Who is really to blame?

letter-447577_1280

No one would deny that the decision of an Ashdod beit din to annul the conversion of one of the parties in a divorce action was an immense personal tragedy. The children of the woman whose conversion was retroactively annulled 15 years later have had their lifetime identity as Jews suddenly shattered.

The decision to convert – i.e., to accept the yoke of mitzvot – is perhaps the most momentous a person can make precisely because it can never be reversed. From the viewpoint of halacha, just as a born Jew can never shed that status, so too a sincere convert. That much is clear.

Less clear, however, is who is responsible for last week’s tragedy. The most obvious candidate, of course, is the beit din that annulled the conversion. And indeed most fingers were pointed at Rabbi Avraham Attias, who authored the opinion of the beit din, as soon as its decision was reported in the secular press. The usual calls were heard to turn conversion matters over to “open-minded” national-religious rabbis, and even to “progressive” rabbis, to ensure that such tragedies are not repeated.

I WONDER how many of those calling for Rabbi Attias’s scalp remember that Rabbi Shlomo Goren “freed” a brother and sister from the halachic status of mamzerut by voiding their mother’s marriage at the time of their conception. And that was done, in turn, by voiding her husband’s conversion, despite the fact that he had been living as a fully observant Jew for decades. For his promise to “solve” the problem of two mamzerim, Rabbi Goren was rewarded by prime minister Golda Meir with appointment as the Ashkenazi chief rabbi and became a national hero.

The truth is that tragedies like that in Ashdod happen all the time. I have known personally a number of children of those converted by Reform or Conservative rabbis who discovered that they were not recognized as Jewish by a large swath of world Jewry when they began to explore their Judaism seriously for the first time, or when they wanted to marry an Orthodox boy or girl. I have even heard of young men learning in some of the world’s top yeshivot who found out that their mother never had a proper conversion. For clergymen to perform a conversion without telling the would-be convert that it will not be recognized by many other Jews is a breach of fiduciary duty.

The only difference in the Ashdod case was that the woman whose conversion was annulled had been converted by a beit din composed of Orthodox rabbis. Yet, the woman admitted, the beit din had apparently made no effort to ascertain whether she intended to accept the halachic system as binding upon her. She had never kept some of the most basic and stringent aspects of halacha after her conversion.

Orthodox rabbis – even some with long white beards – who perform conversions without making any effort to ascertain the candidate’s commitment to mitzvah observance, and often in the face of compelling evidence to the contrary, is, unfortunately, also an old story.

There was a German girl in my ulpan class 30 years ago who was living at a nearby kibbutz. She was personally converted by then-Chief Rabbi Goren late in her ninth month of pregnancy. When I asked her whether Rabbi Goren had inquired about the likelihood of her keeping mitzvot on the completely secular kibbutz, she laughed. “Right,” she said, “a little German girl is going to come here and tell a group of German Holocaust survivors that they should make the dining hall kosher.”

In the famous Seidman case, Rabbi Goren personally converted a woman who had repeatedly stressed that she saw no need for an Orthodox conversion and had no intention of becoming mitzva observant in order to forestall a civil marriage law in the Knesset.

IT IS NOT those who uphold strict standards for conversion who show a lack of love and concern for the convert, but rather those who ignore the halachic requirement of a sincere commitment to mitzva observance. The latter expose those “converted” under their auspices to the danger of a painful shock many years later when they discover that their conversion is not universally recognized.

A universally recognized standard is the greatest protection for the sincere convert, and the implementation of such a standard by responsible rabbinical courts is the key to the complete integration of the sincere convert into the Jewish people, without any concern that someone will someday question his or her conversion.

Two weeks ago, I participated in a three-day seminar sponsored by the Eternal Jewish Family (EJF) organization in Phoenix, Arizona. The participants were 32 intermarried couples in each of which the non-Jewish spouse is contemplating conversion. (The leading contemporary halachic decisors have ruled that in the case of intermarried couples, the general rule that “the right hand pushes away” the would-be convert does not apply.)

The Phoenix seminar was the second of its kind. Of the 32 couples who participated in the first, 28 are on track to a full halachic conversion for the gentile spouse. One couple from the first seminar was halachically married at the Phoenix seminar. Another seven seminars sponsored by EJF are scheduled around the world for the coming year, each at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Working with intermarried couples is only part of what EJF does. The organization also promotes a universally accepted standard for conversion. It has already sponsored numerous conferences for rabbinical court judges in the United States and Israel, and one is scheduled in the near future for Europe.

