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 My Yom Kippur

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maculated

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PostSubject: My Yom Kippur   Sun Oct 09, 2011 9:30 am

Just once I would like a holiday to come and go without drama. I was thinking this was the one. My fiancee' is finally realizing he gets nothing from our Chabad's services and enjoys going to the shul I'm affiliated with. We're as happy as you can be while fasting and spending 8:30-8:00 in shul, until one of the leaders of the community (he's known my guy for ten years - as long as I have) comes out while we're basking in the sun on a break before some learning and more services.

"This is really hard for me," he says. I am dying to know what is. I have no idea.

"Your father has been emailing me," he tells my fiancee. Oh no. For the record, his father has met this man once in a grocery store years ago. He says, "I told your father that I would talk to you."

And he begins to question my conversion. Apparently the father has contacted him because he's ignored everything both his son and I have told him about what we did and I'm not sure to what end he's emailing this man, whose Rosh Hoshana seder table I sat at last week, encouraging him to find out more about whether I am legit or not.

"I'm a father," he says, "And I'm only doing this because I believe in Shalom Bayit (peace in the family). If there is anyway to meet half way." And I am like, "Oh, yeah, well, that involves me giving up my entire life" and I begin to list the things I went through in pursuit of an Orthodox conversion. I tell him about how the Chabad rabbi was willing to fly me to Canada to some Orthodox rabbi who is willing to convert me sight unseen (which,I'm sorry, is shady). And he says, "Well, if there's anything you can do."

Only the conversation was a lot longer than that. My fiancee' doesn't understand why I reacted how I did, getting up and walking away to maintain composure as this man talks to my fiancee' about us "meeting them halfway" (which, you know, is undergoing an Orthodox conversion, I suppose) and he's the leader of my conservative shul. He talks to my fiancee about this and says he had hoped I wasn't around so I wouldn't get upset and I am like, "Why aren't you talking to me? I am the one this is always about. This is my life you're asking to compromise."

This is a recurring theme here. Literally this time last year, my fiancee were fighting during the break about this exact thing. Only then, he was still thinking that me quickie converting under Orthodox auspices would solve everything. It's amazing how becoming Jewish has made me have to defend my personhood. How it's up to me to keep the peace by doing something I don't want to do after everything I've gone through, how no one seems to think anything of requiring this of me. It's never, "Oh, his family is horrible," it's "what can you do?"

To my fiancee's credit, he says that he does understand why I won't do it, and frankly he doesn't want me to do it under the conditions that I'd be under, and he knows that, well, after this has happened, he can't go home again because, even if his parents forgive him or we break up, they will have still done this to him.

It's just that I feel like, at times, I can't shake the shadow of this. I have to if I'm ever to move forward, but it's like . . . I think I'm in a place of peace and it turns out I'm still under scrutiny. It's always like, "Well, she is the one that brings me here. She is the one that makes the holidays. She is the one that studies." Awesome. Do we have to show anyone? Can't I just be doing that for myself? Isn't my conversion supposed to be about my neshama and not about what other people think they want? BTW, if you're keeping track, when I was pursuing an Orthodox conversion, they stopped talking to me and hated on me, too, and it was actually his mother that helped me get started.

Maybe I am wrong here. I don't know. All I do know is that it ruined my Yom Kippur and I've not been able to sleep over this because I don't really know how to shake the anxiety it causes. Blech. And here I was blissfully thinking that 5772 was going to be my year of triumph. Razz
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Debbie B.

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PostSubject: Re: My Yom Kippur   Sun Oct 09, 2011 11:47 pm

Sigh, what a way to ruin a Yom Kippur. Try to remember that it doesn't matter that this man is a so-called "leader of the community"---he is unlikely to know much about the issues of conversion. Most Jews don't know about this kind of stuff because it doesn't concern them. I'm sure he doesn't have any idea about what typical Orthodox, i.e. RCA, conversions require these days---especially that RCA converts could truly face having their conversion being revoked if they should try to affiliate with his shul. And he does not understand how unlikely it would be for it to be the end of conflict if you were to "meet them halfway" and say do the Canadian "Orthodox" conversion. That man may be a "leader" in his community, but in this area he is just an ignorant lay-person. He is neither a knowledgable and concerned rabbi nor does it sound like he is even say a family therapist, who might actually be able to offer you some advice and support, rather than adding to your problems by advocating for actions pushed by your future in-laws.

