Chapter 16

THE ARAB WHO WAS CONVERTED TO JUDAISM

When I was the Director of Jewish Studies at the Jewish High School in Liverpool, England, during the 1970s, one of my pupils was Ian R. I recollect one Chanukah, when he was either in one of the higher classes of the school, or had just left the school, that he and his friends put on a Chanukah performance for the pupils of the school. One of the items was a song which (I think) they composed, beginning “On the First day of Chanukah …” which was based on the song “On the First day of Christmas …” Whereas this song for Christmas has verses for all the 12 days of Christmas, Chanukah only has 8 days? So what did these singers do? For the ninth day they sang “On the first day after Chanukah…” and so on! As I recollect, I think I later mentioned to Ian that there is a reference to twelve days in connection with Chanukah, since the leining for Chanukah is the portion dealing with the twelve nesi’im (princes) who brought gifts at the dedication of the Alter in the Tabernacle, on twelve consecutive days.

At the period when Ian graduated from the school, I had written a booklet entitled “How to Answer Anti-Israel Propaganda” which was designed for Jewish university students to help them counter anti-Israel motions which were then rife on the various University campuses in England. I gave a copy to Ian, who was then at Hull University and was President of the Jewish Society. He carefully went over it and suggested various small changes and also changing the tile to “Israel’s Case for Survival.” However, just a few months later I returned to Israel and thus nothing further came of this matter.

Whilst I was at the school, I had heard that Ian had been adopted and converted by the London Beth Din. That was all I knew and at that time it appears that he himself knew little more than that.

It was in 1995, that a long article appeared in the “Jerusalem Post” about Ian. This article described that he had meanwhile discovered that his biological father was a Kuwaiti Arab and that Ian had unsuccessfully applied to the English Courts to try and get his adoption revoked.

In the summer of 2007, I started thinking about investigating Ian’s case history and in March 2008, began serious work on this subject. Ian had stated in this article of 1995 that he intended to take his case to the House of Lords and if that failed to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, and I wanted to know if he had done so.

I accordingly asked a question on the Wikipedia Reference Desk – Humanities on 8 March 2008. After summarising in a few lines what I knew about the case, I asked “Does any user know if this case came to these Courts [House of Lords and the Court in Strasbourg], or that there were any other developments in this matter?” I received a reply informing me that this case had gone to the Court of Appeal in July 1995 and it gave me a direct link to the verbatim court judgment. I accordingly looked it up this judgment and ran off a copy.

I also at that period looked up on the archives of the London “Jewish Chronicle” which appear on the Internet, any articles on Ian’s case and on Jewish adoption in general in Britain. To accomplish this I utilized “keywords’ such as Ian’s names, “adoption” and “Beth Din”, for the appropriate year range, and found about 25 potential articles in this newspaper. In June 2008, I went to the Jewish National Library in Givat Ram, Jerusalem, and looked up these references one by one on the microfilms of the “Jewish Chronicle”. I made a note of those which were relevant and had photocopies made from them.

I had also found in a brief article on Ian which appeared in the “Jerusalem Post” in October 1991, a reference to an article which had appeared in the “Manchester Jewish Telegraph”. I accordingly ordered the microfilm of the “Jewish Telegraph” from this library and began searching the various October 1991 editions of this newspaper for this article. But no luck! I then extended my search progressively backwards and until I reached August of that year, when I finally found it, and had a photocopy made of it.

In these newspaper articles was also a reference to the fact that a BBC television documentary had been made on Ian’s life, but no further details were given. From the Internet I found a possible lead to something which had appeared in “The Times” of London in May 1994. I looked up the microfilm of this paper and indeed it was a reference to this documentary. It gave the name of the programme, a brief summary of its contents, the series it appeared in, and the date and time of its television showing. From my further research I was able to find out details of the production company. On 13 June 2008 I sent an e-mail to this company, who was based in London, asking if a DVD of this documentary could be purchased and if so how much it cost and the procedure for its purchase. On receiving this information from the company, I recommended to the purchasing department of the Jewish National Library that they purchase a copy. I gave them the technical details of the documentary, and pointed out that it had both Jewish and Israeli interest. I also gave them a detailed summary of Ian’s life. However, due to budgetary cutbacks, and the fact that they felt the programme wasn’t Jewish enough, they were unable to purchase it.

At about that period of time, I was also investigating material on adoption in accordance with Jewish Law. The London Beth Din had in 1959 set up an Adoption Department and one of its Dayanim, Rabbi Meyer Steinberg had published a book which was a long responsum on various aspects of this subject. In addition, an English translation of part of this book had appeared. These books are to be found in the Jewish National Library and I carefully went through them and photocopied the many relevant pages. I also found other relevant material on this subject on the Internet.

However, I still had several questions of which I did not know the answers. I therefore wrote to the London Beth Din pointing out that I was doing “some historical research which includes the part played by the London Beth Din on the conversion of an adopted non-Jewish baby” and I had a few questions on this subject. These questions which I “intended to be of a general nature only” included how would the Beth Din know that an adoption of a baby by a Jewish couple in the North of England whose mother was non-Jewish ever took place? The other questions were whether the Beth Din would tell a minor convert aged about eleven that he could renounce his conversion immediately he reached the age of Barmitzvah, and would the three people required to be present at a “hatafat dam brit” be Dayanim from the London Beth Din? The Registrar of the London Beth Din answered that because of confidentiality he cannot answer for a specific case but he was able to give me answers of a general nature for the last two questions.

