tragically, immense.
Those seeking “lenient” rulings like Druckman claim that canceling the phony geirus will cause severe social problems and therefore should not be done, notwithstanding the serious halachic issues involved.
. “If those who maintain this view today, would have been around during the Langer affair, they would have had to fight Rabbi Goren’s psak and firmly side with the chareidim who today they mudsling as “lacking social sensitivity”… One cannot hold the string at both ends. And if they decide that their obsequious attitude which they proclaim in the Knesset and the ivory towers of the secular courts is correct, then let us organize and not hesitate to demand canceling the Langers’ kosher status.”
What this shows is that the brilliant “solution” of yesterday becomes the difficult halacha “problem” of today. This conduct causes a great chillul Hashem, showing as it does that Halacha is a play dough which can be shaped and manipulated however one wants to produce the desired solution.
One can understand why the likes of Golda Meir and Ehud Olmert are anxious to find instant solutions for the halacha problems that occur on their watch — they want quiet and grateful votes for their parties.
What’s harder to understand are those so-called religious representatives who are working devotedly to supply flawed instant solutions for these needs.
State Service Report on the Giyur Administration
When the State Service Commissioner notified Rabbi Druckman that he had to resign from his position running the Giyur Ulpanim, religious Zionists claimed it was due to chareidi pressure.
However, rabbonim and dayanim have been complaining for years about Rabbi Druckman’s wholesale conversion ulpans and its many problems. The claims and accusations brought up against him numerous times left his bosses in the government in an uneasy situation. Finally, they decided to handle the situation diplomatically by retiring Rabbi Druckman because of his age.
In fact, Rabbi Druckman got off easy, since there was just a step between him and a criminal investigation. The authorities had on record numerous cases where he had converted individuals abroad despite lacking authority, or had signed conversion documents without even participating in the team of dayanim overseeing the case. And this is without even looking at the particulars of the “ger” and whether he was even interested in keeping a Jewish lifestyle.
Despite all these flaws, the state’s Attorney General, Menachem Mazuz decided not to open a criminal investigation against Druckman.
The Letter to Mazuz About Druckman’s Sloppy Work
Attorney Shimon Yaakovi, the legal counsel for the Rabbinical Justice System, protested Mazuz’s ignoring of the serious issues at stake. He sent him a sharp letter detailing the suspicions leveled at Druckman for sloppy work. The file was sent to the Rishon LeZion, Rav Shlomo Amar, the State Prosecutor Eren Shendar, and other entities in the State Prosecution.
State authorities say that Druckman’s retirement is not connected to the psak of the Ashdod Court or the Supreme Rabbinical Court which took place several weeks before, but is instead connected to the sharp critique issued by the State Service Commissioner against Druckman’s work.
Rav Moshe Klein, the deputy general director of the Giyur Administration, in an interview with Arutz-7 accused entities in the religious Zionist community for Druckman’s forced retirement. He explained that on one hand, they claim that Rabbi Druckman forged documents and signatures, on the other, they claim he attacked the court that invalidated the giyurim, and on yet another, they hug Rabbi Druckman and say he is one of theirs.
“The chareidi rabbis were not involved in his forced retirement,” Rabbi Nochum Eisenstein, the chairman of the World Rabbinical Committee for Giyur Affairs. “No one in the State Service Commission consulted with us and we didn’t turn to them. What happened was the result of intervention by various entities within the religious Zionism for personal and political reasons. Of course, it’s more comfortable for them to blame the chareidi community for the results.
“In fact, the chareidi community has nothing to do with the beis din for giyurim. We oppose these mass assembly conversions which are done to solve the demographic problem which has exploded in the State’s face after they chose to bring hundreds of thousands of goyim from all over the world…”
Liberal religious Zionists have taken advantage of Rabbi Druckman’s forced retirement to further chisel down requirements for geirus in the country. MKs Michael Melchior and David Rotem have proposed an amendment to the Giyur Order allowing every city and religious council rabbi to convert and marry non-Jews both from Israel and from abroad. Every potential convert can choose any rabbi he desires to convert him.
