Conversion: A Look From the Inside

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Comments to Rabbi Shafran’s recent piece were so wildly all over the place, that I thought a few thoughts from someone who sits on a regular beis din (one of the few entirely accepted by the Rabbanut) for gerus might be helpful. What follows is not a thorough halachic analysis, which is more suitable for venues other than popular blogs. I will just share some food for thought, and perhaps a few personal observations. I will break with CC’s usual standards, and deliberately not translate most halachic terms, since the piece will be appreciated only by those with at least some familiarity with the sources. (It is not meant to be a commentary on the decision by the Israeli beis din to retroactively strip a conversion of its legitimacy; I have no familiarity with the case. Nor is it meant to comment on the work of the two Bar-Ilan profs; I haven’t read it.)

1) It is a common mistake to believe that, once performed, a gerus is valid even if there is backsliding by the ger. Intent is everything with regard to gerus. When it is apparent that the ger, despite what he/she said, did not mean to accept mitzvos, there are strong grounds to argue that there was no conversion ab initio. It is risible to propose that this notion began in the late 19th century. Whatever arguments and counterarguments one could cobble together, it is clear that the question is a very old one. For example, the Gemara presents two opinions regarding the halachic status of the Cutheans, a group that decidedly did go through the motions of a conversion. See Ritva, Kiddushin 75B who explains that the two opinions in the Gemara differ precisely as to whether the Cutheans originally had proper intent to convert and only resorted to their old ways later (in which case they should be considered Jews), or whether there was no intent, and the conversion was a sham.

2) While it is true that a Jewish court cannot take into account devarim she-balev/ reservations held in pectore that counter what a person explicitly states, there are exceptions. When a person’s unexpressed state of mind is obvious and apparent to everyone, those unexpressed words lose the status of devarim she-balev (Tosfos). Alternatively, this rule only applies to dealings between people. Gerus is a function of one’s declaration to HKBH, Who very much does take into account devarim she-balev. Thus, there can be situations in which a ger declares his/her readiness to accept all mitzvos, and yet the gerus could have no validity if it is abundantly clear that there was no real intent to back up the declaration. Rav Moshe Zt”l indeed held that when the ger showed no change at all in behavior after immersion, and continued violating all of the Torah as if nothing had occurred, then there was no gerus.

3) Unhappily, there is no shortage of such cases, performed by nominally Orthodox rabbis, that can be observed. This is one of the reasons that the Rabbanut has been clamping down, and insisting on knowing something about the people and protocols identified with each and every beis din it will deal with. There have been too many horror stories to ignore.

4) There are differences between lechatchila and bedieved. While it may be true that a conversion for an ulterior motive might be kosher after the fact, the job of beis din is to act lechatchila. (There are arguments that even after the fact, even bedieved the gerus is invalid in modern times when it can no longer be argued that the candidate who wishes to convert for matrimonial purposes must begrudgingly agree to live the life of a Jew or he will not be permitted to live within the Jewish community.)

5) It is true that a candidate must not be taught all of Torah. The ger need only accept what he/she knows about. It is also true, however, that rejection of any part of the Torah, even dikduk echad midivrei soferim (Rashi: chumra derabbanan) mandates that we turn down the conversion request. (It is less clear whether bedieved such a conversion would be valid if done performed. Several major poskim opine that it would be invalid even bedieved.) This complicates matters. The Gemara in its time could talk about a ger who converted without ever being told about Shabbos. If that ger had been properly taught about some sample mitzvos and accepted their yoke, including the ones he/she would later learn about, the gerus is valid. On the other hand, if the ger was not instructed by a modern beis din regarding Shabbos and kashrus, for example, but the court knew that the candidate had absolutely no intention of observing these precepts, the court would have no right to accept him. This is because in modern times, it is virtually inconceivable that any candidate does not know about these observances by Orthodox Jews. Failure to comply with them is tantamount today to their rejection, even if the topics were not explicitly discussed in the curriculum.

6) Most importantly, halacha is not a game. There are some benighted souls who believe that the conversion interview goes something like this: A dour, stern looking rabbi browbeats the candidate. “Why would you want to become Jewish? What makes you think you are good enough? (Repeat, and repeat again.) Candidate, in tears: “You are right! I am not good enough. I never should have had the chutzpah to think I could join such a noble people!” Rabbi, surprised and showing telltale signs of humanity: “How did you know those words? You said just what the Talmud tells us is the perfect response! Welcome, brother, we are instructed to accpet you without delay!” (Camera fades out while Hava Nagila is played in the background.)