The two-fold efforts of EJF provide irrefutable proof that concern for universally recognized standards of conversion goes hand-in-hand with the greatest love and respect for the convert.

Appeared in the Jerusalem Post.

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49 Responses

  1. eddie says:

    Rosenblum claims in the Langer case that “.. voiding her husband’s conversion, despite the fact that he had been living as a fully observant Jew for decades.”

    This is well known to be false, the man was eatign Pig even when he married and “converted”. He couldnt even complete the first line of Shema – does that make him fully observant?
    A bunch of lies were told abotu Rav Goren, largely becasue he was a Torah great who also served in the army, and had independent opinions.

  2. cvmay says:

    Normally, the writer responds to the comments made by the bloggers. Is there any reason that we have not heard from Jonathan Rosenblum back on this issue?

  3. Elitzur says:

    To Lawrence at 33,
    1) I have not heard the tape of R’ Henkin… All I have is R’ Rakeffet’s words that he heard the tape of R’ Henkin agreeing with R’ Goren…

    2) The comment about mamzerus is independent of R’ Henkin’s opinion. Any possible safek is used to try to be matir a mamzer while the same safek may not be used in general (except maybe aguna). Just look at R’ Moshe’s t’shuvos on mamzerus. The suggestion that just like R’ Goren revoked a gairus so to here is ludicrous because R’ Goren was dealing with a case of mamzerus (not to mention the other points I made above).

  4. HILLEL says:

    TO ALL:

    Any discussion of conversion must recognize that we live in a time when there is strong political pressure by the Israeli Government to perform mass conversions:

    http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1180960627948&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull

  5. HILLEL says:

    MARK:

    You’ve basically confirmed my worst fears about the EJF.

    The couples who come to EJF are not primarily interested in getting closer to G-D. They need to solve a strategic problem in raising children or compatibility.

    They are probably very nice people, but that is not a sufficient reason to accept converts. They cn become riteous gentiles, observing the 7 laws of Noah.

  6. Bob Miller says:

    Does the existence of a process such as EJF’s actually encourage intermarriage in any way? If it does not, what could be EJF’s downside?

  7. Mark says:

    Hillel:
    “I suppose my uneasiness with the EJF is its institutional nature. It seems to make coversion routine, which it should not be.”

    No, you’re uneasiness lies in the fact that you admittedly don’t know much about it. I have my reservations about certain aspects of the EJF but I at least, took the time to attend a conference before commenting on them.

    “A convert should be an exceptional person, who has made a life-changing decision. Such a person is rare.”
    In studying the Gemara, Rambam, Shulchan Aruch, and others, I don’t believe this comment/sentiment is found anywhere. What Halachah is unambiguous about is that the convert must be sincere in his/her intent and the Beis Din must sense that sincerity. It makes no mention of how common or rare it is for that person to present himself before a Beis Din.

    “Let’s say Chaim marries Mary and settles in Vermont. How does the EJF come into the picture. Do they solicit Chaim? Does he contact them? I just don’t understand how this process works.”

    Key words there.
    Believe it or not, many intermarried couples are very uncomfortable with their decisions for a variety of factors. It may be due to pressure exerted on them by their parents, an inherent sense that something is not right about it, a book, an article…They may love their non-Jewish partner but issues arise especially once children show up and questions of how to raise them crop up and then they start to explore Judaism in earnest. These people speak to friends and so on and so forth and many express grave regret for their past decisions or wish they could have known more at the time. Problem is now they’re parents of children, own a house together etc… Simply breaking it up is not the easiest thing in the world for many and constitutes a challenge they’re not ready to face. These people are directed to the EJF that is well-known in many circles and EJF will host them at a conference where they’ll taste authentic Judaism for the first time in their lives. EJF will explain why it’s important for two parents to be Jewish and committed to Torah ideals. EJF will offer the Jewish parent assistance with studying more about Judaism and if the non-Jewish spouse is interested, they’ll help them as well. When the couple eventually decides to move ahead, EJF will put them in touch with a very reputable Beis Din and the Beis Din will take over the process started by EJF. There are no corners cut at all. What they do is give these people a chance they never had or knew even existed.

    I know of a few couples helped by the EJF and I am amazed at the incredible steps they’ve taken and more importantly, by their sincerity. I don’t work for EJF and other than attend a conference, I’ve never been in contact with them personally, but I’d hesitate to criticize their work because they’re the only ones doing it and they’re doing it right.

  8. HILLEL says:

    To Jacob Haller:

    Good points.

    What I should have asked–rhetorically–more precisely, was: “Is Judaism nothing MORE than a social service agency?”

  9. HILLEL says:

    Mark:

    I suppose my uneasiness with the EJF is its institutional nature. It seems to make coversion routine, which it should not be.

    A convert should be an exceptional person, who has made a life-changing decision. Such a person is rare.

    Let’s say Chaim marries Mary and settles in Vermont. How does the EJF come into the picture. Do they solicit Chaim? Does he contact them? I just don’t understand how this process works.

  10. Jacob Haller says:

    Hillel wrote

    “However, unlike the Jews of Ezra HaSofer’s time (second Bais HaMikDash), who did Teshuva by divorcing their gentile wives, these Jews in the EJF remain married to their gentile wives.”

    How accurate is the analogy? One can likely deduce that those who intermarried in the time of Ezra HaSofer were much more knowledgable in halacha at the time of their ill-fitted unions then those who participated in the EJF conference. Those who underwent Geyrus are no longer married to “gentile wives”.

    Regarding the sarcastic(?) question of whether Judaism is now a social service agency: Satmar Bikur Cholim, Tomche Shabbos, SBCO, Ohel, to name just a few are probably some of the most organized and dedicated service agencies in the world.

    Also, perhaps it benefits us to go slow before making assumptions about the intentions of the couples going through Geyrus before details are examined.

  11. meir says:

    Can all who complain “hypochrisy” please link a particular written article so that we can see for ourselves if the claim is true that the critics of R. Goren opposed *ANY* form of revocation of an old conversion or they felt that this particular incident did not fit the rule?

  12. Joel Rich says:

    According to some philosophers :-)
    minor surgery = surgery on someone else
    major surgery = surgery on me
    minor gadol = gadol whose hashkafah I disagree with
    major gadol = gadol whose hashkafah I agree with

    KT

  13. Gil Student says:

    “are Rabbis Shapiro and Kook major gedolim?”

    Yes

  14. Mark says:

    Hillel writes:
    “If the EJF is dealing with Jews who truly want to do Teshuva, that might be a different story.
    However, unlike the Jews of Ezra HaSofer’s time (second Bais HaMikDash), who did Teshuva by divorcing their gentile wives, these Jews in the EJF remain married to their gentile wives. Even if we assume that these wives are prepared to “go along” with conversion to make their husbands happy, is this an acceptable basis for accepting a convert?”

    Once again – the EJF does not do the conversion. They refer them to an appropriate Beis Din [and they only work with seriously reputable Batei Din] which makes the evaluation. They don’t cut any corners along the way. All the EJF does is educate the couple that the choice exists and assist them in preparing for the conversion once they’re interest is piqued.

  15. Jewish Observer says:

    “at lease one major Gadol did support R. Goren – R. Yosef Eliyahu Henkin Z”TL.”

    “Rav Avraham Shapiro and Rav Zvi Yehuda Kook also supported him.”

    – are Rabbis Shapiro and Kook major gedolim?

  16. Yossi Ginzberg says:

    I suspect an error here in attributing Rav Goren’s rise to chief Rabbi as a reward for his ruling in this case,because the ruling itself was published by the Heichal shlomo publishing arm of the Chief rabbinate, indicating that he was the chief rabbi BEFORE that happened.

    Not to speak of the fact that since almost all the chareidi world was opposed to Rav Goren, proving acceptability of a Torah position by him is quite disingenuous. Can you imagine defending a psak of Rabbi Elyahshiv by saying that Rabbi Slifkin ruled similarly?

  17. Lawrence M. Reisman says:

    Eliztur calls me off base in questioning Rav Henkin’s support of Rav Goren, saying, “Though R’ Henkin was blind at the time his vioce is on tape defending R’ Goren.” Sorry, but unless you can produce a good provenance for the tape, I can’t accept it. The evidence is clear that in addition to being blind, Rav Henkin suffered significant mental impairment in his last years. Furthermore, given his machmir stance on the need for a get most of this life, it seems highly unlikely that he would support Rav Goren on this matter.

    “2) We’re always maykil as much as possible to avoid mamzerut – zil kri bay rav hu.” Given Rav Henkin’s shitos on the need for a get, I’m not so sure he’d agree with this.

    “3) Rosenblum certainly would be the one defending the attack on R’ Goren” Absolutely correct, and this is what bothers me about the defense. If Rav Goren was wrong then, Rav Attiyah is definitely wrong now.

  18. Bob Miller says:

    Gil Student said,
    “I believe that Rav Henkin’s position was that no one should have a position unless they know all of the intimate details of the case.”

    If this principle applied to bloggers, what would happen to blogs?

  19. Lawrence M. Reisman says:

    Charedi Leumi writes with regard to the Langer case that “Rav Avraham Shapiro and Rav Zvi Yehuda Kook also supported him.”[Rav Goren]. As to Rav Shapiro, I can’t say, but my understanding is that Rab ZY Kook was opposed to the decision. However, Rav Goren told him that unless he supported it, he (Rav Goren) would resign as chief rabbi and thereby throw the entire chief rabbis office into turmoil. Rather than risk that, Rav ZY Kook kept silent.

    It should be noted that in the election for chief rabbi in which Rav Goren replaced Rav Unterman, Rav ZY Kook was a vociferous supporter of Rav Unterman.

  20. Gil Student says:

    I believe that Rav Henkin’s position was that no one should have a position unless they know all of the intimate details of the case.

  21. Elitzur says:

    1) Your facts are wrong… as mentioned in 8 – R’ Rakeffet has a number of shiurim on the Langer controversy – you can get them from yutorah.org – the way R’ Goren was able to matir the mamzerim is, in fact, because he had supporting documents identifying the father as a non-Jew (certainly not someone who had been observant for 30 years). Comment 24 is completely off-base. Though R’ Henkin was blind at the time his vioce is on tape defending R’ Goren.
    2) We’re always maykil as much as possible to avoid mamzerut – zil kri bay rav hu.
    3) Rosenblum certainly would be the one defending the attack on R’ Goren
    4) Conversion under less-than-optimal halachic circumstances has a long history in halacha – in the writings of R’ Moshe Feinstein, R’ D.T. Hoffman, R’ Uziel, and many others
    5) The fact that Attia decided to call other rabbis criminals and the like demonstrates that his actions have nothing to do with halacha

    I could almost feel bad for Rosenblum who has to defend these types of actions. But actually I really don’t…

  22. HILLEL says:

    To Mark and Ori:

    If the EJF is dealing with Jews who truly want to do Teshuva, that might be a different story.

    However, unlike the Jews of Ezra HaSofer’s time (second Bais HaMikDash), who did Teshuva by divorcing their gentile wives, these Jews in the EJF remain married to their gentile wives. Even if we assume that these wives are prepared to “go along” with conversion to make their husbands happy, is this an acceptable basis for accepting a convert?

  23. Chareidi Leumi says:

    >at lease one major Gadol did support R. Goren – R. Yosef Eliyahu Henkin Z”TL.

    Rav Avraham Shapiro and Rav Zvi Yehuda Kook also supported him.

  24. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Hillel: Jonathan: I don’t understand the premise of the EJF. These people have thembed their nose at their people by marrying out of the faith. Why should we busy trying to make things kosher, when they don’t really care about Judaism and Halacha?

    Ori: The people who actually come to EJF are those who want to do Tshuva. Most intermarried Jews couldn’t care less about it. Do you think one should help somebody who wants to do Tshuva, or reject such a person for previous transgressions?

  25. Mark says:

    Hillel writes:
    “Jonathan: I don’t understand the premise of the EJF. These people have thembed their nose at their people by marrying out of the faith. Why should we busy trying to make things kosher, when they don’t really care about Judaism and Halacha?
    Is this what Judaism has become—some kind of social service agency?”

    Hillel,

    This comment could not be further off the mark. These people most certainly didn’t thumb their noses at Judaism. They’d never been exposed to it and had no basis for not intermarrying. If you think they made a conscious decision to reject Judaism you’re making a terrible mistake.

    Speak to them yourself or to someone active in Kiruv and you’ll see that they believe that they’ve done nothing wrong. It’s only later in the game that SOME of them become aware of the gravity of the situation and they deserve tremendous kudos for taking steps toward Judaism at the point in their life. We owe it to them to assist them in their return the same way we help out all other Jews.

    JR wrote,
    “The organization also promotes a universally accepted standard for conversion. It has already sponsored numerous conferences for rabbinical court judges in the United States and Israel, and one is scheduled in the near future for Europe.”