I'm sure this man thinks the Canadian conversion will be "simple". The reality is that few Jewish lay people have much of an idea of what any conversion process is like, and many of them underestimate the requirements of any conversion. If probably does not occur to him that the Canadian conversion might not be as routine as it is made out to seem. Perhaps the Canadian rabbi will not actually want to do a no-requirements quickie "conversion". He may figure that once you have made the investment of the time and money to fly out that he can pressure you for some compliance because you will feel you have too many sunk costs to back out. He could for example say that he expects you to attend the Chabad shul and continue learning with the rabbi and rebbetzin. Who knows? Maybe that very thing is what the two rabbis agreed to since that could get both of you to join Chabad. Then they could justify the conversion as just being a bit premature, but with additional required lifestyle and ideological belief changes to be made later.

And even if it is actually a no-requirements conversion, I doubt the Chabad rabbi would be content to have the two of you continue to participate at the CJ shul. In fact, if he actually believes that the quickie O conversion in Canada is legitimate, so he really considers you to be Jewish, he will have every reason to re-double his efforts to get both you and your fiance to attend Chabad. I wouldn't be surprised if in the Chabad rabbi's mind the only reason that you go to the CJ shul is due to not feeling comfortable at Chabad due to your lack of O conversion.

Furthermore, since it sounds like your in-laws are Charedi these days, after an O conversion, you'd be inviting them to start to pressure you on things like dress, covering your hair, kashrut/Shabbat observance standards, moving to a more Jewish area... The idea that they'd be completely satisfied with some "shady" quickie O conversion and then instantly become totally accepting of everything about you and their son is ridiculously wishful thinking.

And of course, none of the above touches on the most important issue that you have already mentioned: the idea of a "quickie" conversion is dishonest and distasteful. Personally, I think that could make a person feel like taking a shower after immersion in the mikveh to wash off the dirty feeling for participating in something that was not sincere and meaningful. A lot of people just cannot understand what motivates the true convert and how real and serious it is.

Try not to let this misguided man make you feel anxious or insecure. You probably can't change the minds of a number of players in your life "drama", so don't worry about it. Think about being who you are and being the kind of Jew you want to be because that's who you are, not to please anyone else or to prove anything to anyone else. 5772 can still be a good year for you and your fiance. Focus on making it that way for yourselves because unfortunately you're not getting a lot of help with that from others.
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PostSubject: Re: My Yom Kippur   Mon Oct 10, 2011 12:53 am

Debbie, thank you. That's precisely what I needed to hear, I think. I agree that he doesn't know a lot about what he's talking about (though my fiancee thinks differently), and he really is trying to find a best-interest way to please everyone, but the points you make make me feel a lot stronger about my conviction in all of this. Part of me is "guilty" that I don't "love him enough" to do it even if it's just to show him it won't solve a thing, and part of me is just plain angry about how this drama just doesn't seem to abate.

Though, interestingly, I do kind of think the Chabad rabbi's satisfied with my Jewishness at this stage, but he can't openly be because he's working for Chabad. If that makes any sense. But, again, you do have more experience. The "working together" never occurred to me, but that makes sense with why he said that if I did the quickie conversion I would have to make some real sacrifices.

Ehhhh. <3 Thank you.
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PostSubject: Re: My Yom Kippur   Mon Oct 10, 2011 2:21 am

Kristen/Tara:

I don't have any "experience" with this kind of thing. I have never gone to a Chabad shul and I haven't spoken to a Chabad rabbi before. The only Orthodox rabbis I've spoken to are liberal MO rabbis, and never about conversion. (Except that I think I may have made a young O rabbi slightly uncomfortable by telling him at a Limmud event that the Biblical character I would most like to meet was Ruth because as a convert I identified with her story. But maybe I was wrong in my interpretation of his expression.)

