Rabbi Andrew Sacks was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in the eighties, he served as a congregational rabbi and a Jewish educator until making Aliyah in 1987. Rabbi Sacks directs the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel, the organization of 170 Masorti rabbis. In addition he directs the Movement’s Bureau for Religious Affairs which provides religious services outside the framework of the official Orthodox rabbinate. He is considered an expert in laws related to conversion to Judaism and in laws relating to religious rights in Israel. He has written on the connection between conversion and the rights to citizenship under the Law of Return and has advised both the Jewish Agency and the Interior Ministry on this issue. Rabbi Sacks is an activist for religious pluralism and for Gender rights in Israel. His understanding of Jewish law demands a Judaism that is inclusive of all who were created in the image of God. For the past two decades he has served as Israel’s only non-Orthodox Mohel. He holds a BA in Political Science, MA and Rabbi from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and a Doctorate, Honorus Causa, from the Jewish Theological Seminary. His blog may be found on the Jerusalem Post web site.
What does Jewish Law Really Require of a Convert to Judaism?
Conversion to Judaism has evolved from the Biblical period to the Rabbinic period. Already by Talmudic times converts were considered both a blessing to the Jewish people and as troublesome as “disease.” Basic demands were spelled out in the Talmud and codified by Moses Maimonides. Over the centuries various communities embraced the prostelyte while others did not. Today, much of the Zelously Orthodox world has created bariars that place conversion out of reach of many who seek to join the Jewish people. Often the process is long and humiliating. But what does Jewish law really demand and why the controversy? We will explore the sources that show a stricter approach and those that promote a more open appraoch, all within the context of Jewish law.
Conversion and the Law of Return (Aliyah to Israel)
Israel opens its doors to citizenship, under the Law of Return, to most all who can prove Jewish parentage. But what is acceptable proof? What of the convert to Judaism? Are all conversions acceptable? Is the convert entitled to equal rights in Israel? Can the non-Orthodox convert marry in the State of Israel? What of divorce? Burial? Are Orthodox converts guaranteed acceptance by the religious establishment. There are efforts afoot to change the laws in Israel as they relate to conversion. How will Israelis be effected and why should those in the Diaspora be concerned about one of the hottest controversies in Israel?
“It is an Abomination”: Jewish views of Sexual and Gender Diversity
The Bible seems to call homosexual sex “an abomination.” The Talmud would have us believe that homosexuality was a non-issue among Jews. What do the sources tells us about prohibited acts and those that may be allowed? Are the laws one and the same for Lesbians and Gay men? Can homosexuality be accepted by the observant community? How does Jewish law view the Transgendered? Jews cover a broad range of variations in attitude. There is tremendous diversity within religious Jewish communities of all denominations. Even the Orthodox Jews include a broad range of opinion. How does mainstream Judaism view LGBT Jews who interact with and participate fully in modern society. This session will examine texts, with some new insights via a Queer interpretation.