By Rochelle Maruch Miller
Rabbi David Stav is the founder of the Tzohar Rabbinical Organization. He recently ran for the position of chief rabbi and is known for advancing issues of concern to the general Israeli population. He is also the leading force behind the Tzohar Council, a gathering of some of the most prolific rabbis in Israel today, helping to make positive changes in Israel and in politics.
Rabbi Stav and other leading Orthodox rabbis were invited to the recent RCA convention as part of the Tzohar Rabbinic Council and also hosted a session at Lincoln Square Synagogue, titled “Can Israel Remain Jewish Without Alienating American Jewry?”
“Assimilation is here, intermarriage is here. It’s not just in the United States or Europe; it’s here in Israel, too, unlike what people might think.” says Rabbi David Stav, chairman of the Tzohar National Rabbinical Association. “And not to do anything about this situation is unacceptable.”
Rabbi Stav warned of the impending threat to Klal Yisrael of intermarriage and assimilation in Israel because of state and rabbinic failures on conversion policy. He made an impassioned call for the politic and rabbinic leadership in Israel to take responsibility for the problem.
“There are more than 300,000 Israeli citizens of Jewish descent who are not actually Jewish. They are part of our society, their children go to the army, go to the university, meet our children, and want to get married,” he said in reference to a large sector of immigrants from the former Soviet Union who are not Jewish according to halachah.
In addition to those of Jewish descent who immigrate to Israel, Rabbi Stav said 4,000 children are born to this population, while only 2,000 people from the sector successfully convert per year, so the number of non-Jewish Israelis of Jewish descent is actually growing.
“We can’t ignore the situation anymore. It’s getting worse and worse, and every year, thousands of Israeli Jews get married in non-Jewish weddings.”
A bill currently before Knesset proposes to decentralize the conversion process by allowing municipal chief rabbis to establish their own conversion courts away from the conversion courts of the chief rabbinate. The bill was proposed by MK Elazar Stern, but drafted in conjunction with Tzohar as well as other religious parties. But it was opposed by the chief rabbinate “because it does not want to lose control of the conversion process” and questions the qualifications of city rabbis to conduct conversions.
Rabbi Stav’s rebuttal to such questions is that the exam taken by anyone who gained the qualification to serve as a municipal chief rabbi includes the testing on the laws of geirus.
In its current format, the conversion bill also includes a requirement for any municipal chief rabbi setting up a conversion court to take an additional test on the laws of geirus.
Also rejected by Rabbi Stav was an argument made in some quarters, including Chief Rabbi David Lau and Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Dahan, that the problem is not the conversion system; rather, it is the lack of conversion applicants. He said the conversion system is “unhelpful and unwelcoming and puts many people off.” According to Rabbi Stav, the conversion bill would help in converting children from the non-Jewish sector, which he said will be a critical achievement in the fight against assimilation.
Rabbi Stav points an accusing finger at Arab religious leaders, suggesting they take a good look at the response from Jewish leaders to murder in recent days. He joins many other rabbanim in condemning the murder by Jews of a 16-year-old Shuafat youth. “There is not a rabbi in Israel who is not calling for a harsh sentence for those responsible for the murder of the Arab youth. How many similar condemnatory statements were heard from Islamic religious leaders?” he asked.
Tzohar rabbanim, Rav Stav explains, accuse Arab religious leaders, during these difficult days, of failing to condemn the murder of the kedoshim, Hy’d.
“It appears everything was said to condemn the loathsome, prohibited, heinous revenge that led to murder, and therefore, in an act that is so non-Jewish or human, an act that embarrasses us worldwide, it is worth noting what is happening in the Israeli society and among our enemies.”
He contrasted the response of the majority of rabbinic leaders who have called for justice to the full extent of the law for the murder of Muhmad Abu-Khenin to the dearth of similar cries of outrage from Muslim clerics regarding the murders of Gilad Sha’ar, Naftali Frenkel, and Eyal Yifrach, Hy’d. v