Only one person I know who did an Orthodox conversion has discussed any details about the process with me (I haven't asked the others I know since I feel that for different reasons they would prefer not to be asked about it). The one I know about converted about 25 years ago and it is highly unlikely that she would be able to convert under the same circumstances today. She had already done a CJ conversion. She lived a completely Orthodox lifestyle except for davening with egalitarian minyanim and attending JTS as a college student. She wanted to do an OJ conversion because she did not want future children to have their Jewish identity questioned as had happened to her and she was thinking of making aliyah. She was dating a young man who grew up in a very observant CJ family and attended OJ day schools. His family would have accepted her as a CJ convert, but was also supportive of her own desire to do an OJ conversion.

She talked to a lot of Orthodox rabbis in NYC including one who wanted $!000 upfront and another who shoved a book on "family purity" at her (she was a 19 year old virgin who was really quite shocked by that!). Obviously, her association with JTS was a deal-breaker for some rabbis since it is a Conservative Jewish seminary. Anyway, I think someone in the same situation would have a much harder time today finding a reputable Orthodox rabbi to do the conversion. Maybe a rabbi from YCT (whose grads are not even allowed membership in the RCA) would do such a conversion since they would not risk censure from the RCA.

Anyway, anything I say about Orthodox conversion is based mainly on things I've read. My comments are my own guesses or opinions only.

Maybe I'm wrong and doing this one thing will make everyone back off. But it sure doesn't sound like the Chabad rabbi will back off given my interpretation of his comment of "sacrifices". And the bottom line is that I don't think that you should have to do things having to do with your own religious identity to satisfy other people given that you are not asking to join an Orthodox shul or have an Orthodox rabbi officiate at your wedding. I don't think it is fair that so many other people are pushing you to do things and yet seem to care so little about how you feel about what is after all your life.
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PostSubject: Re: My Yom Kippur   Mon Oct 10, 2011 12:57 pm

I don't blame you for being upset; I'd have been upset as well. "What part of 'don't question the convert' do you not understand???"

You know, I was thinking, "I'm glad I don't have all this drama in my life," then I remembered I'm just waiting for my mother to regroup and organize herself into a campaign to reconvert me to Christianity (because I know it's coming).

Being a Jew is never easy. The mitzvot aren't easy, and as if that wasn't enough, there are all the outside forces trying to un-Jew you... including, sometimes, from within the ranks of the Jewish people.

And it's not just converts who have to face the inquisitors: I've heard of born-Jews who have their Jewishness questioned back several generations because one maternal ancestor's Jewishness is not clearly known. For some people, Jewishness ceases to be about being a light unto the nations and it becomes about proving the nobility of your blood.

And what right do born-Jews have to be picky? The Jewish nation is hemmoraging Jews--not just in the U.S., but in Israel too (read Alan Dershowitz's "The Vanishing American Jew"). Israeli Jews may not be able to intermarry, but that doesn't stop them from being so secular that they eventually become agnostics or atheists. Rabbi Mordechai Becher mentioned that he helped his wife set up a booth at a craft fair in Israel, and a woman and her child came to look at the things on the table. The child pointed to a mezuzzah and asked, "What's that?" His mother replied, "That's a mezzuzah." He asked, "What's a mezzuzah?" In Israel! Where's your pure Jewish blood now?

There's an accident and a man is left lying on the ground, bleeding from a cut to his femoral artery. A witness rips off his t-shirt and starts to put it over the cut to staunch the bleeding. But the wounded man stops him and says, "Don't use that; it's dirty and full of germs." Nevermind that if he even gets an infection from the dirty shirt, it can be cleared up in the hospital without too much difficulty; he still insists on only having sterile gauze put over his wound. And he bleeds to death before the paramedics can arrive with sterile gauze.

The Jewish nation is like the bleeding man, and we converts are like responder with the T-shirt. We can help stop the dying, but only if people will acknowledge our usefulness. Even if we aren't as perfect as some people would like, it's better than nothing.

