Rabbi Lichtenstein
Photo courtesy of Rabbinical Centre of Europe

Europe's rabbis forgotten?

Leading British rabbi responds to recent survey claiming to have revealed 'widespread support for more tolerant policies on conversions and communal membership' among Europe's Jewish leaders

The recent headlines resulting from the JDC – ICCD’s study that most European Jewish leaders support greater tolerance for conversion raised both a frown and bewilderment from those European leaders directly involved in conversion, particularly its rabbis and more specifically its Orthodox rabbinate. A frown because it reminds them of their constant battle with lay leaders over standards for conversion and bewilderment because this survey is like asking taxi drivers about world economic policy – they’ve got a lot to say but understand little about the intricacies of the subject matter.


The survey reports a remarkable tolerance towards intermarriage among the respondents. As much as 85% thought that it was not a good idea to strongly oppose intermarriage and bar those who intermarry and their spouses from communal membership.


According to the JDC’s own statistics 30% of those polled were defined as Orthodox, which means that 50% of the Orthodox polled were not strongly opposed to intermarriage. A major problem with this survey is that it allows respondents to provide their own self-definitions.


Anyone familiar with the European Jewish communal scene knows the following: There are many Jews who belong to Orthodox synagogues purely for burial or familial purposes. When asked to identify themselves, these people will identify themselves as ‘Orthodox’ because they belong to an Orthodox synagogue or burial society. Many do not keep Shabbat, Kashrut, and may even themselves be married to a non-Jew. It is hardly surprising that 46% of these respondents agree, that if you have one Jewish parent (even if it is the father and therefore the rest of the family are not halachically Jewish) you should be allowed to be a member of the community. This means that many who participated in the survey are Orthodox in name only.


Most significantly, there is a glaring omission of the one group of leaders who more than anyone are involved in conversion and matters of Jewish status - the rabbis of Europe.


Whether this was deliberate we do not know. It is possible that spiritual leaders do not qualify to participate in the survey. However, the Rabbinical Centre of Europe, which comprises several hundred Rabbis and leaders of their individual communities, recently had a Conference in Paris dealing with assimilation and came to quite different conclusions.


In a very informative speech at the conference, the former chief rabbi of Israel and current chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, Rabbi Yisroel Meir Lau, produced numerous compelling statistics that proved the future and even the continued existence of any form of Judaism would be determined only by adherence to Jewish law (Halacha) and Jewish tradition without diluting standards of conversion.


The statistics presented by Rabbi Lau prove that the policies suggested by this survey are simply untenable. Many rabbis in Europe who understand the pulse of their respective communities understand the realities are very different from the suggestions made in the survey. We challenge the JDC to undergo a new survey this time with a truly representative pool and this time not to forget Europe's spiritual leaders.


Dayan Y Y Lichtenstein member Presidium, Rabbinical Centre of Europe (RCE)



The JDC-ICCD offered the following response:


The poll quoted in the press was conducted as part of JDC-Europe continuous work in Jewish community development, including an on-going monitoring of developing trends among European Jews.


JDC has no position nor opinion on issues of religious matter such as conversion JDC works equally with all religious Jewish streams.


פרסום ראשון: 03.25.09, 08:19
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