Honesty on Patrilineal Descent

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Most would agree that the single most consistent and dangerous flashpoint in the Orthodox-Heterodox divide is the issue of “Who is a Jew.” Much of the animosity and anger that the heterodox feel about this issue, however, is misplaced — because they are given an inaccurate portrayal of the position of the observant community. Just recently, Scholastic Books committed to reprinting the “Israel” volume in an educational series, because of the erroneous claim that “some ultra-Orthodox Jews… believe that Reform and Conservative Jews are not really Jews at all because they are not strict in their observance of all the religious laws.”

This falsehood was, itself, the outgrowth of an earlier one: that the Orthodox summarily reject Reform and Conservative conversions, excluding committed young men and women from the Jewish people simply because they converted under heterodox auspices.

A falsehood? But isn’t it true that the Orthodox summarily reject heterodox conversions?

I would argue that this is, in fact, a falsehood. What is surprising is finding support for this position in an article distributed by the JTA. Sue Fishkoff is the author of both the JTA piece and “The Rebbe’s Army: Inside the World of Chabad-Lubavitch.” While Chabad is not even mentioned in this article, I wonder to what extent her deeper understanding of observance led her to question the conventional wisdom. Perhaps, though, it was simply observing the real-world consequences when “patrilineal” families migrated to Conservative synagogues, only to find that their children were ineligible for Bar or Bat Mitzvah honors because they were born to a non-Jewish mother.

What Fishkoff recognizes is what so many have obscured — perhaps deliberately — in the past: that the Conservative and Reform movements have a similar rift over “who is a Jew,” which receives much less coverage because it doesn’t show up as Israeli government policy. There are now thousands of Reform “Jews” who are not Jews at all according to the Conservative movement (and, of course, the Orthodox), thanks to patrilineal descent. And this leads Fishkoff to place the onus where it belongs: upon those who unilaterally changed the rules for membership in the Jewish people. “Only some Conservative rabbis, and no Orthodox rabbis, recognize Reform conversions,” she writes. “Many Jewish leaders fault Reform rabbis who don’t make that clear to their congregants.”

Kathy Bloomfield is Mikvah Center director of Mayyim Hayyim, a community mikvah in Newton, Mass. She has seen many cases, she says, of older children who were raised Jewish in Reform congregations and later faced questions about their status.

“Maybe the family moved and joined a Conservative congregation, the time comes for their bat mitzvah and they’re told they’re not Jewish,” she says. “We need to tell the Reform community that patrilineal descent is wonderful, but they have to be prepared when they go to college and are told they’re not Jewish.”

Being up front about the different interpretations of “Who is a Jew?” prevents emotional trauma and helps ease the way for those who ultimately choose conversion.

“They shouldn’t come into the mikvah angry at the world for making them do this,” she counsels.

This is why it is inaccurate to say that the Orthodox summarily reject heterodox conversions. No Orthodox rabbinical council ever sat to discuss the matter and emerge with a decree. Rather, the Talmud, the Rambam [Maimonides], and the Shulchan Aruch [Rabbi Yosef Karo’s “Set Table” of Jewish Law], laid out standards which the Reform and Conservative movements deliberately chose to violate, knowing full well that those who remained dedicated to traditional observance would be unable to accept the results.

It is those who failed to pass on this knowledge to their own potential converts who must bear full responsibility for the pain thus inflicted upon these sincere individuals and their equally-sincere descendants, and it is refreshing to see an article that gets this right distributed via the JTA.

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36 Responses

  1. Yaakov Menken says:

    We don’t need to “assume the worst of intentions” or launch a demographic survey. It would be insulting not to assume that Rabbis affiliated with the Conservative movement have enough Jewish knowledge to have chosen to be Conservative rather than traditionally observant.

    I mentioned, merely as an additional point, that a Conservative convert usually intends to merge with his or her new peers — a laity that does not observe even by Conservative standards. While Reb Yid may call this “the worst of intentions,” I do not agree. And even should one find a Conservative convert who intended to accept all 613 Commandments by Orthodox standards, the fact remains that there was no Bais Din.