Though, how you make anyone see the logic in that, I don't know. People have a tendency to look at themselves and not the whole. It only matters that a convert is marrying into MY family. It may help the Jewish people, but it dilutes my family's blood, and I don't want that. Let the convert find someone else's family to marry into.

Rabbi Tovia Singer actively combats Christian missionaries and tries to rescue Jews from Christianity. He says that time and time again these Christian converts talk about how welcoming the Christian church (or Messianic congregation, more often than not) is, and how they identify with Jesus, who wasn't wanted by his people--who was an outcast. Invariably the Jews that wind up in the Messianic movement are there because they either no absolutely nothing about Judaism, or they've been turned off of it by other Jews. Or, as he summarizes it: "When you go into a church, people welcome you and want to know your name and all about you. When you go to shul, the first words you hear are 'You're in my seat.'"

I attended services at my synagogue (including some Torah study classes) for 6 weeks before anyone introduced themselves to me. How different than the church I left, where people fell over themselves to make you feel welcome and invite you in. That I'm still around is because of the faith I have in Judaism and the feeling that God has put me on this path for a reason--nothing else.

Tara, is moving an option for you and your fiance? Sometimes what you really need is a clean slate, and maybe being further from his family and in a shul where no one knows all this ugliness would be easier on everyone.
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PostSubject: Re: My Yom Kippur   Mon Oct 10, 2011 1:35 pm

@Mychal,

Tara's fiance's parents are in Israel, far, far away from where they are in Calif.

As for attitudes of born-Jews to converts, sometimes it is not just a "blood purity" thing, it's a lack of understanding of how anyone can feel tied to Judaism if not through ancestry since that's the way they feel. This is particularly true for "non-religious" Jews, but it can be true of religious Jews too. I think of a Balaat Teshuva friend who says that if she found out she was adopted and not converted properly so she wasn't actually Jewish, she'd walk away from it all. And yet she is so frum that it has caused a lot of difficulties in her life. But I'm sure she's wrong: if her hypothetical came to pass, and she tried to leave it, even not considering the fact that she wouldn't leave her partner and daughter, I think she'd find she would feel a big hole in her life and psyche from her religious needs. She couldn't revert back to the mental state she was in before she became frum, and so she would convert and willingly take on all the stringencies she does now even though she could choose not to, because the positives would outweigh the negatives. It's the choice we converts have all made, after all.

On the other hand, maybe she's a bad example because she is the friend I always use as an example of someone who seems to understand and respect my choice to convert even while not believing that my CJ conversion was "valid" (she's still hoping I'll do an OJ conversion in the future). As a BT Jew, I think she understands that "calling" that converts feel, when who they were raised as religiously doesn't fit who they feel they are supposed to be. When I told her I didn't mention my conversion studies before my conversion was finalized because I was afraid she'd try to talk me out of it, she agreed that she probably would have.

I do feel also, that I must put in a word for the many Jews and congregations that are friendly and welcoming (although being overly pro-active about conversion also makes me uncomfortable). I have been embraced since my conversion not just by the members of my own communities who have always accepted me even as only a "fellow traveler", and all the more so now as a Jew, but also by Jews I didn't expect the acceptance and welcome from. As for those who are not accepting, I try to remind myself that its their problem, not mine.

A comment on your bleeding man analogy:
I feel strongly that for the sake of Klal Yisrael, more Jews ought to be more accommodating towards other Jews rather than scorning them and essentially driving them away for various reasons. And that if they were more accepting of Jews who are on the edge of affiliation, then they would also be more accepting of converts who are also "different".
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Mychal

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PostSubject: Re: My Yom Kippur   Mon Oct 10, 2011 4:13 pm

Quote :
Tara's fiance's parents are in Israel, far, far away from where they are in Calif.

Well, that would explain why they had to send someone else after them.

Of course, I've heard that some OJ rabbis in Israel are reluctant to acknowledge conversions done by OJ rabbis in America and there's been a fight over it. It's almost like there's this taint that American rabbis and/or conversions are substandard. Given the outrage expressed by American OJ rabbis, I think that's how they interpreted the doubt as well.

