Reclaiming the Jewish Naqba by Rabbi Lopatin

November 11, 2010

I do not know who Mayor Dieter Salomon of Freiburg Germany is, but he recently made some excellent points – transformative – to help Jews and Israelis define their relationship with history and with the Palestinians.  It involves an exhibit that a pro-Palestinian group wanted Freiburg to sponsor, which the mayor rejected because of its one-sidedness.  But note two powerful points by the mayor: First for the Palestinians – and all Arabs – to take responsibility for their own predicament – that will be the only thing that will pull them out of where they are.  Second, we Jews and Zionists have to start using the term The Other Naqba: the expulsion of 800,000 Jews from Arab lands and their welcome absorption into the new Jewish State of Israel.  Let’s start remembering that many Jews were Palestinians and that we have a Naqba story to tell as loudly as anyone else.

From the Jerusalem Post:

The mayor of Freiburg, Dieter Salomon, pulled the plug on a Palestinian “Nakba” exhibit, which was slated to open on Friday in the local library, because “from the perspective of the city of Freiburg, the presentation is one-sided,” Edith Lamersdorf, the mayor’s spokeswoman, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

“One-sided accusations and friend-foe paradigms do not promote insight into the complicated relationships in the Middle East or contribute to understanding and peaceful development in the region,” the Green Party’s Dieter Salomon said in a statement last week.

“Palestinian Arabs do not appear in the presentation as responsible and active actors in this conflict. There is, for example, no discussion of the anti-Semitically motivated Arab pogroms that took place since the mid-19th century, and especially after 1945, in the Jewish settlement areas in the Arab regions. The other ‘Nakba’ [catastrophe] meant flight and expulsion for hundreds of thousands of Arab Jews, who had to leave their homes and were taken in by Israel,” the mayor said.


Making the Law of Return Work for All Jews, by Rabbi Asher Lopatin

November 9, 2009

On Friday an Op Ed appeared in the Jerusalem post, written jointly by Rabbi Seth Farber – Orthodox – and Rabbi Ed Rettig – Reform – where together they excoriated the Israeli government and its bureaucratic arms for preventing Jewish converts from becoming Jewish citizens under the Law of Return.  Rather than recognizing all Jewish converts as Jews, as the Israeli Supreme court ordered over a decade ago, the relevant ministries are requiring converts to jump through multi-year hoops in order to gain acceptance.  I would add to it, that I was involved in an Orthodox  conversion that was flat-out rejected since the Interior ministry did not recognize the Beit Din of Evanston as a legitimate Beit Din.

Rather than getting angry at the government of Israel or the ministries or the individual bureaucrats involved, I suggest there is a systemic problem that has a simple solution.  The problem is once again: “Who is a Jew?”  True, Israel  years ago veered away from defining that halachically, but still – is anyone who is converted by anyone, or anyone who just claims they are Jewish with no evidence to be admitted under the Law of Return?  If not – and  on the surface it seems we need some control – then who determines the criteria? The Rabbanut doesn’t, but now secular ministries do, and that is worse!

I say the only way for the Law of Return to work the way it is supposed to – to protect every “Jew” in the world from potential persecution and to allow any “Jew” in the world to return to the Land of the Jews is if yes, Israel accepts anyone who converts to Judaism in any way, and anyone who declares that they are Jewish. Wouldn’t the Nazis kill anyone who claimed to be Jewish?  Wouldn’t the crusades kill anyone who claimed they were Jewish?  Would the Muslim mobs in Morocco or Yemen kill any Muslim who declared they had become Jewish no matter who converted them or how?  Of course.  So the Law of Return should apply to anyone who claims they are Jewish and who is willing to have “Yehudi” stamped on there Te’udat Zehut – their Israeli identity card.  Yes, we may get millions from around the world, from Africa and Asia and South America declaring they are Jewish – Oy gevalt!  More self identifying Jews in Israel!!  That is exactly what we want.

Yes, if you are racist, or bigoted or xenophobic you will be afraid of these “Jews” coming to Israel.  But that is what Ben Hecht claimed some of the early Jews living in Israel felt about the masses from Europe – were they the right kinds of Jews to bring to the Holy Land?  That is was some of the Gedolim told Rav Yehiel Yaakov Weinberg when he wanted to save the Hildesheimer Yeshiva in Germany from Nazi destruction by bringing it to Palestine – they felt it was the wrong type of Yeshiva and Torah for the Holy Land of Israel.  So they perished at the hand of the Germans.

Just as the system works today, the Jewish and religious community in Israel will have to sort out “Who is a Jew?” from a Halachic point of view.  Following the Mishna B’rurah’s p’sak for minyan and leading services, anyone who shows up in shul will be counted (males, that is, for the Orthodox) and can daven, because of the law of the majority.  When it comes to weddings, anyone who wants to get married will have to convert – if they haven’t already – based on the standard of that community: chareidim, Modern Orthodox, s’faradim, etc.  No hard feelings. If I can verify to the community I want to live in and marry in that I am Jewish, fine.  Otherwise, that community should welcome me if I meet their standards of conversion.  But no one in the world who self identifies as a Jew should be denied admission to Israel as an Israeli citizen.

We need the Law of Return to work to save Jews and bring them home to Israel.  Let us welcome all Jews – anyone who says they are Jewish should be welcome in the Jewish state.  And maybe if those masses of self-identifying Jews come back to the Homeland, in all their shapes and colors, then maybe those Jews from America and Europe, who have the proof that they are Jewish, will return as well.  Then Israel will  be the safe-heaven for Jews which the founding fathers of Israel, such as Theodor Herzl and Ze’ev Jabotinsky  envisioned.