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Beth Din bad decision

by: Leslie Bunder - Last updated: 2005-04-03

Chief Rabbi Sacks

Chief Rabbi Sacks

When is an orthodox Jewish conversion not quite an orthodox Jewish conversion? Well, it seems for the London Beth Din and the Chief Rabbi, if you get converted under an orthodox procedure don't expect them to recognise it as being kosher.

Last week, a family revealed that plans to sent their son to the Jewish Free School have been stopped on the grounds that the London Beth Din does not recognise the orthodox Israeli conversion.
Under the auspices of the Sephardi Beth Din, Helen Sagal was converted in 1990 having spent 15 months on her conversion and married her husband Raoul in an orthodox service in Tel Aviv.
But despite embracing the Jewish faith and indeed also making sure her son Guy was circumcised by a United Synagogue mohel, it seems that this is not good enough for the Beth Din.
In what can only be described as an insulting and offensive letter, JFS wrote to Mrs Sagal with a letter it has received from the Beth Din's Rabbi Julian Schindler saying her conversion would not be recognised and the only way her son could get a place would be if the school was "unable to fill its standard admissions number with children who are recognised as being Jewish by the Office of the Chief Rabbi.”
So what is up with the Chief Rabbi and indeed the people who make up his office? Here, we are now getting into the dangerous Who is a Jew debate?  Here we have someone who has converted to Judaism in Israel under an orthodox conversion, yet the London Beth Din denies that the child of this convert is Jewish.
Quite simply, this is sheer and utter madness. An orthodox conversion is Israel - indeed what is deemed to be the Holy Land - should be recognised by all. Maybe for the United Synagogue Beth Din this is not good enough? Maybe they are looking to see what they can get out of this in terms of wanting Mrs Sagal to pay for their "approved" orthodox courses?
Maybe they have an issue with a Sephardi conversion?  Are not Sephardi orthodox conversions good enough for an Ashkenazi organisation?
Dr Jonathan Sacks, the chief rabbi needs to step in and bring some sanity to this matter.  He needs to show that he himself is not a hypocrite. After all, he is the man that time and time again lends his support to Israel and calls for unity in the Jewish community.  If he and his Beth Din cannot recognise an orthodox Jewish conversion, then it is time he and his organisation consider their own positions.
While Mrs Sagal and her family may not be totally religious in their nature, they are still Jewish. Allowing the son to attend the school will enhance his own Jewish identity, not allowing him will alienate the child and confuse him.
Another implication for this is would be converts may even be put off in becoming Jewish, if certain Beth Dins feel they can pick and choose who is Jewish and should be allowed into a Jewish school.
We need to embrace converts, who make a valuable contribution and wish to embrace a Jewish life. Not kick them down which is what has happened with the Beth Din.