The Conversion Progress Report

Several weeks into the current conversion fracas, and I have participated in a webcam debate, read two of Rabbi Sherman’s piskei din, plus teshuvos both modern and pre-modern, several articles in Techumin, a few chapters of an academic work on conversion standards, and several screeds that drip with more violence than a remake of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The questions, however, continue apace.

Strip away all the detail, and the conflict boils down to two hostile assessments of what the other side stands for. Haredim believe that the dati-leumi (DL) camp is prepared to subvert “real” Torah to the dictates of non-religious and anti-religious forces in the government. They charge that when Torah matters are left in the hands of members of the DL orbit, issues of State ultimately trump issues of halacha. Gerus is just the latest in a series. The DL camp, on the other hand, believes that haredim have turned a deaf ear to concerns of Israeli society as a whole, content to contribute their mitzvos and learning, but nothing in areas of the enormous political, military and social issue that face Israel. At the same time, haredim have moved to assert greater control over a Rabbinate that their own people do not use, while attempting to impose their piskei halachah (e.g. the attempt to ban all Shemitah produce that relies on the heter mechirah) on a public that needs all the flexibility that halachah can legitimately deliver.

In duking it out in the current imbroglio, both sides have simply reinforced the stereotypes held by the other. In alienating the other, both sides deserve near-perfect scores.

Rabbi Druckman’s supporters have not responded to a single one of Rabbi Sherman’s charges in halachic language. They have thus added fuel to the fire of those who believe that the DL camp is incapable of dealing responsibly with sophisticated Torah thinking. Rabbi Sherman may or may not be right, but he raises important issues. Rav Druckman, to the best of my knowledge, is a fine gentleman, but not one of the halachic luminaries of the DL world. Professional politicians and MK’s – of any religious party – rarely are. The DL world suffers from no shortage of real bnei Torah and a group of authentic poskim who could and should be dealing with Rabbi Sherman’s point in halachic language.

The have compounded this error by taking comfort in the Israeli Supreme Court’s move a few days ago to freeze Rabbi Sherman’s decision. This should not have been a cause for celebration. It is harder to imagine a less appropriate deus ex machina to answer haredi critics. Rather than winning in the milchamtoh shel Torah, the DL world cheered as Big Brother showing up carrying a big, secular stick.

Many years ago, one of Rav Shach’s, zt”l, addresses enraged the Israeli public. He had dismissed kibbutz-members, cultural icons in general Israeli society, as “rabbit eaters,” devoid of all spiritual content. The nation was enraged. For weeks, people castigated R. Shach and the haredim, while touting the accomplishments of kibbutzniks on the battlefield. One journalist finally pointed out the irony. He observed that all the commentors were actually proving R. Shach’s point. All that the kibbutz defenders could point to was physical prowess and might. Nobody praised them for any spiritual accomplishment. You could imagine R. Shach getting up after all the charges and recriminations, and with a smile on his face saying, “The prosecution rests.” Nothing could make the haredi argument more effectively than a few rallies to support the honor of Rabbi Druckman, speeches denouncing the cold-heartedness of the haredim, appeals to a secular agency to trump the authority of a beis din – and silence on the substantive halachic issues.

To compound the injury, various writers in the DL camp have called for a new Israeli disengagement – this time, from all things haredi. Some have used militaristic vocabulary, speaking of the drawing of battle lines, and the waging of war against the forces of darkness and oppression in Bnei Brak. They’ve called for asserting their independence from haredi influences, of purging the country of their influence, of asserting that the haredim are alien to Torah, and that the real traditional Jews are the dati-leumi (DL), while the haredim are really Saducees. (Last time we heard this, it was Robet Gordis at JTS, I believe, saying the same about Orthodoxy in general back in the ‘30’s.) The writers may have felt better after venting, and may have scored points with their constituencies, but speaking in such terms about the most accomplished halachic minds of the generation – no matter how foreign some may find their attitude towards the State and modernity – does not create the impression of a whole lot of Torah depth.

On the haredi side, the silence has been equally disturbing and revealing. There have been no soothing voices allaying the fears of thousands of converts now in limbo. No one has insisted to the general public or to the DL community that the needs of the rest of the country concern haredim as well, but halachic principle rests atop a list of priorities. No one has answered all the pain and indignation expressed by good people within the DL world. Silence is the worst form of contempt.

Weeks into the controversy, I am left with more questions than I began. Does the DL world really expect decisions by a conversion court to be forced upon dayanim of other courts just because the former have government sanction? Even if they satisfy themselves (and I don’t understand how they could) that minimalist standards are enough to declare conversion candidates Jewish, can they expect that a dayan should now be compelled to officiate at such a convert’s wedding? If not, can he compelled to recognize such a convert’s wedding? Why do some in the DL camp point to liberalized standards of conversion as the solution to the crisis of several hundred thousand non-Jewish Russians living in Israel? Do they not recall that our last experiment in quickie mass conversions (over two thousand years ago) gave us not loyal Jews, but an Idumean fifth column and the reign of Herod the madman?

In the other corner, I do not understand how Rabbi Sherman can speak of “all” poskim rejecting conversion without proper acceptance of mitzvos. Did he not realize that his decision would be pored over by hundreds of people checking for integrity? What would he have lost had he conceded that there are one or two voices in the other direction who are so outweighed that they cannot be relied upon, even when conditions press for a leniency? Rabbi Sherman cites important poskim that flouting accepted halachic norms invalidates a person’s reliability as a witness, and therefore as a dayan as well. He concedes that these same poskim allow for the possibility that if a person thought he was doing a mitzvah by ruling leniently, he does not lose his reliability. Rabbi Sherman then goes on to differentiate between the reliability of witnesses and judges, but offers no evidence for the distinction other than his own opinion. Regardless of whether he is correct or incorrect, should not a decision that affects the lives of tens of thousands of people rest on something stronger than his own opinion?