    I agree with Larry that the Rabbinate is tightening its standards to avoid false conversions even by allegedly “Orthodox” Rabbis. I disagree if he believes that’s a bad thing. The problem doesn’t lie with Rabbi Amar, but with those whose “conversions” rendered the bureaucratic hassles necessary.

  2. Reb Yid says:

    YM writes:

    “How many converts are there about whom we have any doubts as to whether there was a valid Bais Din, and whether they ever intended to observe even by Conservative standards, much less Maimonidean?”

    On the latter point we don’t know, but why assume the worst of intentions in almost all cases?

    And why assume that all or most converts who go to an Orthodox rabbi for conversion have motives/intentions that are any more “pure”?

    Lacking any solid empirical data here, the conclusions that follow from the rest of that post are pretty meaningless.

  3. Larry Lennhoff says:

    There’s no doubt that there are invalid conversions in Orthodox circles, but those are fortunately quite rare.
    Ask Rabbi Shlomo Amar shlita about how rare they are. Revoking or declaring conversions invalid, often years after the event, is becoming more and more common. Converts are increasingly coming to live in fear that their conversion can be called into question.

  4. meir says:

    Ori,

    I would think that whenever there are particular reasons to suspect on the giyur or the rabbis who make the giyur (they are known to have made valueless gerus) there may be room to question, before marrying off one’s child to that person.

  5. Yaakov Menken says:

    Noam is trying to make a comparison between a vanishing minority and an overwhelming majority, and shouldn’t be surprised that it fails. Since affiliation with the Conservative movement has meant favoring change to Torah Law for the past half-century, what is there to talk about? How many converts are there about whom we have any doubts as to whether there was a valid Bais Din, and whether they ever intended to observe even by Conservative standards, much less Maimonidean?

    Fifteen years ago I met a young woman who was NCSY’s student of the year, and then discovered her senior year that her non-observant mother was converted into the Conservative movement. It was obvious to her that she needed to convert genuinely, because there was no question that her mother had never intended to accept mitzvah observance.

    Meanwhile, it is true that we have “a few Lubavitch Rabbis who pray to the Rebbe.” I am not aware that they have converted anyone; most “shlichim” are at most Meshichist, but not praying to their Rebbe. Obviously any conversion by an “Elokist” would be valueless… but we need to first find out that it happened, and that’s far less common than, say, the sham “Orthodox” conversions of American basketball players to get them onto Maccabee Tel Aviv. At least it used to be common — I think the state rabbinate may have cleaned house in that area.

    There’s no doubt that there are invalid conversions in Orthodox circles, but those are fortunately quite rare. Today, any conversion done by a Conservative Rabbi fails simply because of his professed beliefs. There’s nothing to be “judgemental” about.

  6. Bob Miller says:

    There are worse things than being judgmental.

    We see now what a Trojan horse Conservatism has always been for Judaism. All the moral/religious problems Conservatives now have are open expressions of the contradictions concealed within their belief system from the start. The comfort of convenient lies has led the movement from the progressive abandonment of Torah principles to the progressive abandonment of practical mitzvot to the open toleration of deviant behavior. If the flock has wandered off this far, we can blame the shepherds.

  7. Noam says:

    Mr. Miller,

    I don’t think that the group of G-d fearing, mitzva observing Rabbi’s who recieved smicha from JTS (when smicha from there really meant something) have to prove anything to you. I guess you will remain unsatisfied. The fact that you can be so judgemental, without knowing anything about the people that you are talking about, reflects very poorly on you.

  8. Bob Miller says:

    Noam asserted, “we have established that at least a few conversions done by Conservative Rabbis are kosher”

    Not to my satisfaction whatsoever!

  9. Noam says:

    My point is that we have established that at least a few conversions done by Conservative Rabbis are kosher, yet we have blanket condemnations and disregard for conversion by Conservative rabbis. We have at least a few Lubavitch Rabbis who pray to the Rebbe. I have no idea how many or the percenteges. However, I have not seen anyone here call for an examination of any conversions performed by Lubavitch rabbis. I am not intending to cast aspersions on all Lubavitch rabbis. I am only wondering why one group gets condemned as a group, while the other gets absolutely no scrutiny. The solution occured to me was that the feeling was that not enough Lubavitchers are mesichists to make it worth scrutiny. But that brings up the question, what percentage has to be suspect to make it worth scrutinizing? Or, is there a double standard, where Conservative malfeasence is roundly condemned, and other malfeasence is ignored?