    While it’s true that the org. sponsors these conferences and seeks to educate the rabbis in some of the finer points of the issue, it does not really promote a universal standard for conversion. This is what I discovered when I attended a conference of theirs. These words were bandied around a lot there but Rabbi Tropper then spoke and explained that they don’t intend to do that but rather to make rabbis more effective and knowledgeable and hope that they maintain proper standards.

  26. Lawrence M. Reisman says:

    I question Joe Socher’s assertion that Rav Henkin supported Rav Goren on the Langer case. When Rav Goren came down with the decision, Rav Henkin was in the last year of his life, and was probably not very aware of what was going on. (There is significant evidence that his mind had deteriorated by that time.) Furthermore, Rav Henkin was very machmir in his shitos on gittin; unlike Reb Moshe, he held that a Jewish woman married in a conservative or reform ceremony needed a get in order to remarry. It would have gone against the positions he took his entire life to support Rav Goren in this matter.

    That having been said, I believe that the haredi world should have shown some consistency and affirmed that just as Rav Goren was wrong to possul a conversion so many years later, so Rav Attiyah is just as wrong.

  27. Noam says:

    Here are the comments of Rav Jeffrey Woolf(smicha from Rav YBS, Phd History from Harvard, lecturer in Talmud at Bar Ilan, in case anyone wants to do a tzitzis check) on this topic(from his blog, ‘my obiter dicta’):

    I have to admit that I never really thought I’d see this. A Dayyan in Israel retroactively revoked a conversion that was done 15 YEARS AGO!!!! As a result, her children were deemed not Jewish, and she and they were blacklisted. Who did the conversion? Rabbi Haim Druckman, a talmid hakham and Rosh Yeshiva.

    But never mind that. Who appointed this so-called Dayyan? Well, whoever it was, this incompentent never learned Halakhah. The law is absolutely clear. If a Bes Din converts someone, even if they go out and worship idols (never mind if he maintains a less than Orthodox lifestyle), that person is still Jewish. Period. Otherwise, as the posqim say: אם כן, במה מצינו כח בית דין יפה? And why did this מתלבש באיצטלא דאינו שלו do so? According to the Rabbinical Pleader involved in the case:

    The judge in fact ruled that all conversions signed by the special conversion court were invalid, because the court was headed by “heretics” and “criminals”. This ruling implies that the thousands of conversions conducted by such courts were unacceptable.

    (And people were surprised that the Rabbanut backtracked on its agreement with the RCA.)

    Want to hear about hypocrisy? When Rav Goren זצ”ל tried to resolve the Langer case by voiding the conversion of the mother’s first husband, based on the consideration that the man never stopped going to Church, the Haredim railed in protest. None other than Rav Elyashiv resigned from the Supreme rabbinical court in protest.

    Now, conversion is a very serious matter. It should only be undertaken by those qualified to do so. We cannot let it become a farce. At the same time, it is absolutely forbidden to call the acts of an established, legitimate Bes Din into question!

    To add my own small 2 cents, Mr. Rosenblum is being tremendously disingenuous by including the issue of Reform and Conservative conversions. The issue at hand is the rejection of a beit din that is recognized as Orthodox by all(l’chol ha’dayot). Of course, if Mr. Rosenblum is now saying that some Orthodox are not going to be recognized as Orthodox by the viewpoint that he represents, then that is another issue entirely, and opens up a huge divide in the community that considers itself Orthodox.

  28. HILLEL says:

    We cannot discuss this issue without taking into consideration the HefKer environment in which we live.–Judaism, today has become a free-for-all. Everyone does whatever he pleases.

    According to my reading of the Talmud, in such an environment, we have no choice but to circle the wagons and protect our heritage from suffering irreparable harm.

    Jonathan: I don’t understand the premise of the EJF. These people have thembed their nose at their people by marrying out of the faith. Why should we busy trying to make things kosher, when they don’t really care about Judaism and Halacha?

    Is this what Judaism has become–some kind of social service agency?

  29. J Jacob says:

    My apologies then on propagating an inaccuracy. But a question remains: if Beit Hillel were aware of this problem in Generation #1 and maintained relations with B”S, yet only married those who fit their non-mamzer criteria, was it not patently obvious that in Generation #2 or #3 the continued association and intermarriage would lead to marriage with the children of mamzerim?

    Or do we say that there is no need to investigate and the children are BeChezkat Kashrut?

