Recent stories about conversion standards in Israel have revolved around halakhic observance (or the lack thereof), but an interesting case that tests theological standards was recently reported by the Jerusalem Post.
About two weeks ago a young FSU immigrant to Israel, who was eligible for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return but was not considered Jewish according to halacha, appeared before a rabbinic court in Jerusalem to convert to Judaism.
He had become interested in Orthodox Judaism through Chabad and was learning in a Jerusalem yeshiva. He wore a hat, a suit and tzitzit and meticulously adhered to the commandments….
“Suddenly, one of the rabbinic judges asked him if he believed that the rebbe [Schneerson] was the messiah,” recounted [Binyamin] Ish-Shalom. “He answered, ‘Yes, that’s what I’ve been taught,’ or something like that. And that was it; at least one of the judges refused to convert him.” (MORE)
Much to Professor David Berger’s chagrin, the Jewish community (and the Orthodox community in particular) has not taken an aggressive stance against Chabad messianism. Chabad is a powerful movement in world Jewry and the stakes of taking on — even a minority group within Chabad — has likely played a role.
But Israel takes its conversions seriously, and now that this case is publicized, the decision may start a new chapter in the fascinating story of Chabad messianism. If the rabbinate allows the conversion, it will, essentially, be taking the position that belief in the Rebbe’s messiahship is not heretical.
What happens if they rule against the conversion? Might this cause a significant break with Chabad messianists? If so, it will be the second recent defeat for this group. Last week, non-messianists won a court battle giving them control of Chabad headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway.