Conversion to Judaism, the subject of controversy in Germany


The German Jewish community is currently agitated by a debate concerning the number of converts to Judaism in a country with a memory scarred by the Holocaust. A female cantor of a Berlin synagogue has been removed from her post after criticizing the growing number of conversions in a national daily.

It was through a column published on August 22 in the newspaper Die Welt that the scandal happened. The author, Avitall Gerstetter, is the first female hazzan (cantor equivalent) in Germany. This woman, whose father converted to Judaism, fears that too many non-Jews are joining his community at the risk of undermining its nature, reports the Times of Israel.

Gerstetter states that she knows not to speak of "giur" (converts) and that Jewish law does not accept a distinction between Jews by birth and those who have chosen Judaism. But, according to her, the ruler cannot ignore the fact that “the very large number of new Jews has brought about a considerable change in German Jewish life. During certain services, during certain speeches, I have more the impression of attending an interreligious event than of finding myself in a synagogue which is however familiar to me since my childhood”.

Figures from the Central Council for the Welfare of Jews in Germany indicate an average of 80 annual conversions over the past 21 years (1697 people). Gesa Ederberg, the female rabbi of the synagogue where Gerstetter officiated, is herself a convert and laments that the rostrum's impact on worshipers who are not of Jewish descent:

“Those members of our synagogue who have converted and worship his beautiful voice are amazed. »

Conversion to Judaism to atone for Germany's anti-Semitic past?

Gerstetter's tribune does not dispute the legitimacy of the conversions per se, but their reasons. In question, according to her, a too widespread desire to atone for the Nazi past or to identify with the victims rather than the executioners. She also laments that converts hold many leadership positions within German Jewry, and worries that they are being too lax when considering applications for conversion.

After the Second World War, thousands of Germans asked to join the Jewish community, which had been reduced to 25 members, whereas it numbered 000 in 523. Prudent, the chief rabbi of Berlin asked in 000 for the creation of a special commission to verify the sincerity of the requests in order to prevent former Nazis pretending to convert or Germans seeking to benefit from the new advantages reserved for the martyred community. Many felt the weight of “guilt, shame and shock” linked to the Holocaust, explains Barbara Steiner, a historian and herself a convert to marry a Jew.

Rabbi Zsolt Balla, board member of the Orthodox Rabbinical Conference of Germany, points out that conversion can be an advantage: “Often in our communities, converts lead by example. They make perhaps older members of the community see what they are supposed to do. He adds that, in the case of people from families with anti-Semitic backgrounds, some “come closer to Judaism and are literally passionate about it. »

Balla even points out that, according to the Talmud, the descendants of Prince Haman, who wanted to kill the Jews in Persia at the time of Queen Esther, became rabbis.

While Ederberg observes that the former hazzan asks interesting questions, she regrets that her statement generalizes too negatively, “how can she direct our prayers if that is her feeling? she asks herself.

Jean Sarpedon

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