  30. L Oberstein says:

    I have never heard of a rabbi going so far back in history to take away the Jewishness of someone,. This is not the Spanish Inquisition. I am not commenting on the legality or the halachic validity, these are matters that are open to various interpretations. The israeli rabbiniate is insensitive and unanswerable to the clientel, they are government appointed nd often not committted to the State of Israel’s legitimacy..
    What valid reason is there for a rabbi to go back into time and take away the Jewishness of people w ho have lived as Jews . Is there some halachic imprerative to search out the purity of blood of all conversos. At what point will the rabbinate so enrage the Israeli peiople that it is abolished entirely ?

    A rabbi has to care for his people, even if that means dealing with them on a different standard than the pristine ivory tower would like. If the rabbis are removed from the people and care only what those who don’t accept the validity of the Chief Rabbinate think, then they are not doing their rabbinic duty. They are not helping in any constructive way to solve a problem , just finding ways to exacerbate it.

    Your recollection of Rav Goren’s psak lfor the brother and sister was very clever. You win points, but it is not the same. He was bending over backwards to help someone, not to find a way to harm them. Maybe he was over lenient, but I wonder if in Heaven G-d is more angry at a rav who tries to help his people with a heter than a rav who searches back into time to delegitimize practicing Jews. . Jerusalem was destroyed because they were too punctiluous in applying the law, I didn’t say that, the Talmud did.

    What constitutes living as a Jew in 2007> Is it the rabbinate’s view that a convert who is not strictly observant is not living as a Jew or the fact that one affilitates with Jewish life, lives in Israel, celebrates life cycle events in a Jewish way. The answer that the rabbinate gives obliterates the last 200 years of Jewish History and imagines a reality that hasn’t existed in ages.

    [Rabbi Leonard Oberstein]

  31. Yaakov Menken says:

    While I have not read the court’s decision, it seems to me that Garnel Ironheart is calling for an abdication of duty, and has been overly credulous with the secular news media. If a court recognizes that a conversion was not valid, it is its obligation to make this known to the affected parties. Does Mr. Ironheart know that the court “lock[ed] the couple out of ever marrying Jews again,” which seems patently ridiculous, or that it made its decision known to the news media? Given past experience, I would await evidence of either of these “facts” before assuming either of them to be true.

    J Jacob has an excellent question, and it is one that I have written about previously.

    Although the likely source for Mr. Jacob’s misunderstanding is a professor with an endowed chair at JTS, it is still so egregiously inaccurate that calling it a myth would not be unfair.

    First of all, the houses are reversed. Despite the common portrayal of Bais Shammai as universally more stringent and Bais Hillel as epitomizing a more lenient and welcoming approach, it is Bais Hillel that considered the children of marriages performed by Bais Shammai to be mamzeirim.

    But more to the issue, it is true that the two houses provide an ideal model — because their conduct was precisely the opposite of that which Mr. Jacob was told. No one expected Bais Hillel to toss aside their own convictions and simply accept the validity of the marriages performed by Bais Shammai.

    If indeed The Academy of Shammai produced children whom The Academy of Hillel regarded as unfit, how is it that they continued to marry each other? “D’modai lehu, uparshi,” says the Talmud. Because they would tell each other, and members of The Academy of Hillel would not marry those whom they regarded as prohibited.

    This is exactly the conduct recommended by Ori Pomerantz: “Heterodox converts need to know that their conversion is not accepted by Orthodox Jews.” If there is not going to be a universal standard, then that is the only method that will hold us together as a people. Unfortunately, not all Reform Rabbis are as forthright as SM’s above.

  32. Larry Lennhoff says:

    What of the Talmudic story of Beit Shammai believing that certain members of Beit Hillel’s community were mamzeirim (according to B”S) yet willing to marry them b/c their own community (of B”H) did not deem them mamzeirim?

    In my opinion, no such story exists. As I understand the story Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai were willing to intermarry because they trusted each other to say “according to you, this person is a mamzer and so you should not marry them”. The idea was that each group respected each other’s opinions and supported them, not that each group abandoned their own beliefs in favor of the others.

  33. Bob Miller says:

    This takes us back to the central dilemma. How can any association of the secular government with the religious conversion process ever be beneficial? Inevitably, reasons of state push aside halacha. The religious authorities who have not been compromised are then always at a disadvantage.

  34. joel rich says:

    R’ Gil
    “Halo Effect
    Description
    When we consider a person good (or bad) in one category, we are likely to make a similar evaluation in other categories.

