A Dissent on Brother Daniel
IN DECEMBER, 1962, the Supreme Court of Israel rejected the claim of Brother Daniel, a Polish Jew who had become a Carmelite monk, that he was entitled to be admitted to Israel under the Law of Return. The decision of the Court-together with Brother Daniel’s paradoxical identification of himself as a Jew-has brought into sharp focus certain questions of Jewish identity that continue to be vexing both in Israel and throughout the Diaspora.
Brother Daniel, born Oswald Rufeisen, is the son of Polish-Jewish parents. As a boy, he belonged to the Zionist youth movement. After finishing secondary school in 1939, he spent two years on a hachsharah training farm preparing for emigration to Palestine. During the Nazi occupation of Poland, he became a hero of the Jewish resistance movement and, in the words of the Court, “rescued hundreds of his fellow Jews from the Gestapo in legendary feats of daring.” In 1942, while hiding from the Nazis in a convent, he converted to Roman Catholicism, though continuing to maintain his connections with his family and the Jewish community, and to regard himself as a Jew whose mission was to save other Jews. At the end of the war he joined the Carmelite order in the hope of being transferred from Poland to a Carmelite monastery in Palestine. He received his hoped-for assignment to Israel in 1958, and presented himself to the Polish authorities as a Jew seeking to emigrate to his homeland. Having relinquished his Polish nationality, he was then given the ordinary “Jewish” travel document for emigration to Israel.
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