  10. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Meir: Essentially, anything that makes one to be unfit to be considered a kosher witness, makes him be unfit to a member in the beth din. If he violates a a precept that would make him punishable with “malkot” (flagging) in the times of the Beit Hamikdash, knowingly that would make him unfit to be a witness and member of the beth din. Likewise a thief or a fraudulent would be unfit to be a witness and obviously a judge. With regards to your “shevach” scenario: most probably the conversion would be worth zilch if it was performed after the time that shevach was selling treyfe meat (even before the discovery).

    Ori: Thank you. May I ask a related question? How far back do you need to check this? Imagine your son is about to marry a giyoret. Would you be obligated to ask about the Beit Din that converted her? What if she was born Jewish, but her mother is a giyoret? If it’s earlier than that, in the female line, would you need to look for court records on the Beit Din members?

    At what point do you invoke the Mishnaic percept of: If we did that, we’d have to look into every court since the time of Moses (Mishnah Rosh Hashana 2:9: “אמר לו, אם באים אנו לדון אחר בית דינו של רבן גמליאל–צריכין אנו לדון אחר כל בית דין ובית דין שעמד מימות משה ועד עכשיו”).

  11. T A Zev says:

    I thought the fracas over Reform Jews ignoring halacha when divorcing and the problems when they remarry was the issue that drove M. Feinstein z’l to rule that marriages officiated by heterodox rabbis to be invalid (how can a mamzer be born if the mother was never officially married previously) and, by extension, conversions and everything else are invalid, too. Am I wrong?

  12. Yaakov Menken says:

    A brief correction for Reb Yid: I didn’t write that “a Lieberman conversion would be kosher before he went to JTS, but not after.” I said “perhaps include him earlier but not later in his JTS career.” As in, during his time at JTS, when the institution and the movement changed as, perhaps, did his own opinions. Again, I do not know and do not claim to know. But I did not say that at the time he chose JTS over Chaim Berlin, this invalidated him.

    Questions about observance of the Commandments are not pro forma. The actual acceptance of those Commandments as Divine Law is a prerequisite for conversion. If a person converted in front of three great Rabbis intending to celebrate his new status over a ham sandwich (knowing it was not Kosher), those Rabbis themselves would tell you he never converted, though there might have been no way to know it at the time.

    Is Noam asserting that the majority of Lubavitchers pray to the Rebbe? I do not believe that to be true (and no, please, let us not go off on this tangent!).

  13. Bob Miller says:

    The chance that C or R clergy will sell the convert-in-training on their own “stream” as regards self-identification, choice of congegation, etc., is extremely high.

    The chance that C or R clergy will spend time on someone who wants to be Orthodox (that is, to buy into the whole Torah package and not selected short subjects), or that such a person will approach them to begin with, is laughably low.

  14. meir says:

    Ori,

    Essentially, anything that makes one to be unfit to be considered a kosher witness, makes him be unfit to a member in the beth din. If he violates a a precept that would make him punishable with “malkot” (flagging) in the times of the Beit Hamikdash, knowingly that would make him unfit to be a witness and member of the beth din. Likewise a thief or a fraudulent would be unfit to be a witness and obviously a judge. With regards to your “shevach” scenario: most probably the conversion would be worth zilch if it was performed after the time that shevach was selling treyfe meat (even before the discovery). If at a time that it is suspicious if he was already selling that meat, it may also require a new conversion “misofek”.

    It must also be noted: That a bes din has to have the expertise and honesty and integrity in the process they are performing. TTherefore, with regards to conversion, they must have knowledge about issues of conversion: in issues of halacha, issues of sincerity of the convert to convert and the plausibility of the potential convert to actually live a lfie of a Jew who will observe the mitzvot.