People who believe this scenario have watched too much television and learned too little halacha. The Gemara does not give us magic formulae that, when recited, tell us to accept a candidate. The Gemara’s instructions on accepting or rejecting conversion candidates ultimately stem from some legal theory on what conversion is about. It most certainly is not about a candidate mouthing the right syllables and being accepted. One approach (Rav Shlomo Zalman) is that we violate lifnei iver by accepting converts who will likely not be able to observe halacha like other committed Jews. As non-Jews, they are responsible for no more than the seven Noachide laws; once converted, they are held accountable for the whole nine yards. The court has to weed out not only the insincere , but more importantly those who may think they can live as observant Jews, but need a reality check. A good beis din will insure that the candidate is maximally equipped for success, including extensive study of both halacha and hashkafa, a mentor to whom the ger can continue to turn, and a community in which the candidate is integrated. Does it make sense to teach a candidate about Shabbos while he/she lives ten miles from the closest Orthodox shul? Where will that ger go on Shabbos? (Yes, there can be exceptions, and a good beis din will deal with them.) This detail is certainly not explicit in the Gemara or Rishonim, but we feel that it is an accurate extrapolation from the Gemara to contemporary life. Indeed, from what I am told, the new procedures that the RCA is poised to accept for its constituent batei din will include provisions that the candidate must reside within walking distance of an Orthodox shul. My guess is that there will be some RCA rabbis – a very small minority – who will protest that there is nothing in the Rishonim that makes this demand. The majority will argue – correctly in my opinion – that the guidance we get from looking at the sources and the responsa demands exactly that in today’s world.

7) It goes without saying that the beis din also has a mandate to filter out the consciously or even unconsciously insincere applicant. Making things too difficult for a potential ger is an aveirah, since receving gerim is a mitzvah. But making things too easy – converting those who will not uphold the requirements of halacha – is effectively an invitation for Jews to marry people with little intention or capability of building a proper Jewish household with their spouse.

8) The role of proper gerim in Orthodox society today is inestimable. The most inspiring mussar I get comes from the stories I hear from some of the incredible people I meet at the beis din. I live in the more traditional part of Los Angeles. I happen to know about the gerus of people whom others would never suspect did not come from families with a surfeit of yichus. They occupy some of the most important roles in the community. Perhaps all of us ought to be listening more to the voices of those who converted two or three decades ago and successfully raised frum children and grandchildren. What do they think of the beis din that converted them, and of the batei din today? (Our beis din makes liberal use of them as the mentors and tutors for new applicants.) I suspect we would have much to learn from them. But we certainly have much to learn from the very careful and meticulous working through sugyos in halacha that are supported by much material. Usually, however, it takes people who are more than just competent, but genuine talmidei chachamim. Not understanding the distinction between them is a serious shortcoming.

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38 Responses

  1. Gary Shulman says:

    Dear Rabbi Adlerstein,
    In response to your insightful response where you dodged the question you elucidated a great truth. Perhaps according to man a person trying to convert in a mikvah of which its volume is less than the required minimum one may not be a Jew according to the Human Halacha, however his lifestyle choice may find very great favor in the eyes of the Lord.
    Factually to answer my question, one may posit that 1) in the IDF which is constantly ready for war r”l the level of shmiras Shaboss is not on the level for civilian life. 2) The ger was not told of of all the mitzvot and even if he was, he perceived that being Jewish was on the level of his “secular/masorati” comrades that are also willing to be mkadish SHEM HASHEM bchol Nafshecha, with their lives if need be r”l. Since we do not know the heavenly accounting of schar mitzvah and we are admonished to heed mitzva kala kchamora (Parshas Ekev Rashi I believe and Pirkei Avos) perhaps he may be on a higher level than someone culturally adverse to contemplating fulfilling the mitzvah (kala? chamurah?) of bchal nafshecha.This sitting on the sidelines has been endorsed by some chashuva people in Eretz Yisrael who are not of the Religious Zionist bent. Therefore I believe that the Religious Zionist derech is the optimal derech to be oved Hashem. 3) Yesh shkoneh olamo bshah achas. There are those who acquire olam habah in one hour by some exemplary deed. Have a Good Shaboss, Gary

  2. meir says:

    One more point: Contrary to popular opinion, many Halahik poskim do NOT hold that there is more leniency by the conversion of minor than by the conversion of a adults. Kabbalat Hamitvot is crucial (According to many poskim) and meakev.