At the real core of the matter is the status after the fact of hundreds, if not thousands, of converts whose acceptance of mitzvos is suspect. Take a hypothetical person who converted ten years ago. He watches television on Shabbos, but doesn’t drive. He eats kosher – most of the time. If he comes to Rabbi Sherman and asks him to be able to walk out of his marriage, marry a non-Jewish woman, and allow his present wife to remarry without a get, will Rabbi Sherman give him the green light? In similar cases in the United States, we have treated such people as safek gerim, questionable converts. We would never sanction such a person to “drop” his Yiddishkeit, nor on the other hand marry a Jewish woman without redoing the conversion. In both the Ashdod and Rechovot cases, the convert would never have gotten past the recognized batei din in the US, in either yeshivish or centrist forms. But in both cases, the convert did show some changes in behavior – changes that Rabbi Sherman rejects as cultural, rather than religious. Is this distinction sufficient to invalidate the candidate with absolute certainty, or only misafek? I ask (and I am asking, not stating) particularly in the light of Rav Moshe Feinstein’s zt”l position (Igros Mosher, YD3, #108) that to invalidate a conversion after the fact (which he does, in fact hold is possible, like so many others), the evidence of insincere kabbalas mitzvos has to go beyond a clear umdena(legal presumption), and rise to the bar of an anan sahadi (presumptive certainty)!

The only glimmer of hope comes from the realization that both sides, further apart from each other than ever before, are animated by exactly the same concern! Both sides feel that the other is compromising Torah and creating chilul Hashem. Haredim feel that nothing can ever trump halacha, and that DL playing fast and loose with halachah compromises the integrity of Torah. The DL world argues that the inability of haredim to come up with a modus vivendi for so many issues plaguing the State implies that our Torah is antiquated and not a Toras Chaim that can shine Divine illumination upon the issues over which we agonize. Each side sees the sanctity of the Torah violated and desecrated, and abreacts in pain.

If only we could both sides to realize that precisely what separates them is what unites them – a deep commitment to the eternity and centrality of Torah. If only they could use that common enthusiasm for Torah to mend the breaches and work together for the benefit of all of Klal Yisrael!

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93 comments to The Conversion Progress Report

  • Dotan

    “Rav Druckman, to the best of my knowledge, is a fine gentleman, but not one of the halachic luminaries of the DL world.”

    Rabbi Alderstein, I respect that this is to the best of your knowledge. But it betrays how little you know of the Religious Zionist Torah world.

  • Miriam Shear

    R. Alderstein, You are to be highly commended for what is probably the most even handed, well written article yet on the “conversian fracas.” Thank you for having the courage to point out each side’s contribution to the mess and each side’s valid points that need to be acknowledged.

    Admittedly, I lost a lot of interest in this issue at some point and have not followed every single development other than to glance at some headlines. This response is reflective of how I and many others are a little burnt out with the horrible in-fighting, flying accusations, inflamed rhetoric, name calling, and the endless relentless attempts to delegitimize the other. It is spiritually taxing and demoralizing on an individual as well as communal and nationalist level.

    I could not agree with you more that it is indeed a tragic day when Torah scholars are forced to turn to the secular High Court for intervention to prevent an greater injustice. But let me ask: What alternative is there? Who – What is the address of anybody to talk to to get it resolved – or, at the very least, to respectfully agree to disagree?

    You gave us the answer: “Rabbi Druckman’s supporters have not responded to a single one of Rabbi Sherman’s charges in halachic language.” That’s for the DL side.

    “On the haredi side, the silence has been equally disturbing and revealing. There have been no soothing voices allaying the fears of thousands of converts now in limbo.”

    R. Alderstein, that is EXACTLY the dilemma that has faced BOTH groups on a number of issues that should remain in the arena of dayanim and poseks. But nobody will talk to one another – they only talk down to each other. And they do so in the most vile language.

    Just imagine, if a High Court justice would use the same rhetoric, tone, volume in a ruling against the DL or Haredi camp. How many nights of riots would we all have to endure for that?

    You say that the DL side has not countered with arguments that contain “a whole lot of Torah depth”. Then you say that the haredi camp is guilty of “silence is the worst form of contempt”.

    Let me ask this: Which approach is worse? Is an answer worse than no answer? Or is a quiet festering of the disease, with no intervention, no treatment – not even an examination of “the lump in the arm” – the best way?

    When this whole thing first started, I believed it would burn itself out and fade just as the “Conversion Crisis” did in 1988 during the Shamir government’s attempt to form a coalition on the Who is a Jew Crisis. That was one of the reasons I only half paid attention. I assumed, wrongly, that it would be yesterday’s news in a matter of a couple of weeks.

    In 1988 I was sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe to address the Knesset and speak with various groups in Israel and the United States on the Who is a Jew issue. I was zocheh to be in the company of Rav Soloveitchik and Rabbi Immanuel Schochet during many of these speaking engagements. Interestingly, it was the hareidi groups in the U.S. who had very little interest in getting involved in the issue of “k’halacha” being added as an amendment to the Law of Return. Not only were they disinterested, but some of them were actually angry at Lubavitch for “making an issue out of it”. What was really at stake was the concern that funding would be lost for their various organizations should the Reform and Conservative U.S. Jews decide to withhold their donations. Lubavitch was one of the very few groups that had the integrity of principle to put forth a Torah voice at this opportune time when the government needed the religious parties for Shamir’s coaltion.

    The issue was lost when the religious parties bartered halacha for inclusion in the coalition and the assurance that funding for their causes would not be jeopardized. The Who is a Jew issue then faded into a quiet death.

    I am now convinced that this time will be different, very different – it will not go quietly away. And the reasons are for precisely what you state in your last paragraph:

    “If only we could both sides to realize that precisely what separates them is what unites them – a deep commitment to the eternity and centrality of Torah. If only they could use that common enthusiasm for Torah to mend the breaches and work together for the benefit of all of Klal Yisrael!”

    The Reform and Conservative Jews have a limited amount of energy to fight for their Jewish identity and legitimacy. Such committments have to compete with the energies required for their golf games, country clubs, movie nights, manicures, pedicures, and season tickets to their favorite sports teams. After yelling and screaming a lot, they end the argument by eating a ham sandwich with swiss cheese just to spite you and every Torah principle you stand for.