    It is also important to note: that although we do not teach the convert every single mitzvah of the torah prior to the conversion; nevertheless the convert must have the COMMITMENT to keep the whole torah. This is the essence of the conversion: the commitment to live a life according the code of jewish law and the belief system given by the Torah as Maimonedes details those laws in the laws of tEshuva. IF a prospective convert says: “ill accept the whole torah except one” even if that may any mitzva (if he rejects it out of ideology) it throws the whole conversion in a doubt.

  15. Reb Yid says:

    I’m still trying to figure out YM’s criteria. Earlier he writes:

    “…it is my understanding that people converted by a Bais Din of three observant Rabbis affiliated with the Conservative movement of the early 20th Century could be presumed to be Kosher converts. That might include Saul Lieberman, perhaps include him earlier but not later in his JTS career—I do not know enough of his biography or his personal statements, and don’t claim to be in any position to judge. He was always personally very observant and was very knowledgeable—he apparently was invited by Rav Hutner zt”l to give a shiur in Yeshivas Chaim Berlin, but joined JTS instead.”

    So why say that a Lieberman conversion would be kosher before he went to JTS, but not after? Sounds like the reasoning here is political or sociological rather than on technical halachic grounds.

    If you argue it’s because he taught at a Conservative rabbinical school….so what? Rabbinical schools of all denominations (including YU) have had numerous teachers and professors of different denominations instruct students there over the years.

    On the quickie conversion–my point was that as long as someone asked the convert the pro forma question about accepting the mitzvot (and the response is yes), that’s OK.

    And finally, it’s a very slippery slope to start talking about “changing Torah law”. That’s pretty subjective, as is claiming the Rambam as the exclusive province of Orthodoxy.

  16. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Rabbi, thank you. May I ask a question to clarify, though?

    What kinds of sin make a man unqualified to sit on a Beit Din and therefore conversions invalid? Rejecting the eternity of the Torah and public violation of the Shabbat are two such sins – are there others?

    For example, take the Monsey Treif Grocer ( http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2006/09/26/the-monsey-poultry-scandal-%e2%80%93-a-non-response/ ). Imagine that the day before his dishonesty was discovered he sat on a Beit Din that approved Ploni’s conversion. Would Ploni be a Kosher Jew, or would Ploni need to convert again?

  17. Noam says:

    would having a supervising rabbi who prayed to the rebbe invalidate the conversion? if so, why are not all Lubavitch conversions suspect? Does the concept of Rov(if a majority have a certain characteristic, then each individual on a seperate basis can be assumed to have that characteristic) apply to those who supervise conversions?

    My point was that not every conversion with a certificate signed by a rabbi with smicha from JTS was ipso facto invalid. In fact, many from the older generation in fact were done k’dat v’k’din(according to traditional Jewish law and practice). And, lumping the Conservative with the Reform on this issue is not fair(although more recently it is more and more fair). I think we have some agreement on the point, just not on the frequency of this happening.

  18. Yaakov Menken says:

    I think Bob is right. Reb Yid writes as if the “litmus test” were devised by me, but please — let him make us aware of any accepted opinion that disputes Maimonides as quoted in my comment #10 above: “one who does not believe that the Torah (or even only the Oral Law) was given by G-d to Moses is a denier of the Jewish faith.”

    [I didn’t see Ori’s excellent outline while I wrote this, but, while it is accurate, I’m not “happy” dividing into four groups like that. First of all, I would prefer to see three true talmidei chachamim sitting on a conversion Beis Din, and I would feel uncomfortable doing so myself. But furthermore, while it is true that in general Judaism is a religion of action, professing to deny the eternity of Torah and G-d’s Commandments (both Written and Oral) is as certain to invalidate as is public violation of the Shabbos. The Talmud and Codes don’t divide them up into different classes of people.]

    It is, therefore, not a blurry line at all. To affiliate with the Conservative movement is to accept the belief that Torah law can be changed. To be a Conservative Rabbi is to disagree with Maimonides. That is the right of every person, it’s a free country and a free world, but they cannot then respond with surprise when those who agree with Maimonides are unable to accept the validity of conversions performed by those who do not.