In addition to the actual adoption procedure, there are Jewish religious problems arising from adoption, such as yichud (the prohibition of two people of the opposite sex being together in an isolated area) and the obligations of adoptive parents towards their adopted children. I also carefully researched them.

Ian’s adoption took place in England. Needless to say, it had to be accordance with English law. Furthermore, his case to revoke his adoption was brought before the English Courts. To investigate these aspects of the case, I went to the Law Library on Mount Scopus. Following a terrorist attack on this campus a number of years ago, for a period of time, only members of the University were allowed to enter the campus. Soon after, this was relaxed and non-member of the University could apply on the spot for a pass to enter the building on that particular day. This had been the procedure on my last visit to this campus a few years earlier. However today it is easier and it is sufficient just to show one’s Israeli Identity Card on entering.

I made my way to this Law Library and found copies in the various different Law Reports of Ian’s unsuccessful appeal to the Appeal Court, and I photocopied one of them. Unlike the Jewish National Library where one can insert one’s visa card into the photocopying machine, do one’s photocopying and be automatically charged, at Mount Scopus one has to buy a card for 100 photocopies. The photocopies are however considerably cheaper than at the Jewish National Library, but on the other hand, one is limited to paper of size A4.

I could not find the verbatim verdict of Ian’s case in the lower court. This was only summarized in the Report of the Appeal Court verdict. It would seem that it has not been published. The case however seems to have been of sufficient importance since it occupies more than a whole page in “The All England Law Reports Annual Review” for 1995. This Review describes it as a “distressing case”.

I also photocopied the appropriate sections from the Adoption Act, the Children Act, etc. and looked at “Halsbury’s Laws of England” for any material that might be relevant. In Halsbury there was a reference to a publication by the British Ministry of Health on “Adoption Issues”. From the University Library catalogue, I saw that this publication was in a different library in that building. The only library (other than the Law Library) which I knew of at the time in that building was the main library. I went there but they told me that it was in the Social Work and Education Library in that building. This was the first time I knew of the existence of such a library there! I began to search for it and if one is not acquainted with all the nooks and crannies of that building, it is a nightmare for find anything. I finally found that library but this book was on loan. I went again a few weeks later to this library, but it was on loan to someone else. It seems it is a very popular book.

I in fact only wanted a photocopy of one small item in this publication and so I sent an e-mail to the Ministry of Health in England asking to send me by e-mail a photocopy of that page. They referred me to a different Government Department - (there had been changes in the Ministries in Britain since this publication had come out). This latter Department replied that there were copyright restrictions, but since the extract I wanted was less than 250 words they could send it to me. They enclosed a scan of this page but it arrived as gibberish. I accordingly informed them of this and they replied giving me a verbatim copy of this paragraph.

At one stage of his life, Ian went to Israel but because of his dark skin, he was often mistaken as an Arab. He was told to return to England and was informed that he would be considered a persona non grata in Israel. I found this to be very strange in light of the Israeli “Law of Return”. I accordingly photocopied this law and also the debates in the Knesset prior to the passing of this law and they are briefly discussed in my paper together with the Jewish law aspects of a Jew living in Israel.

The Matron of the Nursing Home, where Ian’s biological mother had taken him for adoption, had written a certificate for the adoptive parents on the details of Ian’s circumcision. However there were a number of problems in the wording of the certificate and these are discussed in my paper. One of them concerned the doctor who performed this circumcision. In the “Jewish Year Book” published annually in London, is a page giving the names of the mohelim registered with the “Initiation Society” in England. In the Year Book for 1959 and in the few years before and after that year, the name of this doctor does not appear. I therefore tried to send an e-mail to the In Initiation Society, but for some reason it could not be delivered and so I sent them a letter on 15 June 2008 asking if they had information about this doctor. Their medical officer sent me an e-mail saying that “he was certainly not a member of the Initiation Society” and that they could “find no record” of a mohel with that name “who was active in the 1950/60s.” Soon after, I also received a letter from the secretary of this Society with a similar message. I then sent an e-mail to the British Medical Association with a similar request, but received no reply.

I had read in an article that in the United States it was illegal to do adoption on the basis of the religion of the adopted child. However, in the book “and Hannah wept”, I had read precisely the opposite. I first submitted a question on this point to Wikipedia Reference Desk - Humanities but didn’t receive a clear answer. I therefore sent an e-mail to Vicki Krausz of the “Jewish Children’s Adoption Network” with this query. She replied, “Actually, it is not illegal to take into account a child’s religion. It is illegal to refuse to place a child in a family of a different race or ethnicity while waiting for someone of the same ethnicity.”

Having assembled all my information on this subject, I wrote up my paper, dividing the life of Ian to various eras, which included his birth, his circumcision, his adoption, his conversion to the Jewish faith, his teenage years, his search for his biological parents, his period in Israel, his meetings with his biological parents and his appeal to the English courts to nullify his adoption. I had found the various newspaper articles on Ian invaluable in assisting me to fill in the details on the various eras of his life.

Although his full name had been published in many newspapers and on the television documentary, I still decided that I would not mention it in my article, but just designate him by the letter B. I did likewise for his adopted parents who received the designation R, the doctor who performed the circumcision as F and the matron of the nursing home as W.

My paper was finished towards the end of August 2008, and I sent copies to various libraries and to those who had supplied me with information. I also put a copy on my website.

Michael Rothbard had been one of Ian’s teachers in Liverpool and I therefore sent Michael a copy of the paper. He telephoned me to thank me but he said that he could not remember who Ian was.

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