It’s About Standards

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Admittedly, I was as surprised as anyone to see “Gentile Lubavitcher refused conversion” in the Jerusalem Post. While it may be true that the belief that a deceased individual is the Messiah is foreign to normative Judaism, it is quite a step further to say that this belief alone disqualifies a potential convert. Note that this might have some bearing on the previous discussion concerning what is “Outside the Pale” — that although one cannot point to certain beliefs and label them “heresy,” one can still say that they place a person outside the mainstream community. [N.B. Comments regarding the aforementioned belief, as well as a continuation of the “Outside the Pale” discussion, will not be accepted in this thread.]

Whatever emerges from that discussion, one point has clearly been made: Rabbinical Courts have standards. It’s about complying with the standards, and not a matter of excluding people based upon politics. One can dredge up dozens of stories of dubious conversions held under Orthodox auspices that were allowed to get through — perhaps what is going on here is an elimination of loopholes of that nature. But it is as well-known as it is obvious that the Lubavitcher movement aligns itself with Orthodox Judaism, and supports the growth of Orthodoxy in the Holy Land. If the Court was interested in pandering to its chosen clientele, this is the last thing they would have done.

Contrast, if you will, the following:

“Orthodoxy” is not a separate religion from Judaism. If you have converted to Judaism, under the authority of any legitimate rabbinic authority, you are a Jew. Jewish law does not recognize a distinction between different branches, despite the refusal of orthodox authorities to accept non-orthodox conversions.

Everything that he said there was correct, until he got to the last line. The refusal of Orthodox authorities to accept non-orthodox conversions is because Jewish law does not recognize a distinction between different branches. Jewish law defines a legitimate rabbinic authority, and defines requirements for conversion — these, the Reform writer glosses over. Even if he’s never learned a Jewish word, simple logic dictates that you can’t espouse the idea that people can pick and choose observances and claim to be following a law. He is playing a political game and pandering to his audience.

And that, fortunately, is what the Israeli Rabbinical Courts are unwilling to do. And even those who disagree with their decisions can respect them for making them. Because it’s about standards.

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11 Responses

  1. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Bob Miller, who decides which beliefs are foreign to Judaism? Is the number of Jews who follow Halacha and hold that belief affect whether it is foreign or not?

  2. Bob Miller says:

    If a would-be convert plans to retain a belief that is central to his previous religion but foreign to Judaism, that puts his intent to become a Jew into question.

  3. YM says:

    I thought that believing a dead human being can be Moshiach is heresy.

  4. Yaakov Menken says:

    Thank you, Ori. Glad to know I was missed. I’ll try to be much more regular now that I’ve cured my writer’s block.

    I think that Chabad retains pull with Agudath Israel. After Rav Shach zt”l created Degel HaTorah in 1988, Chabad famously joined in the elections on the Agudath Israel side, “for the sake of the unity of the nation.” [The result was, to my knowledge, the most divisive electoral contest in the history of Israel’s charedi community.] I don’t think their lack of active government representation means they can be considered an insignificant political force, even within the rabbinate.

    The interplay between the rabbinical courts and Israeli secular law is the subject of a different post (or long series of posts).

  5. nachum klafter says:

    If the decision comes down to the narrow question as to whether this prospective convert’s beliefs are a violation of ikkarei emuna, or a violation of important gedarim to our ikkarei emuna, then the whole decision remains a scholarly question about proper hashkafa and emuna.

    But, I think that this decision may also hinge on issues which are technically not “halakhic” standards. These issues become halakhic, of course, as the Beis Din is considers them to adjudicate the desirability of a conversion candidate.

    My understanding is that for coversions there is wider lattitude to reject candidates than many of us may realize. The Beis Din is entitled or even obligated to reject candidates for conversion who they believe will cause problems for the Jewish Community even if there are no technical problem in their hashkafa or ritual practices. So if, for example, a Beis Din was very concerned that someone’s unusual ideology or disagreeable personality would cause problems for the community he intended to join, it would be certainly within its purview to reject such a person for conversion.

