Signs of a System 'In Chaos'

The Yossi Fackenheim case is unique in two aspects, according to U.S.-born Rabbi Seth Farber, head of ITIM, a non-profit organization that helps Israelis navigate the Chief Rabbinate bureaucracy. "We often handle cases in which the Israeli Rabbinate's conversions tribunal fails to recognize conversions performed abroad," he explained. "This case is different and unprecedented in that the rabbinic court nullified a conversion the court itself had already approved."

The second aspect, according to Farber, is the judge's questioning Fackenheim's Jewishness without being asked, contrary to past practice. "This case, which began as a simple divorce, highlights the current chaos within the rabbinic court system on the issue of conversions," he concluded.

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the leader of the U.S. Jewish Reform movement, said Fackenheim's case "has sent shock waves in the Reform community." David Ellenson, the president of Hebrew Union College, recalled the retroactive nullification last year of thousands of conversions performed by the state-sponsored Conversion Authority headed by Rabbi Haim Druckman, "That Jewish identity can be revoked," he said, "means an erosion of the certainty that each of us can have in our faith."

Hod Hasharon's chief Ashkenazi rabbi, Reuven Hiller - who is an outspoken critic of the Reform movement - also voiced harsh opposition to retroactive nullification of conversions. "I wholeheartedly object to such rulings," he said. "This is an extreme view that has no place in Judaism, and its recent emergence is very regrettable. In the past, the hard-line Haredi establishment fought against the nullifying conversions at all price. Now we see a complete reversal which shouldn't be allowed to happen."