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Friday, January 14, 2011

Conversion, Accepting Jewish Law Rather Than Fighting It

I have quite a number of friends who are converts to Judaism.  Some like Chaviva are very public about it, and others, backed by Halacha (Jewish Law,) keep it privately in their past.  There are many whose Judaism has evolved which required more than one conversion and even more than one marriage ceremony to the same person.

This article, from the OU, tells of one woman's acceptance of Halacha and subsequent conversion.  I recommend it as an antidote to those bitter articles by those complaining that their Reform or Conservative Judaism isn't accepted by mainstream Torah Judaism.  It's Reform (yes with a capital "R") and Conservative (yes with a capital "C") which are splitting and confusing the "who is a Jew" issue by changing the rules to suit their ideologies, agendas.

Only a genuine diamond is a genuine diamondRhinestones and zircons aren't, no matter how brightly they sparkle.

If you want to be Jewish, don't compromise, go for genuine Torah Judaism.


Anonymous said...


But IDF conversions are OK....
Very telling.

Anonymous said...

Like: moving your limbs on command is OK, but thinking is not.

Chaviva said...

Warning: You're going to get a lot of angry commenters, but I think you're aware :) This is a tough issue.

I don't, however, know how those who choose to keep silent are "backed by halakah." There is nothing in Torah law that says to stay mum on the topic. It's the misunderstanding of the stigma of calling out a convert that has people doing this. It's also -- in Haredi circles -- a fear of retribution for being a convert, so the convert actually takes on the role of the questioner/persecutor of the convert to hide away (when the bullied becomes the bully, if you will). It's a serious bummer :\

Can't wait to read the article!

Shy Guy said...

Anonymous, perhaps the IDF conversions are OK. Perhaps not.

What did you mean by moving limbs versus thinking?

shualah elisheva said...

rhinestones and cubic zirconium may sparkle so brightly that only a trained jeweler can see the difference.

in this case, that would be hashem. a jewish neshamah is a jewish neshamah, irrespective of the political [yes, political - batei din that used to be acceptable in israel are no longer on the "list" for no explicitly stated reason] machinations.

i think your point was well-taken until you made that unnecessary comparison. saying that reform and conservative gerim are "fake" is far more insulting and far less tactful than merely stating, "for halachic jewry, conservative and reform geirus does not fulfill necessary and sufficient conditions." those of us who adhere to a halachic lifestyle are under no obligation to accept the geirus of conservative or reform batei din -but we are to obligated to be kind and sensitive to our fellow man.

Carrie said...

The question of "who is a Jew" is clearly a complicated one, and much is at stake. I can appreciate that you would prefer one system of rules - this would indeed make life simpler in some ways. However, if that were the case the Jewish people would not be as healthy as it is today.

Yes - with all of the complications - I believe that the Jewish community is stronger because of its diversity. Understandings and applications of halacha have always changed over time. If that were not the case, we would still be stoning people who violated Shabbat, and taking an eye for an eye. I, for one, am grateful for reinterpretations.

Judaism was never meant to be stagnant. Ideology and agendas play into ALL of our interpretations - not just Reform and Conservative ones.

I echo the above comment about being kind to k'lal Yisrael (and those who, most honorably, are working toward joining our community). While we may not agree with each other's opinions, we have an obligation to treat each other with respect.

shualah elisheva said...

another note about diction: you proclaim the article on the orthodox union to be an "antidote" to "bitter" articles written by reform and conservative gerim.

i see that above this comment space, there is a disclaimer declaring that "there are polite ways of responding." an antidote is a "remedy or other agent used to neutralize or counteract the effects of a poison," according to the american heritage dictionary. discounting the very real frustrations that reform and conservative gerim feel is disrespectful to their legitimate emotional struggles as human beings. declaring those emotional struggles to be poisonous or something to be counteracted only compounds the problem - that discourse between halachic judaism and liberal judaism is stifled by subtle + overt disrespect on both sides.

again, your point about halachic geirus versus more liberal geirus is noted, understood, and supported. it's the word choice that is inflammatory. the same phrase regarding antidotes could easily have been reworded to say: "this article on the orthodox union website provides a counterbalance to articles written by gerim from more liberal movements."

we belong to a faith that focuses on guarding the tongue. in the electronic age, that equally applies to the keyboard.

