A judge of the High Rabbinical Court, Rabbi Avraham Sherman, says that new immigrants who want to be accepted as Jews according to halakha are "in the vast majority gentiles who want to convert out of self-interest, and the Orthodox rabbis who want to convert them are suffering from a "false and distorted perspective, a lack of understanding of halakha."
Sherman created a crisis over the issue when he wrote a ruling in April 2008 invalidating thousands of conversions approved by the state's special conversion courts.
Sherman's opinions were the dominant subject at the Eternal Jewish Family International conference that ended Wednesday in Jerusalem. It was the EJF's second Jerusalem Conference on Universal Conversion Standards in Intermarriage. Most of the participants were ultra-Orthodox communal rabbis from around the world, many of whom work in outreach programs.
For three days the state's conversion programs were attacked by rabbis, including civil servants here - religious court judges (dayanim) and chief municipal rabbis - and by the visiting participants.
Sherman spoke at the conference at length on the ultra-Orthodox view on hundreds of thousands of Israelis who are not considered Jewish according to halakha. He believes they should not be converted, and certainly not in the special conversion courts set up under the auspices of the Prime Minister's Office, headed by Rabbi Haim Druckman.
"There is no logic to telling tens of thousands of goyim [non-Jews] who grew up on heresy, hate of religion, liberalism, communism, socialism, that suddenly they can undergo a revolution deep in their souls. There is no such reality," said Sherman. His ruling, he said, was based on the writings of the greatest of ultra-Orthodox rabbis, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv. "A large percentage [of the converts] did not intend on accepting the mitzvot when they accepted conversion," he said in his address to the conference.
Rabbi Yosef Sheinin, the chief rabbi of Ashdod, told the conference on Tuesday about immigrants from the former Soviet Union: "When they want to marry, they will do everything possibly to deceive. They are to be assumed to be cheaters."
The conference also dealt with fighting Jewish assimilation, but the crisis sparked by Sherman's annulling the conversions of Rabbi Druckman's conversion courts took a central role. Druckman is a leading religious-Zionist rabbi.
The High Court of Justice recently ordered the High Rabbinical Court to justify its decision on the conversions. In another decision last month, the High Court also ordered the state to pay for Reform and Conservative conversion programs, which infuriated the ultra-Orthodox. As a result, the ultra-Orthodox factions in the Knesset said they would take action to transfer the conversion programs from the Prime Minister's Office to the Chief Rabbinate.
One of the most important participants was one who did not show up: Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar received an invitation to attend the conference, but it was clear to the organizers he would boycott the event this time, as he would be the target, whether implied or out in the open, of much criticism. All the main speakers came out strongly against the official government stance on conversions, and a few even personally attacked the most respected halakhic authority supporting the conversion programs, Rabbi Amar.
Who did appear was Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, who showered compliments on his hosts in general and on Rabbi Sherman in particular. He called Sherman a "man of truth, God-fearing," and expressed his support for Sherman and his views. However, Metzger's office denied yesterday that his praise related to the ruling invalidating the conversions by Rabbi Druckman's courts.
Religious-Zionist circles demanded Metzger's resignation yesterday in response to his statements, including MK Uri Orbach (Habayit Hayehudi).
Later, Sherman gave a session in which he openly spoke of a situation many Israelis suffer when they come to register a marriage or divorce with the rabbinate or religious courts: Those institutions do not recognize their conversion certificates, and they are required to provide proof they are Jewish. Sherman ordered registrars in the religious councils to investigate the background of converts before registering their marriages - and not to accept conversions automatically. "Every convert needs to be examined," Sherman said.
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