  3. meir says:

    HOw can one say that the Rambam does not require kabbalat mitzvot leikuvah, when according to the rambam this is the ESSENCE of conversion. AS he writes “וכן לדורות כשירצה הגוי להיכנס לברית” (Hilchos Issurey Biah 13/4), conversion is entering the Jewish covenant and that covenant was MAtan Torah when Jews committed to receive and live by the Torah.

    IN addition to the halacha (mentioned here) 17 that when a convert whose seriousness wasnotchecked (loy bodku achrov”) and howmuch more so when it known that he converted for an ulterior motie, “chosshin loy ad sheyitbaer tzidkassoy”, we still concerned in his jewishness until he proves his righteousness of his conversion. How much more do we need to realize how central Rambam places the acceptance and commitment to the covenant and TOrah in the conversion process?

  4. dr. william gewirtz says:

    FFB – R. Meir Lichtenstein is no where near as radical as you assume, he is explaining, as I indicated, the more difficult Rambam about less than ideal forms of Geirus and what that might mean. Humorously, quoting R. Y. EMDEN he says “shelo assaini Aved – means sheo asieni Av Beit Din.” He also acknowledges his is not the normally assumed pshat in RAMBAM. Nonetheless in the hands of an Av Beit Din it could, perhaps, open new avenues to explore.

    So let me be clear. A ger tzeddek requires Kabbalat Hamitzvot – period; I would not deign to dispute that. As a young man (about 40 years ago) I had a conversation with a very serious rabbinic scholar who has since passed on, on the definition of Kabalat HaMitzvot that both due to my poor memory and his passing, I would never try to repeat. But two things that I took away from that conversation, shape my point of view: First, the precise definitions of most of these terms are not cut and dry. Second, you cannot and should not remove the Posek from the Psak, echoing the concern of many who, based on not entirely frivolous issues, feel reason to question the orientation of some (many perhaps) Poskim approaching the problem. That was the case then on a much less significant issue.

    And in case you have any doubts, I have not heard any realistic solutions. And I assume that R. Angel has no adeqaute solutions either. Approaches perhaps, solutions no. And as I have at times advised in my day job: not all problems have solutions; nonetheless problems that cannot be solved can, on occasion, be transcended. Please do listen to the shiur; in my inadequate opinion, that is part of what I took away.

    Vehement debate that is respectful is to be encouraged. That unfortunately is not the case. Regretably, people have been put in cherem on much simpler issues.

    As to forums for this debate, unfortunately the Internet and global communications, tends to make place/location/venue less relevant. The expression “the walls have ears” was remarkably prophetic.

  5. FFB Yeshiva Guy says:

    Dr. Gewirtz,
    Certainly a Beis Din can act as it sees fit within the scope of halachah. And of course Rabbi Jakobovitz was not referring to a case where a range of halachic options exist. Any responsible Rabbi will take existing circumstances into account before issuing a ruling. But that is precisely my point. If halachah does not grant a Beis Din the ability to perform “l’chatchilah” a geirus that is valid “b’dieved”, then it is not within the scope of halachah to do so, and it it is not a viable option. I do, however, concede your point that the definition of “b’dieved” is not cut and dry, as per R’ Adlerstein’s response to Chaim, above. But this just adds one more layer of complexity to a question whose resolution is clearly not “cut and dry”, as Rabbi Angel in his JPost article would have us believe.

    As for R’ Meir Lichtenstein’s shiur, I tried linking to it, but I do not have high speed internet access (my need for internet access is limited to e-mail and important things like checking up on the latest CC posts). Unfortunately my dinasour dial-up did not allow me to download it. I echo Steve Brizel in asking if the shiur is available in PDF format; I would love to see it. Based on your comments, I presume he concludes that Rambam does not require “kabbalas mitzvos”. I cannot comment because I have not heard the shiur, and in any case I am not presumptious enough to think I can hold my own in any debate with RML; I will leave that to others who are much more knowledgeable than I am. I will say, though, that the words of Rambam at the end of ch. 13 can, IMHO (and I stress, humble), do not necessarily imply that “kabbolas mitzvos” is not “me’akeiv”, as a superficial reading of his words would seem to indicate, especially in light of Ritva to Yevamos 24b . On the contrary, it can be argued that his words in halachah 17 that “choshishin lo ad she’yisbaer tzidkaso” imply that if we can acertain that he was never sincere, he is not considerd a Jew. I am sure RML addressed these points in his shiur, and I am also aware of what R’ Aharon Yaffen writes in footnote #650 of the Mossad Rav Kook edition of Ritva. But one thing is clear: at the very least, the issue is debatable, and one cannot categorically state that the view that kabbalas mitzvos is “me’akeiv” has no source in Rambam, as Rabbi Angel did.