Keli Ata said...

I will probably get blasted for this. Yes, of course if one truly loves Hashem with all of his/or heart, mind, and soul the obvious first step is an Orthodox conversion.

That said, I do know people who converted to Reform and Conservative Judaism and their love of Hashem deepened to the point where they become more Torah observant and as they moved from strength to strength in their commitment to Hashem they moved closer to Orthodoxy.

Orthodox rabbis seem genuinely moved when a ger deepens their love of Hashem and wants to become more observant.

OT but this was the first year I held a Chanukah party outside of my apartment which faces my neighbor's back yard. I can't believe to describe the pride I experienced in having those holy lights shining for all to see as anyone who walked by could see my happiness and joy.

Whether a ger choses to let others know of their xtian or other past or not is a personal decision. As for me? I am proud to let people know where I was spiritually and how I made spiritual aliyah.

It is entirely possible that those who make Reform and Conservative conversions will make this same aliyah and become much more Torah observant. So I try not to be judgmental.

In the Artscroll Haggadah there is a footnote about their being three types of Jews--one worships Hashem with his lips, another with his heart, and other with his essence. That I believe recognizes that people can and do make spiritual aliyah.

Just my two cents, though

(My only problem is when a Reform rabbi converts someone who admits to not believing in G-d at all). I've read an article about someone doing that.

Anonymous said...

The Jewish people are divided. This fact is not the fault of the many sincere converts who find their way to Judaism through Reform and Conservative congregations. Hashem knows what a mess we humans have made of the world. In his true mercy and compassion, He sees into the heart and soul of those who want to seek him through Judaism. And, in the end, only He will be the final judge.

At the moment, even in the Orthodox world, substantial debate surrounds this very topic. Conversion courts fall in and out of favor, and perfectly valid conversions suddenly come into question as the "authorities" in Israel decide which courts best align with their personal view. So, if the so-called "diamond" of Judaism cannot get its act together, should we really waste all this time arguing about which conversion is the "true path" to Hashem?

If there are bitter and negative words from our conservative and reform brethren, then perhaps we should look to ourselves for the reason. When an article about the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords devolves into an attack on her "Jewishness" (comments on the articles) is there any wonder that patrilineal Jews and reform/conservative converts react with anger and defensiveness? There are enough "kosher" Orthodox who use any opportunity, even the most horrific tragedy, to push their agenda of the "true faith". And, personally, I wonder about those who are so invested in the belief of others. Religious observance requires so much personal and emotional demand that I, personally, find I have not one ounce of energy left to focus on the faith of anyone else around me. I am flawed enough. Am I really in any position to find fault in another?

Lastly, a practical note. Belief that a halachic conversion is the only true conversion is fine. However, if the goal is to bring people to this understanding, then the method, surely, is to accept people where they are, and then foster their religious and spiritual growth. Saying "Hey you are not Jewish", and insulting the VERY real, deep, and life-altering changes that bring all converts to all of the streams of Judaism is short-sighted. In the end, maybe us so called "halachic" converts are the ones who are wrong. We won't know for sure until we stand before Hashem on the day of our judgment. Until then, we need to remember that Hashem promises that we will be judged with the same harshness or gentleness with which we judge others. Personally, I, myself, am in need of as much compassion as possible!

Eve Shtern

Anonymous said...

@Keli Ata, I think you'll find a number of Reform Jews who don't believe in God. In fact, many in the Reform community do not see it as a requirement for being a practicing Jew.

Batya said...

Chaviva, right, I didn't realize I'd get so many comments. After posting I went into my Friday pre-Shabbat mode and never returned to the computer.

I don't know if I'll end up responding to everyone, sorry.

a1, I never mentioned the IDF conversions, which are technically standard halachik ones. Each case must be looked at individually at the time of conversion.

As long as the convert isn't lying about believing in another religion (or any other totally forbidden situation) at the time of conversion, once the conversion takes place, the person is Jewish. A different rabbi or beit din has no right to cancel a conversion, IMHO.

shualah, Reform and Conservative conversions are genuine Reform and Conservative conversions, and that's all they are.

Carrie, the more people who change the rules, or make up their own rules the more complicated the "who is a Jew?" issue will be.

Shy, a's referring to another post.

Keli, if Reform or Conservative converts become more Torah observant in Israel, it doesn't change their status.