    It is as if we cannot easily separate categories. It may also be connected with dissonance avoidance, as making them good at one thing and bad at another would make an overall evaluation (which we do anyway) difficult.”

    KT

  35. J Jacob says:

    While I sympathize with the idea of a universal standard for conversions this unfortunately becomes a case of the “highest common denominator” (as my wife puts it), wherein we must adhere to the MOST STRINGENT policies regarding conversion lest a single party deem it unkosher.

    This leads to a far greater question: in the realm of interpersonal relationships, is there any room for pluralism? What of the Talmudic story of Beit Shammai believing that certain members of Beit Hillel’s community were mamzeirim (according to B”S) yet willing to marry them b/c their own community (of B”H) did not deem them mamzeirim?

  36. Moshe P. Mann says:

    Unfortunately, the proverbial Chumra of the Week club has struck again. But this time, it has struck the highest echelons of the Israeli Rabbinate. Why aren’t we employing the classical hetteirim that we often employ to alleviate the agony of people in halachic distress? Why is no one aware that even the great sage Hillel converted the gentile BEFORE the latter accepted the Oral law? Would it be so terrible if instead of being machmir bein adam laMakom, we would be machmir bein adam lechaveiro?

    In fact, Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits z”tl strongly criticized the Orthodox attitude toward conversion. See his excellent article “The conversion crisis and the decline of the Oral Law”, where he brilliantly exclaims that we have become “modern day Karaites.”

  37. Gil Student says:

    “For his promise to “solve” the problem of two mamzerim, Rabbi Goren was rewarded by prime minister Golda Meir with appointment as the Ashkenazi chief rabbi and became a national hero.”

    Is this documented? My impression is that the circumstances were suspicious and that this was the rumor. But it was before my time (more or less) and I’m not sure of the facts.

  38. Larry Lennhoff says:

    Ori’s kids will have to understand that there are Jews who will not accept the legitimacy of their conversions. I doubt very much they will be taught that there conversions were a sham.

  39. Jewish Observer says:

    “The Haredi rabbonim condemned R. Goren and said that you cannot retroactively void a conversion—which is exactly what this case is about. So how come they aren’t condemning Attias”

    – could it be because Attias is part of the Haredi world?

  40. meir says:

    Thank you RAbbi ROsenblum for your thoughtful article. People who speak through emotions do not get that there are emotions on the other side as well. THey think that all we need is “find a kulah” and “they are jewish”. Conversions require the convert to enter the Briss ofHashem and the Jewish people, ie the observance of Torah. When someone is not interested in briss Hashem, although interested in the Jewish people does not make them Jewish in fact it breaks the barriers of Jews Vs Non Jews, the “havdalah” that we enoble in our havdalah prayers.

  41. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Dovid, I don’t know that the written and oral Torah that we have are all Torah leMoshe miSinai (Torah given by G-d to Moses) and therefore that Heterodox Judaism is false. I know that many people here whose opinions I respect think that, but I have yet to see proof either way. Therefore, barring future changes, I won’t teach my kids that their conversion is a sham but that many Jews consider it a sham.

    Why did we do it? Not for social acceptance. Nobody in my synagogue ever told me I’m a bad Jew for marrying my wife, or rejected her and the kids. We did it because we consider ourselves part of the Jewish people and tradition. My wife will probably convert when she has the time to study (not with a 4 year old, a 2 year old, and 8 month old twins), and the synagogue isn’t between Rabbis.

  42. Joe Socher says:

    Re: the Langer case a more full and fair presentation is R. Rakeffet’s two shiurim on the subject available at the YUTorah.org website. R. Goren ZL uncovered much evidence and testimony supporting the position that the convert in question never was observant and never was a sincere convert. Although most Gedolim were apparently on the other side, and the original Beit Din declaring the Langers to be mamzerim included R. Eliashiv & (I think) R. Ovadiah Yosef, at lease one major Gadol did support R. Goren – R. Yosef Eliyahu Henkin Z”TL.

  43. Garnel Ironheart says:

    Normally Jonathan Rosenblum’s arguments are well-founded, articulate and difficult to take a stand against because they’re so logical. In this case, I have to wonder “Poor guy, is he being forced to defend this kind of behaviour?”
    No one can look at what Rav Attiah did and think that it is at all acceptable. First of all, Rosenblum’s arguments invoking what Rav Goren, zt”l, did, work against in. When R. Goren invalidated conversions, it was to prevent heartbreak. Attiah’s invalidation was designed to create it!