    As for the vehement tone of the debate, I do not think vehemence in halachic debate is necessarily a bad thing. Debates between scholars have long been conducted vehemently and with passion (see Kiddushin 30b; though in this particular case I don’t expect the same outcome the Gemara describes, for reasons I describe below). What is a bad thing, and I assume this is what you are referring to, is when the vehemence spills over into the public arena. But that is the unfortunate yet inevitable consequence of involving the public in the halachic process. And therein lies the crux of the problem. Halachic question are not decided in the court of public opinion. Even if Rabbi Angel felt his hands were tied by an obstructionist and unreasonable (or even unreasoning) Chief Rabbinate, is the Jerusalem Post, the majority of whose readership does not even follow halachah and has little interest in it, the proper forum to air his grievances? (And don’t tell me that Rabbi Shafran did the same thing. Whether we like it or not, the fact is that public opinion is a strong weapon, and once the cat was out of the bag, Rabbi Shafran was within his rights to try to minimize the damage that could result from involving the public in the first place.) Is such behavior conducive to reaching some type of consensus resolution to the problems he describes, or does it only ensure that no resolution will ever be reached? I fear the latter.

  6. Tal Benschar says:

    R. Adlerstein — excellent summation of the issues involved.

    Regarding costs — how about the cost of the mohel performing a milah on an adult for male geirim? Probably includes anaesthesia, use of a hospital room, etc. That has to cost something significant, no?

  7. dr. william gewirtz says:

    R. Alderstein, thanks for your clear responses. Frankly, it was not you as dayan that concerned me. I wonder if a majority of Dayanim in Israel, who might not share your views of Slifkin, would behave that way? On the issue of bedevid, I suspect more than theoretically, the degree of extraordinary circumstance, and the willingness to rely on secondary opinions are strongly related; perhaps the more extraordinary the situation, the greater the willinglness to rely on yet more isolated opinions. Not all circumstances merit the same halachic stance; your reference to Hilchot Aveil (taamei mes) may not conclusive/comparable.

  8. mycroft says:

    Harry, Mycroft –
    The costs typically associated with conversion in a properly run beis din will be of two types. There are some fees involved with application fees and cost of beis din time. These are relatively trivial.

    If relatively trivial-they should be Jewish community costs. A local Rav SHOULD treat the time that he is spending as part of his obligations as being a Rav-it is not athat frequent an event. A Rav should not be entering the profession to profit maximize-other fields have greater “pro bono” requirements.

    The more hefty costs are associated with the mentoring of the candidate. If the beis din insists on the candidate familiarizing him/herself with even basic halachic survival tools (and better batei din will), the process of instruction and tutoring can go on for quite a while. Tutors usually charge by the hour, except in places small enough that a local rav or rebbetzin may see it as part of their responsibility to offer the service gratis.

    It should be the local Ravs responsibility-here again I am aware of Rabbonim who as a matter of principle have never chareged or accepted a penny for their geirus related activities.
    BTW a high percentage of geirus tend to be either geirus katan or geirus of those who were brought up religious or became baalei teshuva and find out their mothers mother wasn’t Jewish or stories like thaat. Those cases do not require the great education you are talking about.

  9. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    Another distinction many people seem not to understand is the difference between “b’dieved” and “shaas hadechak”.

    Chaim, you don’t want to go there. Many, many sources affirm that b’shaas hadechak, b’dieved becomes lechatchila. (See, e.g. Pischei Teshuva YD 23:6) One man’s minor irritation easily becomes another’s earth-shattering shaas hadechak.

    Jonathan Rosenblum’s comment express far better than I did what I actually meant.

    Harry, Mycroft –
    The costs typically associated with conversion in a properly run beis din will be of two types. There are some fees involved with application fees and cost of beis din time. These are relatively trivial. The more hefty costs are associated with the mentoring of the candidate. If the beis din insists on the candidate familiarizing him/herself with even basic halachic survival tools (and better batei din will), the process of instruction and tutoring can go on for quite a while. Tutors usually charge by the hour, except in places small enough that a local rav or rebbetzin may see it as part of their responsibility to offer the service gratis.