Shavua Tov

Anonymous said...

Everyone judges according to his own flaws. Everyone.

Bells said...

On a "true conversion", from Sages and Scholars:

Talmud: "We inform the candidate for conversion of some of the easier and some of the more severe commandments, but we do not enlarge on this matter and do not go into detail"...."[The candidate for conversion] is not, however, to be persuaded or dissuaded too much. If he accepted, he is circumcised forthwith.”Baraita, Yevamot 47 a-b.

Talmud, in the name of Rabbi Nehemiah: "Both a man who became a proselyte for the sake of a woman and a woman who became a proselyte for the sake of a man...are not proper proselytes. Yevamot 24b.

Rambam, re: accepting all mitzvot "We do not go into detail". Hilkhot Issurey Biah 13:2. Later, he says if for any reason this phase of conversion was omitted, the fact does not invalidate the conversion. 13:7.

Talmud: "A Gentile who comes to accept the Torah (conversion) except for one item (in the Torah), we do not accept him?" Bekhorot 30b.

Responses to Bekhorot 30b:

Rabbi Haim Ozer Grodzensk: If the candidate for conversion expressly stipulates that his conversion is on condition that he be exempt from fulfilling one or another mitzvah, then he is not accepted. But if he makes no such stipulation, and merely intends not to observe a mitzvah because of its inconvenience, this does not render him invalid for conversion. Responsa Ahiezer pt. 3, no. 26.

Sephardic Chief Rabbi Uzziel explains: "It may well be that he will have children who will be more positive in fulfilling the commandments" Mishpetei Uzziel no. 58.

Sephardic Chief Rabbi UzzieI: "I admit without embarrassment that my heart is filled with trembling for every Jewish soul that is assimilated among the non-Jews. I feel in myself a duty and mitzvah to open a door to repentance to save [Jews] from assimilation by [invoking] arguments for leniency. This is the way of Torah, in my humble opinion, and this is what I saw and received from my parents and teachers” Mishpetei Uziel, 5698, no. 26.

Now go, study. The day is long and the work is much.

Bells said...

If you'd like to study these, and other texts, please let me know. I welcome (and would love) the opportunity to learn together.

Shy Guy said...

Bells, they key is the source you bring down from Yevamot 24b.

If there's an overwhelming ulterior motive on the part of the candidate for conversion, they are not accepted.

None of the other sources you brought down disagree with this.

The problem in Israel with these mass conversions is that they are mostly for the purpose of convenience, whether, marital, financial, bureaucratic or social. That should make them non-starters.

That's not to say that numerous Orthodox organizations haven't gone overboard in some of their demands for sincere converts to recite the Shulchan Aruch backwards.

There is a major problem here in Israel, brought upon us by the secular state, with much blame on the "Jewish" Agency and those who were in charge of it over the last several decades.

You left out Rebbi Chelbo's saying, which is interspersed in 4 different places in the Talmud:

"Converts are as hard for Israel as a scab (psoriasis) [kashim gerim leYisrael ke sapakhat]."

True, sincere Geirim are one of Am Yisrael's greatest assets throughout our national history. Not so mass conversions with motives of convenience. Look 'em up.

Bells said...

I'm familiar with that aphorism. As we both know, it's a play on Isaiah 14: "And the ger shall join himself with them and they shall cleave [nispekhu] to the house of Jacob." There's a strong split between the inclusive "cleave" and the derogatory "scab." Exegetes are free to choose which way they'll swing—either gerim should be embraced, or the should be treated as an undesired lot.

There is a wide discussion of the Talmudic aphorism in the Tosafot and its commentaries. If you want to read them with me, please let me know.

As to motivation—if that's the driving force, then that is all that should be whatever point of inquiry is used to determine the "validity" of a conversion, and not the school under which the conversion was obtained. The comments I have made to this post are strictly relegated to the content of the post itself.

Fortunata said...

Well, converts or chozerey bit'shuva tend to meet open, welcoming arms at first. Later, they see that those welcomers are but a tiny fraction of the general population, who does not want to have anything to do with them and also think that they are "not quite up to our standards" as far as shidduchim are concerned.

So then, they can either hang in there, or they will become quite disappointed and lonely. They left their original family for an ideal they pursued, and then they discover that the reality of the community is quite far from this ideal.