    To leave Lubavitch Messianism out of the discussion, as Rabbi Menken has requested, I will use another example. Lets say that a potential convert was scrupulously observant of the mitzvot according to the halakha, showed a proficiency for Torah Study, and showed impeccable beliefs in Torah she-be al peh and Torah Min Ha-Shamayim. However, this individual also believed that the modern state of Israel was absolutely evil, and he was therefore involved in anti-Israel polemical writings, establishing anti-Zionist protests in Israel, and wrote opinion-editorials in support of the bizarre spectacle of “Rabbis” who have attended anti-Israel conferences sponsored by Islamic Universities in Islamic nations. The Beis Din would certainly be wise to refuse conversion of such an individual even though his ritual observance and beliefs in ikkarei emuna are impeccable.

    I realize that this opens a can of worms and potentially allows for intolerant ideologues to hijack conversion as a means of promoting their own ideology, but that would be an abuse of this legitimate prerogative of our dayanim.

    Therefore, the quesiton may come down to how problematic the Rabbinate anticipates this potential convert’s beliefs and practices might be if he becomes a member of the Jewish People.

    Conversion is the gateway into the Jewish People. Our rabbinate is the guardian of that gate, and they have many issues to consider which may extend beyond minimal halakhic standards for observance or belief. This is why we need to pray for Hashem to grant them clear and balanced judgment.

  6. Ori says:

    Bob Miller, I’m not sure what you mean. Of course becoming a Jew means shedding beliefs incompatible with Judaism, such as a belief in there being no G-d, or that there is more than one. The issue is whether particular beliefs are incompatible with Judaism, or merely different from the historical beliefs of most Jews.

  7. dr. william gewirtz says:

    In my former professional life as CTO of a major company, I used to repeat what a wise man once told me: “everyone is in favor of standards, except we all have our own!” Finding standards is not easy. Reports on what different dayanim thought of this, helps frame the issues.

  8. Bob Miller says:

    Part of becoming a Jew is shedding beliefs incompatible with Judaism. How could any real rabbinic judge hold that there are no such beliefs?

  9. Garnel Ironheart says:

    A guy like this came to my door years ago. He was raising money to buy an El Al ticket so he could move to Kfar Chabad and complete his conversion process. He was pleasant, sincere, learned, and fully believed that the Lubavitcher Rebbe was not only the Moshiach but that he was specifically becoming a Chabadnik because no other type of Jew was as complete as that.

    I don’t know if this is the same guy but could it be that he said something like that to the Beis Din?

  10. joel rich says:

    It does raise a very interesting question as to the halachik status of beliefs that exclude one from conversion. Does the fact that an individual who wishes to convert will not be accepted solely due that belief imply that the court has determined that maintaining such a belief is sinful act for a jew?

    KT

  11. Ori says:

    Rabbi Yaakov Menken, welcome back!

    But is as well-known as it is obvious that the Lubavitcher movement aligns itself with Orthodox Judaism, and supports the growth of Orthodoxy in the Holy Land. If the Court was interested in pandering to its chosen clientele, this is the last thing they would have done.

    Sorry, but this is weak evidence. The Court’s “clientele” is not all the Orthodox Jews in Israel. It is the political parties that control appointments to government religious courts. Chabad does not have a lot in the hierarchy of those parties, so it is not a big part of the clientele (I think that’s a deliberate policy on their part – being “non political” lets them do more where it counts). Other groups, which dislike the belief that the Lubavitcher Rabbi was the Mashiach, are stronger. I’m not saying that courts do pander to their audience, BTW – merely that this isn’t good evidence that they don’t.

    Israeli Rabbinical Courts hold on to their standards. That is usually admirable in private persons. Unfortunately, they are not private persons. They are courts convened, given authority, and financed by the Israeli government. As such, their dayanim are government officials, and have to comply with Israeli secular law. If it conflicts with their consciences, they should resign.

    BTW, today there is no such conflict as far as I know. The Israeli government lets the Rabbinical Courts control who will be registered as Jewish. This means, effectively, that Israel tells the heterodox Jews they are welcome as individuals, but their versions of Judaism are meaningless. I think Reform Judaism reciprocates.