    Dr Gewirtz –
    If you consider Rabbi Shafran’s begging off a wise decision, why would I choose to be unwise and offer a response?

    Nonetheless….I don’t know what you mean by “acceptance of Mitzvot at the level of Rabbi Angel while professing outrage at the treatment of Rabbi Slifkin.” Let us assume that you mean that the candidate fully accepts the yoke of mitzvos, and understands that, barring unusual exceptions, this means conforming with Shulchan Aruch and its major commentaries. Your question is whether the candidate’s holding opinions that are unpopular in some circles could conceivably bar his acceptance or even invalidate the conversion through some later challenge.

    Gosh – I hope for the sake of the converts of the beis din I sit on that what you surmise is wrong, since I myself profess outrage at the treatment of Rabbi Slifkin. Perhaps I recuse myself from further sittings of the beis din J

    Your second point has theoretical validity. As other readers pointed out, there have been teshuvos that treated extraordinary need (at least on an individual basis) as the equivalent of b’dieved. Halacha, fortunately, comes equipped with protocols for handling disputes and dissenters from within. When enough major thinkers (and I stress “major;” halacha also assigns unequal weight to the contribution of different writers) argue for a particular halachic position, it may become a legitimate option for someone who is convinced of the merit of the argument. In other cases, however, a position may be so overwhelmingly rejected by others who have considered it, that it may no longer be used at all. (See, e.g. Mishnah L’Melech, Aveil 3:1, end)

    Gary-
    1) Never, never bring up Lone Pine on this blog. I got a very expensive traffic ticket there once.
    2) Your hypo reminds me of the great legal maxim “extreme cases make bad law.” Nice try, but halacha works according to principle and definition, not according to the number of heartstrings tugged. If the principles behind gerus are sound, then the halacha – a system in the final analysis that does relate to Man’s imperfect sense of justice, rather than to the absolute form that only HKBH can address – will sometimes generate responses that leave us unhappy. You can file a complaint with the Boss.

  10. mycroft says:

    Agree with RAbbi Maryles. BTW-there is no real reason why Geirus should cost anything. We are not dealing with that many of them. I personally am aware and know of Rabbis who not only won’t charger for Geirus but wouldn’t accept any “free will” money from those that they converted. Legitimate Mikvah cost may be $100 or so to open during the daytime. It should really be the same cost as a Kallah’s cost for mikvah.

  11. dr. william gewirtz says:

    FFB Yeshivah Guy: some quotes from your post and comments

    “Beis Din is not empowered to act in any other way” is not accurate. A Beit Din can operate within the scope of halacha and view situations as it sees fit. In fact, the very definition of “b’dieved” is not cut and dry.

    “If the tone of this debate has turned vehement, it is precisely because people recognize the seriousness of the crisis.” I said (very) few, not many thankfully, are making light of the crisis, but in any case “vehement” is never called for.

    “I cannot compromise Judaism, because Judaism is not mine to compromise”. I am sure the late Rabbi ZT’L understood that there are often multiple opinions and adopting a particular one, given circumstance, is not compromise but a legitimate and preferred option.

    The Rambam is assumed consistent with his overall position and what is much more difficult to ascertain is not as you ask: “how Rabbi Angel and the authors of the study on conversion he cites explain Rambam, Hilchos Issurei Biah 12:17” but rather explaining the end of the next Perek in Mishneh Torah. On the last set of posts on R. Shafran’s piece, there was a link to R. Meir Lichtenstein’s shiur on this topic.

    “Are you sure “ab initio” is Latin? It sounds Greek to me.” Very funny!! As to the rest….

    kol tuv

  12. FFB Yeshiva Guy says:

    Yehoshua,
    Are you sure “ab initio” is Latin? It sounds Greek to me.

    Dr. Gewirtz, I know of no one in Chareidi circles who makes light of the current situation, or does not view it as a crisis. As anyone who follows the Chareidi media can tell you, they have been crying out about the problem ever since the mass aliyah from the FSU began. If the tone of this debate has turned vehement, it is precisely because people regognize the seriousness of the crisis. A proposed solution that only deepens the crisis is no solution at all.
    At the risk of being accused of speaking for R’ Adlerstein, I’m pretty sure what he meant when he said that the job of a Beis Din is to act “l’chatchilah” is that a Beis Din is not empowered to act in any other way. Refusing to perform conversions that halachah recognizes only “b’dieved” would betray no lack of sensitivity on their part, or an unwillingness to recognize the current situation for the crisis that it is. They would merely be following the rules, and halachah expects no less from them. To do otherwise would be to compromise the halachic process, and as Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovitz once said, “I cannot compromise Judaism, because Judaism is not mine to compromise”.
    BTW, if anyone out there can enlighten me as to how Rabbi Angel and the authors of the study on conversion he cites explain Rambam, Hilchos Issurei Biah 12:17, I would be grateful.