As far as revealing that one is a convert is concerned: I discovered that "the community" loves to exchange notes behind backs, so eventually everybody will know, just the ger might think they don't. In order to avoid this kind of uneasy feeling - people talking behind your back - it's better to be upfront about being a Ger.

Moriah said...

The Torah says "Do not stray to the right or the left."

One can not be considered to be doing what's proper in Hashem's eyes when they cherry pick Mitzvot and distort what IT IS to be a Jew. Our express purpose, of being a Jews in this world is to be an emissary for Hashem - to do His will! We are in this terrible position today because of our behavior. We are supposed to be examples. That doesn't mean doing whatever the heck we want to do because it's what we "feel" like doing. WE do not define what it means to be a Jew. We have Halacha.

Jews are responsible for one another. We pray in the plural and so are we punished. When someone is out there and they have decided they are going to convert but eat treif, are immodest, their mouth is a garbage can filled with swearing and lashon hara, how does this benefit the Jewish people? I met a woman who was a Reform convert. One year after I met with her she was off to Buddhism. By-the-way, I've been treated with so much more warmth in an Orthodox shul than I ever was in a Reform "temple."

Moriah said...

An eye for an eye is commonly misunderstood. It does not mean you poke out my eye, I poke out your eye. It is a monetary compensation.

Shy Guy said...

Regarding Geirim, Ba'alei Teshuva and shiduchim, yes, they have a bigger hurdle because an often false "stigma" is attached to them, but if you look at the shiduchim scene with a wide angled lens, they're getting married just the same as everyone else.

The singles scene does not have a specially high rate of Geirim and Ba'alei teshuva versus their percentage of the overall Torah observant population.

In no way am I trying to minimize the unfair cases of scrutiny and prejudice many people go through. But at the end of the day, the Ribbono Shel Olam is watching out for each and every one of us.

Yachiel said...

Converting to Judaism is not like becoming Catholic or a Muslim. Jews are members of the largest family on the planet. Genetically it is proven hat the vast majority of Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews go back to 4 mothers ~90%.

We have a certain code - a rule book called Torah which was given to us by G-d and by our Great great great...Grandparents. So unfortunately if you want Global acceptance into our family, Orthodox conversion through an Orthodox Beit Dien is the way.

It does not say that if you do a Conservative conversion that some people will not say you are Jewish. But all will not say you are Jewish. If you do an Orthodox conversion ALL will agree with your conversion without exception.

Personally, I do not face the challenge, but I was Bal'Chuva and Chabad helped make me feel welcomed back into my family. However, it took a lot of work and study on my part. Just now after nearly 3 years would the Beit Dien readily allow me to call myself Jewish and issue my conversion.

My quest was driven from my heart and my passion to be close to Hashem and follow in his most thoughtful and just ways. I would hope that a new member to my family would at minimum want to do the same.

Batya said...

Yachiel, "Orthodox" is American. I don't use the term; I say Torah Judaism.

Moriah said...

"Torah Judaism."

Two fumbs up!

Keli Ata said...

@Batya--I like the term Torah Judaism much better than Orthodox.

Batya said...

It's more accurate.

Keli Ata said...

I only wish my mother were alive so that I could answer her repeated question to me--Why Jewish? What I woulconverts give to now give her a full and beautiful answer.

As for mass conversions--very bad idea. Conversion for convenience is never good.

My chief concern with Reform conversions is that without the love and desire to obey Hashem's commandments what ties the person to Judaism? It's a religion after all.

I think the majority of rabbis are suspicious if someone only wants to convert for marriage. Again, without the love of Hashem, the Jewish people, and Torah what is the point in converting at all?

Batya said...

Keli, it's more than just "love and desire," it's recognition that the mitzvot are a requirement and G-d makes the rules.

Yes, complicated

Keli Ata said...

Right Batya. I should have clarified. Of course it is a commitment to Hashem and obeying His laws.

Batya said...

OK m'dear

JDL London Canada said...

My point:Ruth is turning over in her grave ... Does it always have to be this complicated? We've become like the Keystone cops when it comes to conversions. No wonder islam and evangelicals are the fastest growing movement. The rabbis, in some cases, 'put a gun' to a ger's head. When the ger gets to Israel then the ger is fair game ... It's pathetic. Why do coversions at all?

Batya said...

jdl, not quite like that