    Nowhere did I intimate that “‘quickie’ conversions from Orthodox rabbis” would be valid… regardless of who does it, a conversion without acceptance of the Commandments is meaningless.

  19. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Reb Yid, may I try to explain Rabbi Yaakov Menken’s distinction, as I understand it?

    There are four groups of Jewish men above Bar Mitzva age:

    1. Tzadikim Gmurim, the perfectly rightous. This group is vanishingly small, more of a theoretical limit than a real group.

    2. Those who sin, but whose sins are minor enough to allow them to sit on a Beit Din, a religious court. A Beit Din is necessary for a conversion. I’m pretty sure Rabbi Yaakov Menken would put himself in this group.

    3. Those whose sins are too griveous to for them to sit on a Beit Din. I’m intermarried and not Shomer-Shabbat, so I’m sure I’m a member of this group.

    4. Those who are not qualified to sit on a Beit Din for a different reason, for example mental retardation or insanity. Those are not sins, but they still disqualify one from being a judge.

    A Rabbi in a Conservative congregation can either believe in Conservative Judaism’s official positions ( http://www.jtsa.edu/about/cj/sacredcluster.shtml for example), or be dishonest by showing a false front to his congregants.

    If I understand Rabbi Yaakov Menken correctly, either a belief in Conservative Judaism’s official positions or that level of dishonesty would disqualify a man from serving on a Beit Din. Therefore, any Conservative Rabbi ordained after those positions were accepted would be disqualified, and therefore no recent Conservative Beit Din is valid and no recent Conservative conversion is valid.

    Note that this argument does not address the convert’s level of commitment, or the other practices of the members of the Beit Din. Nor does it mean that anybody who claims to be Orthodox is a member of groups 1/2 and qualified for Beit Din service.

    Rabbi, did I explain it correctly?

  20. Reb Yid says:

    Bob:

    I can think of plenty of C rabbis who would come up to specs, at least based on the criteria I mentioned.

    The issue I’m still trying to figure out is what is the “line in the sand” that YM is trying to paint, and from where this criterion has emerged to determine whether or not the actual conversion is deemed kosher.

    Most discussions about this topic that I’ve seen in the past have usually involve the O community/rabbis saying that there’s no mila to begin with (in the case of Reform conversions for males, and therefore the conversion not legit. Plus occasionally some discussion about the absence of discussion of taking on mitzvot.

    But it hasn’t really been clear to me about the objections to a C conversion, and where the line gets blurred between sociology and actual standards for conversion.

  21. Bob Miller says:

    Reb Yid, here’s my 2 cents:
    1. I see no defense here of quickie conversions of any type.
    2. How is the would-be convert to credibly commit him/herself to halachic Judaism if the teacher orchestrating the conversion personally advocates some other “Judaism”? And no more of this fancy footwork hypothesizing orthoprax Conservative clergy in our time! Seen any lately? Not an endangered species, an extinct one.

  22. Reb Yid says:

    I’m trying to understand YM’s distinction. The problem, as he sees it, with Conservative conversions lies in a failure of Conservative rabbis to pass a theological litmus test he is placing upon them.

    The actual conversion process itself may be identical to an Orthodox one, and the Conservative rabbi in question may l’maaseh pray 3 times a day, be scrupulous ethically, study Jewish texts every day, etc.

    Meanwhile, there may be individuals who get “quickie” conversions from Orthodox rabbis, with little to no idea if the converts themselves are going to be shomer mitzvot in any way, shape, or form…and this is all well and good.

    Feel free to clarify.

  23. Yaakov Menken says:

    I think I’m much more in agreement with Noam than he might expect. As I told Bob in my comment #5 above, it is my understanding that people converted by a Bais Din of three observant Rabbis affiliated with the Conservative movement of the early 20th Century could be presumed to be Kosher converts. That might include Saul Lieberman, perhaps include him earlier but not later in his JTS career — I do not know enough of his biography or his personal statements, and don’t claim to be in any position to judge. He was always personally very observant and was very knowledgeable — he apparently was invited by Rav Hutner zt”l to give a shiur in Yeshivas Chaim Berlin, but joined JTS instead.