  13. Gary Shulman says:

    Dear Rabbi Adlerstein,
    The sheata of Rashi in reference to the mitzvah of Kidush Hashem is that the purpose of all of Torah is to fulfill this mitzvah. Take a young 18-25 year old from the former Soviet Union with a Jewish father and a secular non-Jewish mother living in Eretz Yisrael. He joins or is drafted into IDF. He was converted in the army by the army bais din on the quick. His observance is on par with that of his fellow masorati (traditional yet not strictly Orthodox) chayalim soldiers, yet he is in an elite unit, willing to be mkadish shem shamyim, sanctify G-d’s name. The army is well aware of the average level of observance of their converts and could research this person’s level if they wanted to. He is wounded in battle by jumping on a grenade thrown by a terrorist into a crowd of Yidden. As his life is on the line he recites the Shema asking for Hashem’s deliverence. He lives. After the army he moves to California. He gets married by an Orthodox rabbi who does no yichus, pedigree checking whatsoever.
    The lone Jew lives with his bride, a Jewess in Lone Pine CA more than walking distance to an Orthodox shul. His marraige breaks up.They get a civil divorce. His exwife meets Chabad and wants to remarry and live a Chassidic lifestyle . The guy is no where to be found. Does the wife need a get to remarry by the standards of the RCC? THIS IS ALL HYPOTHETICAL ANY SIMILARITY TO REAL PEOPLE IS PURELY COINCIDENTAL.

  14. Steve Brizel says:

    Thanks for an excellent article into the sources and mechanism of Hilcos Gerus.

  15. Baruch Horowitz says:

    Devarim she’balev is a topic I’m somewhat familar with, but I had to make use of online resources to read this post, as Yehoshua Friedman pointed out(ie, “in pectore”).

    For anyone who needs a translation: “de gustibus non est disputandum” means = “al ta’am ve’al reach ein le’hisvakeach”, or “different strokes for different folks”. :)

  16. dr. william gewirtz says:

    R. Alderstein – A nice post. Perhaps you can take a stab at the two questions I posed to R. Shafran and he (wisely) avoided.

    “First, would acceptance of Mitzvot at the level of Rabbi Angel while professing outrage at the treatment of Rabbi Slifkin, be an adequate Kabalat Hamitzvot? This is a straight forward question, that would help clarify positions. Second, does the current situation in Israel, neccesitate a different stance vis-a-vis geirim than has been adopted historically under very different circumstances? It is well known that a chicken can be found treif for a wealthy family and kosher for a poor family, by the same posek operating entirely with in the arba amot of halacha. The second issue is difficult to formulate let alone ascertain; but certainly raises concerns.”

    On the second question, I hardly expect a definitive answer or solution. In reality not all problems have solutions, and many a poor person has a treif chicken and a yet sparser meal. What troubles many is that the growing crisis is often made light of by hopefully a very small element within the charedi community. Acknowleding an issue, often begins a slow process not to solution but perhaps to greater efforts at finding a mode of co-existence. De-legitimitizing debate, a tactic employed by many across a spectrum of issues, is also seen by many as unwillingness to acknowledge reality. I fully appreciate your distinction between lechatchila and bedieved. But I am not sure it fully captures what some see as a crisis. Your thoughts would be appreciated.

  17. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    Yehoshua –

    You don’t like a bit of sprinkling of foreign terms? All I can say (in righteous indignation) is de gustibus non est disputandum!

  18. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    I wish to join those others who complimented Rabbi Adlerstein on a fine article. I certainly find reasonable his choice of not translating halachic terminology, since the subject is only going to be seriously dealt with by people who have at least a nodding acquaintance with the subject, meaning they have at least minimal familiarity with Talmudic-halachic sources. The thing is, those folks who learned in yeshiva and know the terms l’chatchila and bedieved, are not to be expected to know the Latin term ab initio. I do because I happened to have had four years of Latin in public high school. Another Jewish boy who was in my class is now the chair of classics at UCLA. But give the FFB yeshiva guy a break.