I find that image, though, hard to reconcile with the one produced by so many of the Orthodox rabbis whose lectures I listen to. I've even heard some of them say it doesn't matter what version of Judaism you practice, so long as you practice. I think they take a different approach because they're teachers.

Rabbi Becher said in a lecture that he was just starting at a new martial arts class and the teacher was giving this brown belt (next to highest level) a hard time and nitpicking everything and sounding really unhappy. And Rabbi Becher started to sweat his turn. But when his turn came, the teacher just nodded a little, then went on. The rabbi said that any good teacher recognizes that everyone is at a different level, and you don't demand advanced techniques/studies from beginners, and likewise you don't let your advanced students off easy. You have to push everyone to the best of his abilities at that moment.

Which is why some people shouldn't be teachers. And even why some teachers shouldn't teach certain grades. I had a friend in high school whose dad was a college physics professor. I said something wistful about her situation, because my mother had never helped me with my homework, especially in high school, but Carrie scoffed and said her dad couldn't help her either. He was so used to teaching college kids and graduate students, he couldn't explain basic concepts. It was impossible for him to see that some people might not understand what was just a known truth in his world.

Just because a rabbi is a sage, it doesn't mean that he should be in charge of educating anyone at the beginning stages of Judisam--be that a convert, a child, or a secular-raised Jew. I think some of the problems regarding converts and people who are less than 100% frum is that they are being judged by people who have been 100% frum all their lives; they just can't understand why anyone would struggle with not eating pork or keeping Shabbat.

I think that's why we're so easy to get along with on this site: regardless of our affiliation, we all respect everyone's journey to Judaism, because whatever path you pick, it's not easy. We all know what it's like to have to "come out of the Jewish closet" with Gentile family and friends, give up foods we've eaten all our lives, etc. And I know I do not question other people's Jewishness. While I might think that someone needs to be more observant (or less nitpicky), I'd certainly NEVER tell that person that they're not a Jew because they're not doing things the way I think they ought to. And yet I see that delegitimization of fellow Jews all the time in comments and on message boards.

I think if we've got anything to bring to the Jewish people it's a love for the Jewish people. Because I've seen/heard a lot of Jews who need to learn it.
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PostSubject: Re: My Yom Kippur   Mon Oct 31, 2011 1:52 am

Mychal wrote:
Of course, I've heard that some OJ rabbis in Israel are reluctant to acknowledge conversions done by OJ rabbis in America and there's been a fight over it. It's almost like there's this taint that American rabbis and/or conversions are substandard. Given the outrage expressed by American OJ rabbis, I think that's how they interpreted the doubt as well.

The issue is not between Orthodox rabbis in Israel and those in the US, the issue is between the charedi-dominated Israeli rabbinate and the more moderate Modern Orthodox rabbis in the US and in Israel. Despite the often heard "an Orthodox conversion is accepted by everyone" myth, lots of "right-wing" and "ultra-" Orthodox groups do not accept other Orthodox conversions, so there are converts who have gone through multiple Orthodox conversions. Similarly, there are Orthodox Jews who insist on kashrut stringencies such that they will not accept some foods with OU certification. For example, Jews who only consume "halav yisrael" dairy products even though Rav Moshe Feinstein, a very widely-respected charedi posek, ruled that in the US the USDA requirements for handling and labeling of milk meant that any commercial milk was kosher (even without a hechsher).

There are only a few areas where different Jewish communities need to deal with differing standards of other communities. Conversion is one (unfortunately for those of us who are converts); marriage and divorce are another. The RCA which is the main Orthodox rabbinical group in the US has responded to Israeli Rabbinate pressure by creating a very narrow list of rabbis "approved" to do conversions and rather stringent requirements of converts (like promising to educate children K-12 in Orthodox Jewish day schools). In some sense, I felt that in a way the RCA got what it deserved since it had no sympathies for CJ and RJ with respect to dealing with the Israeli Rabbinate, so they should have realized that they themselves were not immune from the Israeli Rabbinate implying that they were "not Jewish enough" either. I wish the RCA had stood up for the right of any RCA rabbi to be on a Beit Din for conversion. The restriction of conversion to only certain rabbis is not based on Halacha; it is politics.