    This will not happen in the DL and Hareidi camps. The reason is that the goal is the same: Both camps sincerely want – no, they crave – a halachic solution to this mess.

    This will take leadership. But both sides do not have an address – or at least they’re not revealing who it is. If either side has an address, they need to reveal it NOW and put those 2 leaders together and let them work it out. And everyone must put their egos aside and hold by that final decision.

    Anything short of that is disastrous for everyone.

  • joel rich

    “and silence on the substantive halachic issues.”
    =============================================

    R’YA – may I ask how you come to this repeated conclusion? You yourself mention at least some of the halachik opinions which have been quoted in this discussion. The facts of this case still seem to be open to debate. Furthermore by this statement you seem (unconsciously I assume since the point of your post seems to be one of someone who holds the middle ground) accept the charedi position that micro halachik issues should be viewed in a vacuum, rather than in the context of the macro halachik issues the DL community seems so concerned with.

    Another point of your contention seems to be that since the only thing everyone will accept is the most stringent position, that should be the standard. I think it is clear that this approach quickly yields obvious results (convergence to whoever can be most machmir-why not in all cases?)

    As to your conclusion, I again ask you, does the charedi leadership view DL/MO as an acceptable approach in serving hkb”H. If not, all the discussion on geirut courts is a side show-how would they ever accept geirim through or to an approach they don’t accept?
    KT

  • Garnel Ironheart

    There is another answer to this conflict.

    Several years ago during a visit to Israel I sat down to have some drinks with some Chiloni friends. They spent most of the evening castigating the Chareidi community, denouncing everything they could about it.

    A couple of nights later, I was having Shabbos dinner with Chareidi friends who spent the entire night castigating the Chiloni community, denouncing everything they could about it.

    And then, when I later reflected on both conversation, I realized: they’re both right. Each community, and with this post one can add in the Dati Leumi as well, has tremendous faults. Forget about the strengths for a minute. After all, that’s been the problem until now. Each community looks only at its strengths and the others’ faults.

    Imagine what would happen if the Chilonim were to look at their faults and weaknesses and then at the Chareidim and Dati Leumi strengths, and vice versa. Imagine if someone like Rav Shach were to stand up and say that that only reason he could give a speech like this in the land of Israel to a flourishing Torah community is because of those godless “rabbit eaters” and baruch haShem for them. Imagine Chilonim being appreciative for the Jewishness that pervades even part of their lives and gives them a distinct identity.

    But until each community is prepared to ignore its strengths, focus on its weakness and look for the good in the others, nothing will change.

  • Michoel

    Great article.

    “If only we could both sides to realize that precisely what separates them is what unites them – a deep commitment to the eternity and centrality of Torah. If only they could use that common enthusiasm for Torah to mend the breaches and work together for the benefit of all of Klal Yisrael!”

    Unfortaunately, Rabbi Adlerstein has already explained why they cannot realize that. The don’t believe the other side shares a deep commitment. Sometimes, there are truly no answers for the difficult questions (I mean the societal strife, not the halachic questions) and by trying too hard to find answers we can accually exacerbate things. Perhaps the best thing to do is for all of us as indivuals, to simply tone down our retoric and refrain from commenting on those things that we have no really abilty to be commenting on intelligently.

  • mb

    “Do they not recall that our last experiment in quickie mass conversions (over two thousand years ago) gave us not loyal Jews, but an Idumean fifth column and the reign of Herod the madman”

    Slightly unfair comparison. The Idumeans were forced converts. The current situation concerns people that want to join their lot with the Jewish people, and are mostly from the seed of Abraham to begin with, having Jewish fathers, and many, many of these converts practice 110% Judaism.
    And when you say the Cheredi position is that nothing trumps halacha, that is also not quite correct. Halacha trumps halacha, or at least a different opinion of it does. Cheredim continuously feel it is neccessary to take a more stringent approach negating anything less.
    My goodness. R.Yossi of Galil dined on chicken cheese burgers.
    Respectfully,( but still greatly disturbed)

  • Yehoshua Friedman

    I agree that here we are witnessing what in Hebrew is called a “du-siach chershim”, a dialogue of the deaf, with no one listening and no one responding to each other’s position. This is more than regrettable, it is tragic in the classic Aristotelian sense of the word. But you, R. Yitzhak, have committed the error of oversimplifying data yourself. Surely you know better than to deny that there are bottom of the barrel conversions in the US Orthodox world. Somewhere to placate a major shul or community donor whose kid has brought home someone not a member of the tribe, three rabbis behind closed doors have done stuff like this. I know that the RCA has tightened up, but there is no centralized rabbinate in the US because of the official separation of church and state. You can most of the time, maybe not always, find some rabbis who will do the job. Perhaps I’m being picky, perhaps things have changed since my wife’s cousin married the Italian boy a few decades ago. You surely know better than I what is going on there. But I just want to know that you aren’t throwing an inadvertent curve ball. If so, I’m sure you didn’t mean it and will clarify.

  • Ori

    Even if they satisfy themselves (and I don’t understand how they could) that minimalist standards are enough to declare conversion candidates Jewish, can they expect that a dayan should now be compelled to officiate at such a convert’s wedding? If not, can he compelled to recognize such a convert’s wedding?

    The problem is that in Israel the dayan is not representing himself or the Torah. He is a government employee, given certain powers by the secular state for use according to the dictates of that state. If those dictates conflict with his conscience he is free to resign that problematic position.

    Let’s take a related issue. I am intermarried. If I understand Halacha correctly, that means the Orthodox position is that I am not married at all. I just happen to be living in sin with a gentile woman, and we just happen to have four children we are raising together.

    Normally I have no problem with that. But imagine you were a judge, I was on trial in front of you, and my wife was called to the witness stand to testify. Being my wife, she would refuse to testify against me. Under US law, she has that right and you as a judge may not compel her. Yet if you don’t recognize us as married that would be contempt of court. Do you jail her for contempt or not?