  19. Larry Lennhoff says:

    Expect the ‘who is a rabbi’ question that has plagued Israeli – Diaspora politics under the name of ‘Who is a Jew’ to now become an internal issue within Orthodoxy as well. The floodgates have been opened, and we’re all going to get very wet before this passes.

  20. lawrence kaplan says:

    Harry: You call it beneath contempt. I call it extortion.

    I thank Rabbi Adlerstein for an informative post.

  21. Mark says:

    Harry,

    “What is this behavior? This is behavior that I would call beneath conempt! Anyone who has gone through a sincere conversion and lives a religious lifstyle should never be chareged a second fee.”

    Harry, what you call “beneath contempt” I call incredibly naive. Do you know any facts about this case that cause you to embrace such a woefully inadequate version of it and begin spouting off about how horrible it is? On the face of it does this story make any sense at all? Do you really believe that there’s nothing more to it than the two lines written by an anonymous fellow?

    Why not try finding out more before you go off levying new taxes on the community based on an anonymous tip that is highly unlikely?

  22. Harry Maryles says:

    As an Orthodox and observant ger, there’s another aspect of this…when religious gerim like myself are contacted years (or even decades in my case) after their conversions and told “uh..your beit din was run by people who some consider to be non-reputable rabbonim…therefore you MUST have a new conversion…give us $5,000 and we’ll do it!”

    What is this behavior?

    This is behavior that I would call beneath conempt! Anyone who has gone through a sincere conversion and lives a religious lifstyle should never be chareged a second fee. If a conversion is legitimately questioned, and indeed that could happen, the questioning body has a moral obligation to justify their claims and if there is a problem in the conversion, to rectfiy it free of chrage. By charging a fee they dishonor the process and themselves.

    I don’t want to imply that Battei Din shouldn’t charge a reasonable fee for their services. They should. But in those cases where a someone has already been converted, and paid a fee, then those casting the aspersions should have the common decency to rectify the problem without trying to make a buck on it. Otherwise their claims are tainted and abuses like this will increase. Unscrupulous Battei Din will be hurling charges at other Batteui Din just so that can make a buck.

    I don’t know how much money it costs to convert. But if there are major expenses involved, then in cases like these it should be covered by the community, not the Ger.

  23. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, thank you. I still think it makes no sense, because the in-laws will see whether the newly married couple will be observant and if the children want to be recognized as Jews they can always convert themselves. But I can see how it would appear like a sensible course even when it isn’t.

  24. Mordechai Cohen says:

    Thank you for the insightful article.

    sincerely, Mordechai Cohen

  25. Micha Berger says:

    Umm… It is true that geirus is valid even if the geir backslides.

    What is not valid is a conversion performed when the geir never intended to accept halakhah, but put on a good show for a short while. The invalid “backsliding” is when there is reason to believe it is the product of the person never really had accepted it to begin with.

    Real backsliding, though, would not retroactively invalidate the conversion.

    -mi

  26. al says:

    What should the staus of a half Jew raised in the community as a “Jew”. Does he have to accept all mitvot?
    What if he thinks he is Jewish and marries a Jewish woman (this was the case of a colleague of mine). Can he get a quickie? His wife was raised in a non frum ortho home, they were not planning a frum lifestyle, but he got an ortho conversion -I don’t know how valid.

  27. al says:

    #2 . Very valid point. Many people have chosen a quasi -ortho lifestyle so that their kids can become observant because of the writing on the wall.

  28. Sabba Hillel says:

    The point of the gerim in the time of Dovid Hamelech and Shlomo seems to follow this. We say that gerim were not accepted, but if they somehow convinced a bais din to accept them, the the geirus was good b’dieved. It was not just a “magic” formula but the fact that they were sincere and behaved in the proper way.

    Consider the meforshim on Rus and Orpah. Many say that they did indeed go through geirus before they married maclon and Kilyon. However, it was only after the death of their husbands when Rus insisted on remaining with Naomi and Orpah returned home to be the anscestress of Golyas that we see if the original geirus was valid.

  29. Mike S. says:

    I should make clear that my prior post was not meant to offer or imply a specific position on any case or issue. Only to suggest that this is a complex issue where the non-expert should be careful to avoid oversimplified categorical claims.

