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Using the Mikveh as a Conversion Tool

Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove recently wrote an opinion in New York’s “The Jewish Week” newspaper in which he recommended that all Rabbis use the Mikveh as a way to sanctify intermarriages, convert non-Jews to Judaism, and sanctify Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. It is an interesting and creative idea to standardize how these things are done. Permit me to quote exerpts from him directly on his idea:

“As a rabbi I have a commitment to uphold Jewish law and, as such, not officiate at interfaith weddings. As a rabbi, I also have an obligation to meet people where they are, and serve the Jewish future by helping build Jewish identity. So what exactly is a rabbi to do?”

“I offer a proposal for consideration, for synagogue communities like my own, for the Conservative movement and perhaps other arms of Jewish life to consider.

“By my read of the sources, from the Talmudic period onward, there is an established position permitting conversion to Judaism by way of mikveh immersion for a woman, and for a man, circumcision and immersion in a mikveh, coupled with a course of study.

“Mikveh immersion is the Jewish act ritualizing a sacred transformation from one state of being to another.

“In our world where there are no guarantees regarding who our children will fall in love with, it is incumbent upon us to lower, not raise, the barriers to entry to being a Jew. If a non-Jew desires to build a Jewish home with a Jewish partner, a rabbi’s job is to nurture that desire, draw both partners close and make the onramp to Jewish life as inviting and doable as possible. Read more »

Wailing Wall Liberated

The government of Israel has taken steps to open the Wailing Wall to women and Conservative and Reform Jews. This is expected to be in full effect in two to three years. Some construction has to be done to make a place where these groups can meet and pray at the Wall.

Prior to this, only Orthodox men were allowed to pray at the Wall.

This is a real breakthrough in ending the monopoly of the Orthodox on everything religious in Israel. And it came despite the current government having Orthodox groups in its narrow coalition. Other reforms have been rolled back by this government, but apparently it couldn’t resist the efforts of non-Orthodox groups to change the access rules. Particularly active was Women of the Wall, a group that kept going to the Wall to pray and kept getting arrested for their efforts. Much thanks goes to Natan Scharansky who has been working on a compromise for the past three years.

The Orthodox still have a monopoly on marriage, divorce, defining who is a Jew, and other domestic civil matters. We live in hope that one day their monopoly on these areas will be changed as well.

The Nuclear Arms Agreement With Iran

Although it is usually not my purpose here to get involved in current political issues, I read a commentary in the “Chicago Jewish News” by its editor Joseph Aaron, that I think people should see. The Jewish community is divided on whether the Iran agreement is the best achievable deal or the “historically bad deal” proclaimed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu.

Despite the divide, for which I’ve seen figures giving each side the majority, most of the articles and comments I’ve seen have been against the agreement. This is an exerpt from a commentary (July 31, 2015) that is for the agreement. I personally have mixed feelings about the agreement. Part of me is in favor and part of me hopes it will be rejected. I’ll give my reasoning after the article. In any case, I think it is important for Jews and others to hear an argument for the agreement to balance out the discussions. Read more »

“Non-Jew” Michael Douglas Gets Israeli Award

Michael Douglas will receive the 2015 Genesis Prize, which carries a $1 million honorarium, in June in Israel. The award recognizes an internationally renowned individual who is a role model in his or her community and whose actions and achievements express a commitment to Jewish values, the Jewish community and Israel, and who can inspire the younger generation of Jews worldwide.

Michael Douglas has a Jewish father, the famous actor Kirk Douglas, but a non-Jewish mother. So he is not considered Jewish in the eyes of Jewish law. Read more »

Jewish Descent Rules Are Not Biblical

According to Jewish law, the child of a Jewish woman is Jewish regardless of who the father is, while the child of a Jewish father is not Jewish if the mother is not Jewish. In other words, a Jewish woman has the ability to confer Jewishness, while a Jewish man does not. In practical terms, Judaism does not recognize the child of an intermarried Jewish man as Jewish unless the child converts to Judaism. But the child of an intermarried Jewish woman is Jewish regardless of what faith the child is raised in.

In my view, Jewish law on this point is completely insane, both genetically and sociologically. What possible point could there be in denying genetic Jews membership among the Jewish people? No other group works this way. For example, if you have an American parent, the American government does not care what gender your American parent is. It is happy to recognize you as an American citizen.

Oh, you say, Jewish law is different because we always know who the mother is, but we do not know for sure who the father is. Read more »