    Israeli Rabbanut courts are in a similar position. Their power to jail men until they release their Agunot or to decide who can certify Kashrut comes from the secular state. In return they have to obey higher courts, including secular ones. I don’t see why anybody would put himself in that position unless he saw the state as the legitimate government for Jews living in Israel.

  • Tal Benschar

    I am surprised that thus far no one has commented on the hashkafic angle of this latest controversy. It reflects a more basic difference between the Charedi and Dati Leumi camps which pre-dates the state.

    It is well-known that many gedolei yisroel, including especially R. Chaim Brisker, were adamantly against Zionism because they understood that the purpose of Zionism was to replace Torah as the central essence of Jewish identity with a secular, nationalist ethnic identity. (This is separate and apart from the Satmar and other Hungarian objections based upon the 3 Oaths and waiting for Moshiach.)

    This is precisely what has happened in Israel — we have an “Israeli” identity which is ostensibly Jewish, but which is no more than an ethnic/nationalist one. Torah is at best a tolerated hobby or lifestyle of a minority, but, as we are continually reminded by the Jerusalem Post, one can be a “good Israeli” and still be an atheist, and certainly never put on tefillin, keep Shabbos or do any other mitzvah.

    The DL approach (and there are many variations) is that the difference is not so important, or can be fudged, and the main thing is to build up Eretz Yisroel, perhaps hoping that our benighted brethren will soon see the light.

    Unfortunately, while the issue can often be avoid, it sometimes cannot. Gerus is a good example of where it cannot — a person is changing his status from Gentile to Jew. That is where the hashkafic and halakhic rubber meets the road — what is required of this “convert” goes to the essence of what it means to be a Jew.

    What, after all, is a ger? Chazal learn the process of gerus from the entry into the covenant by the Jewish people: Kachem Kager — mah atem be milah, tevillah ve hartazaas korban, af ha ger le doros be milah tevilah veharatzaas korban . The same process the Jewish people used to enter into a convenant with Hashem at Har Sinai is the same process to be used for a convert. In fact, the Rambam calls gerus that very thing — kenisah le bris .

    That is why, with all due respect to the minority view, the notion that one can have a gerus without kabbalos ol mitzvos is an absurdity — that is the very essence of the covenant. Every child in cheder or day school knows what the defining moment was at Har Sinai — when the Jewish people said “naaseh ve nishmah.”

    Anyone who thinks this a Charedi chumrah or recent innovation is fooling themselves. It is the mainstream view of the vast majority of halakhic authorities. It goes to the very essence of what it means to be a Jew. Any beis din that ignores this reality will simply never be accepted by the vast majority of talmidei chachamim, no matter how much abusive rhetoric is heaped upon them.

    (I should also add that the current situation in Israel, from a secular view, is anomolous and untenable. No country in the world requires one to go through a religious conversion to obtain citizenship. All most countries require is accepting allegiance to that country and renouncing allegiance to other countries; some don’t even require that.)

  • Binyomin Eckstein

    Kovetz Igros Chazon Ish vol. I #98: (response to Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzenski question about unity between Agudah and Mizrachi)

    “Regarding the agreement (to unify the parties) – also principles like Shabbos! When we want to discuss strengthening (religion) we encounter points of departure (from one another). For example, in the opinion of (the) “Religion and Life” (party -a devastating put-down of the Mizrachi Shita as separating the two), we need to turn a blind eye from milking on Shabbos since the Tzibbur cannot withstand such a thing, and so too working in the port, and so too in the providing of water and electricity, and Bichlal, in a place of necessity one should turn a blind eye even to harvesting produce on Shabbos, and Bichlal, one should not get into arguments for Chillul Shabbos, and Gadol HaShalom, and in a situation where there is no need for strengthening (religious adherence) there is no need for partnership, and so too in Kashrus there is no need to be meticulous that what one places in one’s mouth is really Kosher, as long as there is a Hechsher from Rabbis who derive their sustenance from the Kehilla, and so on and so forth.

    And I sign with blessings and peace… ISH.”

    ואין כל חדש תחת השמש

  • Noam

    I echo Rav Adlerstein’s sadness. However, I think he misses the point completely. This is actually not a halachic debate. In the old days in Europe, when a dispute broke out among religous parties, one of the first thing that happened was that each side possulled the other side’s schechitah and other signs of rabbinic authority. This still happens today in different forms.

    Rav Druckman and the DL have plenty of halachic backing, from the Rambam to present day poskim. There is no need to respond on a halachic level, primarily because the challenge is not a halachic challenge. Rav Sherman et al, if they have the learning that they are reputed to possess, know these sources. They have chosen either to ignore them, or weigh the sources in a different fashion. No amount or pile of gemara, rishonim or acharonim is going to change their minds. It is naiive to think that Rav Sherman is going to look at some response and say, “oh, I didn’t know that Rambam”, or “it really never occured to me to look at Mishpetei Uzziel like that, you know, I think you are right.” There is no point in trying. In fact, responding on a halachic level gives legitimacy to the false claim that there is a problem with the DL approach.

    This can be framed either as a power grab, which is a political problem, or a problem with values, which is a cultural/moral issue. No amount of source quoting is going to change it. The sad reality is that in this case, and many others, Chareidim are trying to impose a viewpoint that gives very little to no weight to the human side of the equation, and maximal weight to meticulous observance of supra halachic(and yes, one can read halachically unnecessary) details. The DL side sees this as a perversion of halacha, and, rightfully in my opinion, not only refuses to have this viewpoint imposed, but feels that it is not halachically accurate or even valid. Therefore, it is not the DL who should bring halachic justification to their actions, but the Chareidim, who are ignoring strictures such as ‘lo tonu et ha’ger'(do not oppress the convert) and many other halachic imperatives.

    Unless there is a sea change in how halachic values are weighted, there will be no rapproachment. The Chareidim will continue to see the DL in the same way that Rav Keller here in Chicago sees the Modern Orthodox(as the New Reform), and the DL will see the Chareidim as trying to impose a value system that is not in consonance with Torah values, or at least Torah values as the DL see it. A very very sad situation indeed. But at the very least, please don’t follow the Chareidi party line and blame the DL for halachic incompetence. Let us view this situation for what it is.