    Since his time? The Conservative movement that people have affiliated with in the last several decades, and the training at JTS, do not reflect his thinking. To be affiliated Conservative is to adopt an approach to Torah SheBa’al Peh that ensures the Bais Din would not be valid.

    The Gemara in Yevamos certainly doesn’t mean you don’t teach a convert about Shabbos and Kashrus, nor that a potential convert can refuse to accept any mitzvah as binding. So how is it relevant? While I am no fan of Lubavitch meshichisten, I know only a few Chabad converts and none were asked to “accept the Rebbe as messiah.” I don’t think that would invalidate the conversion, though. Praying to the deceased Rebbe would be another matter entirely.

  24. Noam says:

    Rabbi Menken unfortunately conflates the Conservative movement as a whole, and Conservative rabbis(especially those from the R. Lieberman era) specifically. Many of those rabbis did not agree with driving on Shabbat, believed the 613 mitzvot to be binding, and required that acceptance from their converts. I am not defending those who want gay rabbis, change halacha on a whim, or other non-halachic practices. But not all Conservative rabbis are the same.

    I would also remind R. Menkin that the gemara in Yevamot, 47b (top of the page), notes that one teaches converts a few of the difficult mitzvot, and a few of the easy mitzvot, obviously not the entire corpus of mitzvot. Clearly there is a requirement of accepting the yoke of mitzvot and the Divine nature of the Torah(both oral and written), but not each and every mitzva specifically (however, a convert cannot say that there is a specific mitzva that they will not observe). I think if R. Menken wants to add more theological tests, he may want to examine Lubavitch conversions as well, and decide if asking people to accept the Rebbe as messiah may be outside of the Rambam’s rules as well.

  25. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Steve Brizel, I was only trying to point out that “Sincere Heterodox” is not an oxymoron, (= a self contradictory expression). I was not trying to argue whether Heterodox Judaism is correct or not. I apologize for being unclear.

    My original point was that Heterodox Jews should neither expect approval of their religious practices from Orthodox Jews, nor be upset at the lack of such approval.

  26. Steve Brizel says:

    Many Nazis, Communists and members of the Inquisition were sincere in their beliefs? Would anyone suggest that they were correct?

  27. Yaakov Menken says:

    I disagree with Noam’s comment above (admittedly, no surprise), because the most fundamental requirement of conversion is not going swimming. It is acceptance of G-d and His Commandments.

    No one converted under Conservative Jewish auspices accepts the 613 Commandments as binding. How could they, when the movement itself authorizes “reinterpreting” the Oral Torah, including driving to shul on Shabbat [denounced by Masorti (Israeli Conservative) Rabbi Simcha Roth (one of their leading authorities) as “untenable sub specie Halacha”] and “commitment ceremonies”? [“Don’t ask, don’t tell” is not a Halachic position.]

    Furthermore, the movement protocol doesn’t require that converts be asked whether they plan to observe (for obvious reasons). Not long ago, I debated this latter point with a Conservative Rabbi in another forum. His response was that the Halacha states that “b’dieved,” retroactively, the failure to ask doesn’t invalidate the conversion. The lack of intellectual honesty and basic integrity was as obvious as it was mind-boggling.

    Maimonides says that one who does not believe that the Torah (or even only the Oral Law) was given by G-d to Moses is a denier of the Jewish faith. [Laws of Mamrim, 3:1-2] Since a denier of Torah cannot be a judge or witness, there isn’t even grounds upon which to build a chashash, a doubt, of a valid Halachic conversion. The Reform are simply much more up front and honest about it, but the result is the same. Changing the rules for understanding Torah SheBa’al Peh, the Oral Law, is still changing the rules.

  28. Ori Pomerantz says:

    AFAIK, the current Conservative custom is immersion in a Mikve. I’m intermarried and we attend a Conservative synagogue. When my daughters were born, the Rabbi suggested we wait with converting them because it was winter and the outdoor Mikve will be too cold.

  29. Bob Miller says:

    We’re dealing here with mutual rejection. (A) Certain movements rejected Torah law as regards conversion (and many other things), and, therefore, (B) the Orthodox were and are obliged to reject their conversions. Accepting the truth of both (A) and (B) is no problem at all.