Rav Eisenstein explains, “This proposal is even worse than the way the Giyur Administration was run. “Today, at least you have official supervision over what’s going on in the administration. But the moment it becomes the responsibility of city rabbis, the situation will be without control.
“In the 90’s, the city rabbis were in charge of giyur. We asked to remove it from them because most of them didn’t have the proper skills to deal with geirus and weren’t happy to have to do it. Even worse, there were a few rabbis who wanted to make some money by taking bribes from potential gerim.
“We believe that the best solution is to transfer the jurisdiction for geirus only to regional, permanent batei din. However, these will not supply the goods and allow mass assembly conversions which go against the spirit of halacha.”
City Rabbis Oppose Druckman’s Giyurim
The Chief Rabbinate’s general attorney Shimon Ullman, mentioned in a discussion held in the Knesset about solutions for giyur, that 54 city rabbanim have refused to recognize the geirus certificates issued by Rabbi Druckman and Rabbi Avior. Attorney Ullman deplored their rejections, saying that state employees have to accept State institutions’ assertions without exception.
However, Rav Simcha Kook, rov of Rechovot and a member of the Chief Rabbinical Council, said that one cannot negate the independence of the marriage registrars, nor forbid them to carefully investigate the truthfulness of a geirus. He revealed that he possessed a list of 167 “gerim” whose geirus was rechecked and declared invalid because of leading a lifestyle devoid of mitzvos.
The List of Phony Geirim
The list was made by no less than Rabbi Yisroel Rosen, a religious Zionist who was one of the dayanim who served on Rabbi Druckman’s batei din l’giyur. Rav Rosen prepared the list in the last year he served in the Giyur Administration. He said that the list includes those cases where Rabbi Druckman signed on conversion certificates even though he was not present in the beis din discussions. Rabbi Rosen said that he had pointed this out to Rabbi Druckman, and the latter had not denied it.
A spokesman of the Giyur Administration, Aryeh Greenblatt, said that Rabbi Druckman was chosen to set it up because of his extensive experience despite his advanced age of 70. It was not intended for him to run the administration for the coming years.
Greenblatt added, “One must add to this the difficult findings in the State Service Commission Comptroller’s report that checked the functioning of the batei din l’giyur from July to December 2007 and found deficiencies in the legal procedures. Like every other employee who doesn’t carry out his job properly, it was decided not to allow his continued employment. It is likely that the government’s decision in February to replace Druckman originated in this document.”
State Service Commissioner Shmuel Hollander decided to check the batei din l’giyur after numerous complaints had accumulated. The report which resulted from the investigation points out failures in nearly every aspect of their running.
Among the failures was the constant tension existing between the head and his deputy, and the directors of the beis din l’giyur and the Chief Rabbis. Employees, all of whom demanded anonymity, said that Rav Amar’s directives were not carried out because Rav Amar doesn’t recognize these batei din l’giyur, and even wanted to fire its heads. “Under these circumstances, it’s no surprise that the administrative failures ripened into bitter fruits in all its units. Corrupt management, terrible organization structure, unclear role definitions and mutual recriminations took the place of efficiency and prevented expanding the giyur authority,” the report says.
Incidentally, the report states explicitly that the Giyur Administration was set up specifically to increase the number of giyurim, a clear contravention of halacha. The number of gerim did increase after the Giyur Administration was set up, but the report still complains, “The Giyur administration didn’t achieve the national goal set up for it, to expand the scope of giyurim.”
The report also mentions a poll carried out in 2003 which states that 80% of all olim from the former Soviet Union were not interested in converting, while 20% were interested because they believed it would help them integrate better in Israel.
The State Service Comptroller also mentions that a considerable number of wrangles in the Giyur Administration involved conversions of non-Jews who wanted to convert for economic benefits or to gain citizenship.