  • Yehoshua Rabinowitz

    This article is very typical of R. Adlerstein. He makes some good points, calls for unity, claims to understand the other side (he has after all, read Tchumin!) but at the end of the day he seems not to be able to look outside the yeshivish mindset.
    Some facts R. Adlerstein had forgotten:
    – R. Druckman has been a Rosh Yeshiva (not MK) for almost 40 years.
    – R. Druckman has been a Dayan in several batei din for over 2 decades. He had Yadin Yadin
    – Several articles have been written by DL poskim arguing on R. Sherman’s p’sak.
    – The claim about the Idumeans is a red herring. They were forced to convert. The opposite is true in our case. Either way the whole issue of the so- called Idumeans is a big machlokes among major league historians whether is happened or not and on what scale.

    Lastly, what does it mean achdus besides the DL giving in (again) to the Charedi poskim?

    Kol Tuv.

  • Bruce

    The Reform and Conservative Jews have a limited amount of energy to fight for their Jewish identity and legitimacy. Such committments have to compete with the energies required for their golf games, country clubs, movie nights, manicures, pedicures, and season tickets to their favorite sports teams. After yelling and screaming a lot, they end the argument by eating a ham sandwich with swiss cheese just to spite you and every Torah principle you stand for.

    I am a Conservative Jew. I don’t expect my Orthodox friends to agree with me or accept my understanding of Judaism. After all, I don’t accept the Orthodox understanding of Judaism.

    But I do not insult Orthodoxy, and I expect that Orthodox Jews not insult me or my integrity. I don’t do any of the things sarcastically noted above (ham sandwiches!), and — most importantly — I do not act in any way to spite traditional Jewish beliefs. It is ironic that this paragraph appears in a comment noting that “nobody will talk to one another – they only talk down to each other. And they do so in the most vile language.”

  • Bitzy

    Rabbi,
    While I greatly appreciate the points you have made, the DL side has no reason to answer R’ Shermans attack. IT IS CLEAR THAT RABBI SHERMAN NEVER EVEN SPOKE TO R’ DRUCKMAN BEFORE GIVING A PSAK, thus making his psak invalid. How can he rule against anothers halacich ruling without even understanding their position? What Rabbi Sherman did was only further his goal of the total political destrction of the State of Israel from within. Only due to such tzddikiot as Judge Tova Strassberg-Cohen do the Jews of the world have any hope in the State of Israel. Rabbi, I would appreciate if you would address this point.

  • upset and hurt

    The fact remains that not all of the converts in Druckman’s bet din were these controversial cases. Many fine frum dati leumi yeshiva types went to Druckman and Avi-Or because the local Rosh Yeshiva sent them, whether its to adopt a child from overseas or to marry a giyoret who had settled in Israel. I’m one of these, sent to his bet din by my rosh yeshiva in Israel. The rash undoing of all R. Druckman’s conversions, including those of fully frum families, with kids in yeshivas, is a horrible violent act that can’t be justified even by all the usual apologetics. Will Rabbi Adlerstein come and tell my kids, who spent their whole lives in yeshivot, raised frum their whole lives, and explain why suddenly they are no longer Jewish? Does anyone have any idea how horrible this is for many of us?

  • Urijah Kaplan

    “He had dismissed kibbutz-members, cultural icons in general Israeli society, as “rabbit eaters,” devoid of all spiritual content. The nation was enraged. For weeks, people castigated R. Shach and the haredim, while touting the accomplishments of kibbutzniks on the battlefield.”

    So mitzvos ben adam lechaveiroh are not “spiritual”? Please find me a jewish definition of spirituality that revolves solely about kashrus, tefilin and the like.

  • Moishe Potemkin

    Rav Lichtenstein provided a response to Rav Shirman’s accusations in halachic language. He did not dignify the name-calling with a lengthy, footnoted teshuva, of course, but his response fully addressed the “halachic concerns” that we are pretending lay at the base of Rav Shirman’s accusations.

  • Shalem

    Rav YItzchok,

    A very important post. You raise many questions to both sides. but in the midst of the post one of the main points of the issue may become obfuscated as we see in the comments here on your post.

    Rav Sherman’s motivation and so his position is a purely Halachik issue that cannot be portrayed as a political issue. THe fact of the matter will remain that *most posskim* (as Rav Aharon Lichtenstein wrote) hold that kabbalat hamitzvot in the sense that there IS A *COMMITMENT TO OBSERVE* is the main ingredient of the gerut in the absence of which the gerut is NULL AND VOID (not that latter they invalidate it “retroactively”).

    Now let try to address (to my ho) some of your reservations on the haredi side from the angle of halacha:

    “Rabbi Sherman cites important poskim that flouting accepted halachic norms invalidates a person’s reliability as a witness, and therefore as a dayan as well. He concedes that these same poskim allow for the possibility that if a person thought he was doing a mitzvah by ruling leniently, he does not lose his reliability”.

    “these same posskim” (who allowed for that possibility). I misplaced the long pssak, but from what I remember (and i could be wrong) this svoro was mentioned by a *contemporary* Dayan. (The Talmud speaks about pssuley witnesses; I do not recall the sourfes discussing this about a pssul dayan).

    ” Rabbi Sherman then goes on to differentiate between the reliability of witnesses and judges, but offers no evidence for the distinction other than his own opinion. Regardless of whether he is correct or incorrect, should not a decision that affects the lives of tens of thousands of people rest on something stronger than his own opinion?”

    I too felt that he should have cited more sources that indicate that they hold like his position. (But it shoud be noted that he builds his theory by analyzing the rishonim on the the meaning of the mitzvah of judges to convert, ayen sham hetev).

    NOw to the core questions:
    “At the real core of the matter is the status after the fact of hundreds, if not thousands, of converts whose acceptance of mitzvos is suspect”

    RAv YItzchok, I believe that Rav sherman at his ruling wrote that he is talking about people that was clear that there was no acceptance whatsoever! That they never observed any shabbat!