  30. Noam says:

    Rabbi Menken is absolutely right that in Judaism, the onus of proof is on those who make the changes, not those who adhere to the status quo. Those who have tried to changed conversion policies, specifically eliminating the requirement for immersion(tevilla), have done their converts a grave disservice.

    Rabbi Menken is also correct that many (if not all) of the rabbis at the begining of the Conservative movement insisted on appropriate conversion policies, including immersion and acceptance of the commandments. In the 50’s or 60’s, there was an attempt to eliminate or dilute the immersion requirement, but that was later reversed in the early ’80’s. I have no idea what the current requirements consist of. The point is that in contradistinction to the Reform(in fact many in the Reform movement noted with displeasure how the changes made by their colleagues were going to adversely affect the concept of klal Yisrael, the congregation of Israel), many of the conversions supervised by Conservative rabbis of the past(and possibly the present) were proper. However, because of the problem of not knowing which were and which weren’t, the prudent course would be not to reject all of them out of hand, but to investigate as to how and by whom it was done.

  31. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Steve Brizel, why is “Sincere Heterodox” an oxymoron? You don’t have to agree with somebody to accept that their own beliefs are sincere.

  32. Yaakov Menken says:

    Bob, while it is probably true that in the early days of the Conservative movement, its early Rabbinic adherents probably fulfilled the necessary criteria for a valid conversion, that was not my point. What I was saying, rather, is that it is not true that the Orthodox reject heterodox conversions — but that the heterodox unilaterally rejected the pre-existing criteria for conversion. As I said in the second to last paragraph, “…the Shulchan Aruch [Rabbi Yosef Karo’s “Set Table” of Jewish Law] laid out standards which the Reform and Conservative movements deliberately chose to violate.”

    It was as plain as day to the Reform clergy that their more traditional brethren would not approve of their changes, and they went full steam ahead in any case. When they now point fingers at the Orthodox and ask “why don’t you accept our conversions” — as if they didn’t know the answer — they rely upon their followers’ ignorance of both Jewish law and modern Jewish history.

    ‘Tis indeed, as Union for Reform Judaism’s President Rabbi Eric Yoffie put it, “the most Jewishly ignorant generation in history.” They could never get away with this foolishness otherwise.

  33. Steve Brizel says:

    “Sincere Heterodox” is an oxymoron. History is littered with the records of many who sincerely followed one or another ideological trend . One can be sincere and strongly believe in the heterodox ideology, as opposed to someone who grew up in the R or C world and became fully observant of halacha.

  34. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Sincere Heterodox Jews should not have a problem with having disagreements with the Orthodox. If you believe you are right, it shouldn’t matter that other people disagree unless they have the ability to force you.

    This is similar to the fact that Orthodox Jews don’t care that the Karaim disagree with them and vice versa.

  35. Bob Miller says:

    Rabbi Menken,

    You wrote above,
    “But isn’t it true that the Orthodox summarily reject heterodox conversions? I would argue that this is, in fact, a falsehood.”

    I am puzzled. It appears that you hold that—in theory—“heterodox conversions” are capable of being valid under some conditions. If so, what is the meaning you assign here to “heterodox”? If not, I can’t see any meaning to this article whatsoever.

    In your view. exactly what conditions would have to exist for a Conservative- or Reform-sponsored conversion to Judaism to be authentic? Is it sufficient for the Conservative or Reform clergyperson arranging the conversion, and the non-Jew being converted, to follow some checklist you would accept, while it is not necessary for that clergyperson him/herself to abandon all heterodox religious views, practices, and affiliations beforehand?

    Can you point to any “heterodox conversion” in the past where suitable conditions were actually met, and a follow-up halachic conversion under Orthodox auspices was not necessary?

  36. Nachum says:

    Technically, the Reform movement doesn’t recognize patrilineal descent, but states that a someone committed to Judaism with one Jewish parent is Jewish.

    I don’t think this has ever come up in practical terms, but it means that at least theoretically, many people halakhically Jewish would not be considered Jews (at all) by Reform Judaism.