The Law of Return allows non-O Jews to be certified by their movements for Aliyah, thus not requiring the approval of the Israeli Rabbinate. So patrilineal Reform Jews and non-O converts can make Aliyah. But once in Israel, Jews whose status does not pass Rabbinate standards may not be able to have a recognized Jewish marriage or be buried in a Jewish cemetery however. In the past, Orthodox converts did have to be cleared with the Israeli Rabbinate, so some of them have had trouble making Aliyah. But once they were allowed to make Aliyah, they were treated as Jews for marriage and burial. It might be better for American Orthodox converts now that a recent change gave the Jewish Agency power to approve Orthodox converts for Aliyah:
Jewish Agency to Approve Orthodox Converts for Aliyah

Here is a recent article on the rebellion against the Israeli Rabbinate by Orthodox Jews in Israel who are choosing to by-pass the Rabbinate for marriage:
Without the Rabbinate I'll Thee Wed
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PostSubject: Re: My Yom Kippur   Mon Oct 31, 2011 7:13 pm

Quote :
like promising to educate children K-12 in Orthodox Jewish day schools

I'm all for giving a child a Jewish upbringing, and I would certainly consider sending a child (if I had one) to a Jewish school, but I wouldn't promise to send one to a Jewish day school. I mean, what if the only school within proximity didn't meet my standards? My major worry with an Orthodox day school would be it teaching enough secular studies to meet my approval. Religious studies are great, but not if they're taught to the detriment of things like math, science, and history.

Thanks for the link on bypassing the Rabbiniate in Israel, Debbie. I found it an interesting idea. I have given thought to one day living in Israel, and the fact that I, as a convert, would be unable to marry another Jew in Israel bothers me--especially as I WILL be promising to marry Jewish when I convert. It's a Catch-22 and one that sets up a level of second class citizens: Jewish enough to be Israeli, but not Jewish enough to marry.
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PostSubject: Re: My Yom Kippur   Mon Oct 31, 2011 9:31 pm

In fact, there are quite a few Orthodox kids in my kids' public schools. Why? Because they need the special ed classes and services that aren't available or aren't as good at the Orthodox day schools that their siblings attend. But these are not kids of a parent who converted recently under Orthodox auspices. I think converts should be trusted to make the same judgements about the education of their kids as JBB.

A woman in my minyan who converted over 30 years ago under Orthodox auspices (before they started to require such promises) has two kids with specials needs (one moderately autistic and one mildly retarded and bipolar) and a family income that could not cover K-12 day school for all five of her children. They are a one-income family because she gave up a career as a doctor to take care of her autistic son due to the surgeries and medical care he needed for several birth defects as well as his screaming for hours a day. Two of her older kids attended public high schools. The reason that she and her children are members of my minyan (her husband remains a member of an Orthodox congregation) is that we are accepting of her very "different" family (another child is transgendered).

A non-O convert in Israel can marry a Jew and have a non-O rabbi officiate at a Jewish wedding even though it will not be recognized by the State as a "Jewish marriage". Many secular Israelis marry in Cyprus so their marriages are not recognized as Jewish because they don't want to deal with the Orthodox Rabbinate which can require going to classes on "family purity" and even showing some instructor of bride's classes your underwear Shocked (I kid you not---that's what a secular Israeli friend told us happened to her!) These days I think it is even possible to do a secular marriage at an Embassy so that it doesn't require an actual trip abroad.

There is currently a huge population of Israelis who are not allowed to have a Jewish marriage: many of the immigrants and children of immigrants from the Former Soviet Union have non-Jewish maternal-line ancestors and are thus not Halachically Jewish. Even if they are interested in Judaism, since non-Orthodox conversion is not recognized in Israel and most of these people do not want to become Orthodox Jews, they are stuck with the status of non-Jews.
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PostSubject: Re: My Yom Kippur   Tue Nov 01, 2011 12:16 pm

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4142033,00.html

Even if you're a born Jew by anyone's standards, it's getting harder to get married. I think the rabbinate is in danger of a small-scale rebellion by Jews in Israel.
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