    Secondly, how was Attiah justified in making his snap decision? The litigants in this case came before him to get a proper get, showing their respect for Jewish law. In what legal system does the judge get to invent charges and then dispense judgement when the litigants are there for something else? Come on, this beggars belief!

    Thirdly, annulling the conversion is one thing. Going on to lock the couple out of ever marrying Jews again? What was the justification for that? I’m sorry, I can’t accept any answer other than Attiah was being a power-hungry thug.

    Fourth, consider the Chilul Hashem he committed. It’s one thing to say “hmmm, listen lady, I need to speak to you privately. It seems an issue has come up” and then tell her one-on-one that because of her behaviour both she and her children might have their Jewish status questioned. But to do it publicly in such a humliating way and then go on a rant about rabbonim who are politically difference and therefore “inferior” to him, who can countenance that as proper behaviour from a Torah authority?

    In the end, there is no justification for what Attiah did and any mitzvoh he thought he was upholding was drowned in the unnecessary suffering he caused. He should be judged harshly for that.

  44. SM says:

    And you are forgetting the flip-side: The Haredi rabbonim condemned R. Goren and said that you cannot retroactively void a conversion — which is exactly what this case is about. So how come they aren’t condemning Attias

  45. SM says:

    Langer was NEVER an observant Jew.

  46. SM says:

    In my community the Reform Rabbi will not convert anyone until he has sent them to my Rav to hear what a Reform Conversion means. Only if they come back after that and say they still want to be converted Reform will he do anything.

    Of course, this is Reform and Orthodox working together so it’s probably a bad thing.

  47. cvmay says:

    A huge overhaul is necessary in the Beis Din System, primarily in the field of conversions and divorces (ex: agunahs). In Israel this situation is compounded, since the appointment of Dayanim, has shown to have political and familial connections. Those who have had dealings with the Beis Din in Israel, state that the Torah Observance requirement is determined by the Dayanim and have no uniformity (eg: schools that children must enroll in, shuls that the family can and can not attend, food hechserim that are valid or invalid, etc.). Additionally the ashkenasic and sephradic minhagim are not always taken into consideration. In other words: BAD NEWS SITUATION
    The halachic questions that JP included regarding Rav Shlomo Goren, can be better understood by researching the “shelios veteshuvos” Of Rav Levy zt”l, the late chief rabbi of Tel Aviv. Whether he received the plum of Chief Rabbi because of “solving” that halachic question, is debatable. His title of national hero, was earned by the prowess of being IDF Chief Rabbi. Story of the “Germany convert” is slightly one sided (JP), and might include unknown details. Honest reporting and journalism, is researching the controversy, “Status and Legality of Converts”, without mixing in your personal views of past rabbis and their solutions or mode of operating.
    I am aware that the mentioned issues (re: Rav Goren) caused a fury of controversy within the Torah communities, with rabbabim and dayanim taking sides. IMHO this is not the issue, but rather how do we clean up house and continue forward, can the EJF organization work in Israel? Rav Ruvain Feinstein shlit”a has dedicated much effort and time as one of the foremost rabbanim working with EJF. A solution must be found!
    Ori, more & more Heterodox converts are aware of the lack of authenticity of their conversions.

  48. dovid says:

    “we had our kids converted by a Conservative Rabbi and Beit Din last Wednesday”

    Ori, knowing what you know, what did you gain from the conversion? Social acceptance?

    “I promise to tell them when they’re old enough to understand.”

    To understand what, that’s a sham?

  49. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblum: The latter expose those “converted” under their auspices to the danger of a painful shock many years later when they discover that their conversion is not universally recognized.

    Ori: True. However, I think you’re not identifying the source of the problem correctly. It’s not that Heterodox conversions are not universally recognized – it’s when Heterodox converts don’t know that their conversions are not universally accepted.

    Heterodox converts need to know that their conversion is not accepted by Orthodox Jews. If they want to become Orthodox, the way is open, but they need to learn Halacha, accept the yoke of Mitzvot, and go through a conversion ceremony. So what – if I wanted to become Orthodox, I would have to learn Halacha and accept the yoke of Mitzvot. To be a member of a Reform or Conservative community, that is not required.

    This is a personal matter for me, because we had our kids converted by a Conservative Rabbi and Beit Din last Wednesday. I admit I did not tell them their conversion will not be universally recognized, but since three of them don’t talk yet and the oldest isn’t five, I figured it’s too early. I promise to tell them when they’re old enough to understand.