    .He is not talking about: ” Take a hypothetical person who converted ten years ago. He watches television on Shabbos, but doesn’t drive”.

    He talks about someone who always drove on shabbat and could not care not to drive!

    “He eats kosher – most of the time”.
    No, he is talking about someone who never cared to eat kosher davka. Right after conversion he/she eats out in trefe restaurants or bassar bechalav.

    “If he comes to Rabbi Sherman and asks him to be able to walk out of his marriage, marry a non-Jewish woman, and allow his present wife to remarry without a get, will Rabbi Sherman give him the green light?”

    I believe RAv Sherman would not give a green light in these cases that *you* raise to remarry without a get. He was talking about someone who never cared to keep shabbat in issurim deoyrayta and to keep kashrut in dinim deorayta (or worse clearly intended to reject the acceptance of these practices in principle)!

    But here is the crux of the issue and again this is a *halachik* mattter!

    ” But in both cases, the convert did show some changes in behavior – changes that Rabbi Sherman rejects as cultural, rather than religious”.

    Pardon my questioning you: Where is there any source that Kabbalat hamitavot means “cultural changes” (and therefore that it would matter even on a bedieved basis); it is clear that that they must be of a religious nature. And it means that they commit to keep the laws of torah and the religious dictates nd as it was accepted by Rav Chayim Oyzer achiezer 3/26 that they entail at least shabbat, kashrut and taharat hamishpacha. This is the essence of gerut after all.
    And if the Rabbi tells her that this is what gerut entails (observing religious commandments) and she/he violates them right away (especially when done for marriage) then there is a rejection and non acceptance of these mitzvot (especially if it was followed or comibined by a statement that she will not observe these mitzvot when they become like “chutz medavar echad” where it may be invalidate the gerut even bedieved).

    Rav YItzchak wrote:
    “Is this distinction sufficient to invalidate the candidate with absolute certainty, or only misafek? I ask (and I am asking, not stating) particularly in the light of Rav Moshe Feinstein’s zt”l position (Igros Mosher, YD3, #108) that to invalidate a conversion after the fact (which he does, in fact hold is possible, like so many others), the evidence of insincere kabbalas mitzvos has to go beyond a clear umdena(legal presumption), and rise to the bar of an anan sahadi (presumptive certainty)!”

    Funny that you mention that Teshuva! IF you see that Rav Moshe wrote a whole teshuva to dispel the thought that a thought at the immersion to go to the office where she usually works on the second day of yom tov would invalidate her conversion! you see that the issues on the other side of the coin are not that clear cut at all . In any event that teshuva reveals us some other VERY IMPORTANT things:

    1) In one pragraph Rav Moshe writes: that he heard from his father that those who convert so that the parents of their spouse will agree to marry their child to this girl etc. that when either spouses are not “makpid” to keep torah and mitzvot that it is like “ANAN SAHADI” that they are doing it deceive the parents and it is not a “kabbalah”

    2) He also writes in the next paragraph that the reason why the convets of Shlomo and Shimshon worked even though they later reverted etc. was because A LONG TIME HAS TRANSPIRED by which they kept torah and did not worship idols. He explains that the idea of a “zamn gadol” works in a way that it cancels the “anan sahadi”: Even though in these cases there is a “hashara” and assumption that they really did not intend to keep torah never the less it does not constitue “anan sahadi”. IT follows (and he states clealry) that if they did not keep “Zman gadol” that we have reached “anan sahadi” that they did not intend to have kabbalt mitzvot!

    3) Rav Moshe also mentions in the begining of the responsa that you mention that if the convert did not accept one of the mitzvot immediately at the time of conversion and immersion he would have to reimmerse, so that the immersion is done after he accepts all mitzvot.

    If I may also add a most important question (that was said over and over and I beleive you raised it in the very beggining) to those who of the DL camp:

    How can many of you who know that the majority of posskim and Klal Yisroel does NOT ACCEPT THESE KIND OF CONVERSIONS not protest at those who propose these practices knowing that the majority cannot accept and FOR halachik reasons, HOW CAN YOU BE SILENT FOR ALL THESE YEARS and listen to how others criticize the haredi camp for being political and adding the divisive petroleum to the fire? HOw can you sanction a practice that touches the core of the defintion of our people as people with a practice that you know WILL SPLIT EVEN MORE THE PEOPLE? How can you allow these practices when you know tha tthe majority of rabbinic authorities do not consider them Jewish?

    Rav yitzchok Thank you again for trying to analyze this issue and work hard that this should not split even more our people, Yasher Koach,

    REspectfully, Shalem

  • Raymond

    Even after reading Rabbi Adlerstein’s latest comments, I do not understand why the Religious Zionist side of things simply abide by the decision of the Chareidim. With an issue of such critical importance as Who Is A Jew, it is simple common sense to side with the stricter approach of the Chareidim rather than the more lenient approach of the Religious Zionists. In other words, better to err on the side of caution.

    My attitude in general about all things Jewish is that as long as the particular religious movement is Orthodox, it is acceptable to me, whether it be Modern Orthodox, Sephardi, Chareidi, or Chassidic. These and those are the words of the living G-d, as they famous expression goes. But again, because this particular issue of conversion involves such a critical issue as Who Is a Jew and Who Is Not a Jew, it is time to put aside emotions, and do what makes the most rational sense, which is to side with the more cautious group, which in this and most cases, are the Chareidim.

  • Miriam Shear

    Comment by Bruce:
    “But I do not insult Orthodoxy, and I expect that Orthodox Jews not insult me or my integrity. I don’t do any of the things sarcastically noted above (ham sandwiches!), and — most importantly — I do not act in any way to spite traditional Jewish beliefs. It is ironic that this paragraph appears in a comment noting that “nobody will talk to one another – they only talk down to each other. And they do so in the most vile language.”

    Bruce, Please accept my most sincere apology for offending you. What i wrote was based on actual personal experience when I addressed a mixed Reform/Conservative group who came armed with visibly traif food items BEFORE THEY EVEN HEARD ME MAKE MY POINTS.

