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A Modest Proposal

What began as a routine divorce between a Danish-born convert and her Israeli husband now threatens to tear apart the country, opening deep wounds and revealing the ugly face of the haredi judges who rule Israel’s Rabbinical Court system.

This all began during an uncontested divorce in Ashdod. Rabbi Avraham Attia, a member of the Ashdod Rabbinical Court, asked the woman a question or two about her religious observance (which was none of his business, by the way). Apparently, he didn’t like her answer, or maybe he didn’t like the way she was dressed. In any case, on February 22, 2007 – ignoring the reason she had come to court in the first place – he ruled that her conversion was invalid! Since she was not Jewish, she was not really married to her husband and therefore did not need a divorce.

By overturning this woman’s conversion, which had taken place in the special conversion court set up in 1995 to help convert many Russian soldiers and other immigrants who wanted to be Jewish, but found the Rabbinical Courts unwelcoming, Attia, and his haredi counterparts, were calling into question the validity of thousands of conversions that have taken place there, and insulting its head, Rabbi Haim Druckman, the spiritual leader of religious Zionism in Israel.

On April 22, 2007, the couple appealed the lower court decision to the Higher Rabbinical Court, arguing that the Ashdod court had exceeded its authority and violated religious law, disqualifying Druckman’s court without giving him a chance to defend himself.

The Higher Court ignored these issues. Instead, it chose to deal only with the question of whether the woman was observant.

Granting the divorce, the court also ruled that the Jewishness of the woman and her children was in doubt and needed to be re-examined, and that in the meantime the family should be added to the list of people who are forbidden to marry. Outrageously, they ruled that all Druckman’s conversion decisions since 1999 should be canceled, and that marriage registrars not register a convert who does not look observant from his or her external appearance.

This unbelievable decision was not only a slap in the face to religious Zionism, but openly violated the severe Torah prohibition of oppressing the convert and causing them pain, i.e., Shemot 23:9 – “Do not oppress a convert; you know the feelings of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Ruth (not her real name) is on my mailing list. She is a convert. This decision has broken her heart. She writes: “At what point will my children and I no longer have to worry that someone will unilaterally and arbitrarily remove the cloak of Torah and Jewish identity out of our self-definition? How many years – 30, 50, 100 – never? Does this mean that if I ever speak a drop of lashon hara, or some of my hair peeks out from under my tichel, or my elbows become uncovered, or I wear my sandals without socks – that I must reckon with someone’s claims that this is sufficient evidence to disclaim my Jewish soul? If the Rabbis today reject numerous sincere converts and needlessly oppress them, causing them untold pain, is this not a much more terrible sin than a convert who may not keep all her hair covered? We do not care to be involved in internal conflicts and back biting. We call upon all G-d fearing Jews to speak with one voice in our defense. We ask all Jews to not become embroiled and ensnared in this evil which will split the Jewish nation if not reined in now. We ask that you stand up for us and call our leaders to account.”

Susan Weiss, an attorney for the Center for Justice for Women, who represents the Danish convert, has taken this case to Israel’s Supreme Court. Her petition is aimed at Avraham Attia, Dayanim Avraham Sherman, Hagai Eiserer and Avraham Scheinfeld of the Higher Rabbinical Court. According to Weiss, the case highlights many of the faults of the rabbinical courts. “They have no concept of due process or fairness, and they display no sensitivity to those who come before them,” she told Dan Izenburg of the Jerusalem Post.

I have a modest proposal. Since all the dayanim involved here have openly violated an oft-stated Torah prohibition against “oppressing the convert,” and have spoken slanderously against a fellow rabbi (another strict prohibition), they can hardly be called G-d fearing or religious. In light of their behavior, I think we should retroactively invalidate their rabbinical ordination, and nullify all the decisions in which they’ve been involved. They should certainly be thrown out of their posts as judges.

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