  30. Mike S. says:

    Yet one will find in Shailot u’Tshuvot cases where Gedolim did sanction Geirus with less than a full commitment to mitzvot (often over the protests of other Gedolim). There are a variety of Tshuvot on both sides of the issue in the case of a Cohen who has contracted a civil mariage to a non-Jew who wishes after the fact to convert. Those in favor generally argue a “sha’as hadechack”, i.e. that it is better to go along than to have the Cohen leave the religion entirely. On the other hand, those opposed cite the Gemarra in bechoros and complain of a lack of commitment to mizvot.

  31. Thanks to Rabbi Adlerstein for an invaluable post. One small caveat: I think the use of backsliding in the opening paragraph is somewhat confusing. Backsliding would refer to a ger who was observant for a period of time, and then ceased to be. In such a case, I assume that there would be no question of the validity of the conversion since the only relevant inquiry into the convert’s state of mind is at the moment of conversion, and subsequent “backsliding” does not suggest that there was no sincere kabolos ol mitzvos.

  32. bj says:

    How can gerim convert if they do not know more of halacha? Why isn’t lifnei iver for aveiros liable to be done out of ignorance before they’ve learned?

  33. TheGer says:

    As an Orthodox and observant ger, there’s another aspect of this entire geirut issue that is being ignored or at least hasn’t been addressed by the good rav. That issue is when religious gerim like myself are contacted years (or even decades in my case) after their conversions and told “uh..your beit din was run by people who some consider to be non-reputable rabbonim…therefore you MUST have a new conversion…give us $5,000 and we’ll do it!”

    What is this behavior?

  34. Chaim Wolfson says:

    Dear Rabbi Adlerstein,
    Another distinction many people seem not to understand is the difference between “b’dieved” and “shaas hadechak”. “B’dieved” means after the fact; it does not mean extenuating circumstances. Just because something is valid “b’dieved”, does not mean that it can be done initially, even “b’shaas hadechak”. When halacha permits something “b’shaas hadechak”, it says so explicitly. If it does not state such a permit, then that thing is not permitted initially under any circumstances, even if it is valid ex post facto. Even those who posit that the invalidation of a geirus based on a lack of Kabbalas Mitzvos has no source in Shas, Rambam or Shulchan Aruch presumably agree that “l’chatchilah”, we do not accept such converts. That, at least, is stated by the Gemara in Bechoros in clear and unambiguous terms. They may argue that the conversion is valid “b’dieved”, but that does not give them license to perform such conversions initially, even in a “shaas hadechak”.

  35. Lumpy Rutherford says:

    Indeed, from what I am told, the new procedures that the RCA is poised to accept for its constituent batei din will include provisions that the candidate must reside within walking distance of an Orthodox shul.

    Yes, they will. It’s in this document: Geirus Policies and Standards

  36. meir says:

    Thank you very much for this overview. It is highly overdue, since people are very misinformed, especially when so many blogs devote their energy to bash the rabbis for being so strict and rude and “insensitive”. Gerus is not mechanical procedure to repeat some mantras (and the Rabbis in the background should not “train” the convert to mechanically repeat some words when they do not mean it). People should understand that rabbis are being sensitive and responsible to everyone involved: The Ger is not going to gain anything if he does not intend to keep the covenant; better he should be a chassidey umot haolom and keep 7 mitzvos of Noach than nominally call himself a “jew” (and also the reasonings of Rav Shlomoh Zalm,an Z”l), and also Am Yisrael do not stand to gain from such a conversion. But otoh, a genuine convert stands to gain himself ro herself to a state where Hashem commands the special love of these converts and at the same they send a powerful message to the rest of klal yisroel and teach them a higher level of binding with Hashem and of the destiny of the Jewish people that it is of utmost importance to keep the process to fulfill it’s ideal.

    Agav: regarding your first point (ritva kiddushin 75), I beleive something similar is found in Tossafot Chullin 3b about the explanation of those who feel the kutheans were good gerim, where TOssafot said that they RECONVERTED (as their previous conversion was not acceptable as their kabblalat hamtizvot was meaningless).

  37. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    1) Because his/her in-laws are more traditional and regard heterodox conversions as invalid
    2) Because they want any children that will be born to be accepted by the entire community. (Many people who are not Orthodox see the handwriting on the wall, and believe that in the not too distant future it will be the Orthodox who will be calling the shots as the last ones left in the room.)

  38. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Why, other than because of Israeli law, would anybody who does not want to observe Halacha go through an Orthodox Beit Din? Don’t tell me it’s because Heterodox conversions are a sham, BTW – they are no more a sham than going to an Orthodox Beit Din and declaring an acceptance of Mitzvot one does not intend.