    It would have been more appropriate – and accurate – for me to have included the word “some”. This was purely oversight and negligence on my part. Just as I have had the above negative experience, I have also had very warm, positive feedback from Reform and Conservative Jews.

    Thank you for pointing out this serious ommission to me.

  • Chareidi Leumi

    >“Regarding the agreement (to unify the parties) – also principles like Shabbos! When we want to discuss strengthening (religion) we encounter points of departure (from one another). For example, in the opinion of (the) “Religion and Life” (party -a devastating put-down of the Mizrachi Shita as separating the two),

    >we need to turn a blind eye from milking on Shabbos since the Tzibbur cannot withstand such a thing,

    No, we find heterim as has always been done. See mishpatei Uziel and Amud haYemini.

    >and so too working in the port,

    When did the mizrahi give a heter for this?

    >and so too in the providing of water and electricity,

    Does the CI REALLY want no water and electricity on shabbat??? Does anyone else think that this could lead to many instances of pikuach nefesh?

    >and Bichlal, in a place of necessity one should turn a blind eye even to harvesting produce on Shabbos,

    have the chareidi protests ever worked to minimize hillul shabbes, or do they just make the chareidim feel better about themselves?

    >and Bichlal, one should not get into arguments for Chillul Shabbos, and Gadol HaShalom,

    I don’t understand this attack. Is the CI saying that the mizrachi were mattir chillul shabbos or that Gadol HaShalom is not a torah concept?

    >and in a situation where there is no need for strengthening (religious adherence) there is no need for partnership,

    I don’t get this either, maybe the sarcasm here is over my head.

    >and so too in Kashrus there is no need to be meticulous that what one places in one’s mouth is really Kosher, as long as there is a Hechsher from Rabbis who derive their sustenance from the Kehilla, and so on and so forth.

    Isn’t being somech on the community rav for kashrus pretty explicit in the poskim? Should I not rely of Rav Orbach shchita because he gets paid for being a mashgiach? Or is the CI suggesting we reform the halacha so that we are no longer somech on community rabbis for our hashgacha?

  • Friar Yid

    The Reform and Conservative Jews have a limited amount of energy to fight for their Jewish identity and legitimacy. Such committments have to compete with the energies required for their golf games, country clubs, movie nights, manicures, pedicures, and season tickets to their favorite sports teams. After yelling and screaming a lot, they end the argument by eating a ham sandwich with swiss cheese just to spite you and every Torah principle you stand for.

    While you’re listing various activities that spite Torah principles, you might look up sinas hinam, Miriam.

    I am theologically to the left of Reform with an affinity for Hebrew that places me closer to Conservative practice. I find it highly amusing that none of your criticisms of non-Orthodox Judaism have anything to do with either their theology or practices- rather, you shouts about how awful it is that they do superficial things like play golf, watch movies, attend sports events, and get their nails done- all things that NO Orthodox Jews do at all, right? And don’t forget arguing- we all know no one with a kippah ever raises their voice.

    For the record Miriam, the only things on your list I have ever indulged in are movie nights and the odd ham sandwich. But don’t let things like facts interrupt your stereotype parade.

  • Yitzchok Adlerstein

    Surely you know better than to deny that there are bottom of the barrel conversions in the US Orthodox world. Somewhere to placate a major shul or community donor whose kid has brought home someone not a member of the tribe, three rabbis behind closed doors have done stuff like this.

    Why would I deny it? It was actually one of the points that I originally planned to include in my questions on the haredi position. After my web-debate with Rabbis Freundel and Farber, I spoke at length with each (which was much more relaxed and collegial than what we did on camera). Rabbi Freundel made your point, quite emphatically, and I could not deny it. What may have been different in the heyday of such conversions is a factor very much at the center of the current controversy. R. Uziel’s teshuva includes the prediction that those converted will eventually respond to strong community pressure, and become mitzvah observant. In the decades that have gone by, it has become clear as day that this is not true. To rely on that reasoning today is risible. At the time, it was at least debatable. There were many rabbis who fudged conversions for profit, just as there are today. However, there were also rabbis of great integrity here in the US who converted people because they had every expectation that the convert would hew to the level of (poor) mitzvah observance then practiced in their communities. The rather poor level of observance would not have been seen by them to be an incomplete acceptance of mitzvos. The convert accepted what people around who claimed to believe in G-d and His Torah observed. Only the fanatic rabbi kept “stringencies” beyond that. Two things have changed since then. One is that so many Jews have unfortunately so completely abandoned observance that there is no expectation of the “express” or “casual” convert living at any level of observance. Additionally, there is much more consciousness, even among the ignorant, of the halachically “legitimate” way to practice. Keeping Shabbos can no longer be seen as a chumra. People who reject it are aware that they are rejecting mainstream traditional Jewish practice. (This last point is made by R. Moshe Feinstein in a different context – defining who is invalidated as a witness by dint of transgression.)

    In other words, many (not all) of the rabbis who performed such conversions in the ‘20’s and ‘30’s would not do them today. If they would, we would today have every right to question their efficacy.

    R’YA – may I ask how you come to this repeated conclusion? You yourself mention at least some of the halachik opinions which have been quoted in this discussion.

    Because I haven’t seen anything in print from someone of the caliber of R A Lichtenstein of R Dov Lior! I am not a posek. While I have questions about R Sherman’s conclusions, they remain questions, not answers, until I can see the halachic give-and-take from both sides.

    Another point of your contention seems to be that since the only thing everyone will accept is the most stringent position, that should be the standard. I think it is clear that this approach quickly yields obvious results (convergence to whoever can be most machmir-why not in all cases?)

    I did not state that in this piece, although I may have in my original posting. I made it very clear there that only in matters that affect the nation as a whole do I see the need for convergence around a common (yes, machmir) position. This is not the case in almost all other areas of halacha that I can think of, including some pretty thorny issues like eruvin and brain death.

    As to your conclusion, I again ask you, does the charedi leadership view DL/MO as an acceptable approach in serving hkb”H. If not, all the discussion on geirut courts is a side show-how would they ever accept geirim through or to an approach they don’t accept?
    I can’t speak for them. I find it a more than acceptable approach, as do my closest friends. Any approach born of a sincere desire to learn the Will of Hashem while submitting to the yoke of the mitzvos has to be acceptable. But I disagree with your premise anyway. Those who would find the DL approach completely unacceptable should still be able to address purely halachic considerations. Following a hashkafa you might reject is not a halachic reason to invalidate a person’s testimony, gittin, etc. If you scratch the surface I believe you will learn that some people who froth at the mouth over the mention of YU will nonetheless (behind closed doors) have no problem accepting a get from the Beit Din of America, or relying on OU hashgacho (before putting on their own organization’s symbol.

  • Chareidi Leumi

    >RAv YItzchok, I believe that Rav sherman at his ruling wrote that he is talking about people that was clear that there was no acceptance whatsoever! That they never observed any shabbat!

    Can someone please explain to me how the case in the gemara of a Ger who does not know ikkar shabbat ever came to occur?

    According to R’ Sherman’s psak, wouldn’t the hypothetical person be considered a gentile?

  • Shalem

    “While I greatly appreciate the points you have made, the DL side has no reason to answer R’ Shermans attack. IT IS CLEAR THAT RABBI SHERMAN NEVER EVEN SPOKE TO R’ DRUCKMAN BEFORE GIVING A PSAK, thus making his psak invalid. How can he rule against anothers halacich ruling without even understanding their position?”

    With all due respect, it still does a reason and obligation. For we see that which many of the defenders of RD claim. You can find many of the Rabbis who support and are in sync with RD’s position writing in periodicals like TEchumim; many of them offer some of the reasonings mentioned here. And these reasonings fail hardly to making their defense in Halachik terms. For instance, hey claim and base their position on claiming that Rambam did not require acceptance of mitzvot. Nothing can be further than the truth on this. Rambam is very stringent regarding accepting ALL mitzvot of Torah. He rules that only after such an acceptance can a convert marry a Jew!

    “Rav Lichtenstein provided a response to Rav Shirman’s accusations in halachic language”:

    With all due respect, Rav Lichtenstein did not offer a Halachik defense for RD’s conversions; if anything to the contrary, he acknowledged that RD”s conversions were done by a minority opinion where majority of posskim reject his approach!

    ” 23… What may have been different in the heyday of such conversions is a factor very much at the center of the current controversy. R. Uziel’s teshuva includes the prediction that those converted will eventually respond to strong community pressure, and become mitzvah observant. In the decades that have gone by, it has become clear as day that this is not true. To rely on that reasoning today is risible. At the time, it was at least debatable….”:

    THANK YOU FOR MAKING THIS SUCH IMPORTANT POINT! Let everyone see for themselves in Rav Uzziel’s teshuvot how this was one of the important reasoning in his lenient rationale and reality has unfortunately disproven his predictions.

    “…However, there were also rabbis of great integrity here in the US who converted people because they had every expectation that the convert would hew to the level of (poor) mitzvah observance then practiced in their communities. The rather poor level of observance would not have been seen by them to be an incomplete acceptance of mitzvos. The convert accepted what people around who claimed to believe in G-d and His Torah observed. Only the fanatic rabbi kept “stringencies” beyond that. Two things have changed since then. One is that so many Jews have unfortunately so completely abandoned observance that there is no expectation of the “express” or “casual” convert living at any level of observance. Additionally, there is much more consciousness, even among the ignorant, of the halachically “legitimate” way to practice. Keeping Shabbos can no longer be seen as a chumra. People who reject it are aware that they are rejecting mainstream traditional Jewish practice. (This last point is made by R. Moshe Feinstein in a different context – defining who is invalidated as a witness by dint of transgression.)

    In other words, many (not all) of the rabbis who performed such conversions in the ‘20’s and ‘30’s would not do them today. If they would, we would today have every right to question their efficacy”.

    Thanks for making this point! AS you mention Rav Moshe’s acceptance that someone else may be lenienet and those gerim (IM YD 160) is contingent upon these facts: that the convert does not take seriously that judaism and halacha require a jew not to drive on shabbat ((for instance) and obviously the rabbi tried his best to convey otherwise but the fact that most jews were at that time not shabbat observant (in the 20’s and 30’s) made it legitimate for theprosective convert to think that that wasn’t necessary for one to observe in order to live jewishly. But today this is not the case: The convert may know that when the rabbi tells him that jews do not drive on shabbat, that this is what halacha requires and this is jewish way of life and yet he chooses to disregard this acceptance and the rabbi who yet converts him (if he notifies him that he is not allowed to drive n shabbat) knows tht the whole thing is a sham, that the fellow is not interested in living jewish period (cultural changes are not halachik fulfillment of kabbalat hamitvot). It seems that the leninecy of Rav MOshe would not necessarily apply today. (an additionalpoint has to be made: Rav Moshe was only writing that lenient reasoning to explain how those rabbis would perform those conversions; he clearly implies that he himself would NOT perform those conversions lechatchila and his personal opinion seem to be implied by the ruling that they lack validity even bedieved (those who are on the level of “ana sahadi” and as he writes in many teshuvot: those who do for marriage PLUS the fact that the spouse does not live a relgious life are “anan sahadi” that there is no acceptance of mitzvot).

  • Binyomin Eckstein

    Charedi Leumi,

    I am afraid the entire letter went over your head.

    As an aside, I’m not sure if I ahould be saddened or amused at an attempted “fisking” of a letter of the Chazon Ish on the blogosphere as if it were a half-baked blog post shot off by a twentysomething in between exams, not a very carefully weighed letter in response to a request by the Gadol Hador to make a decision on behalf of the leadership of the Agudah on a matter with exceedingly far reaching consequences.

    I tend more toward the former.

  • L Oberstein

    This article summarizes a wide ideological gulf within the believing community. The world view and scale of priorities is so different that sitting down for a cup of coffee together won’t solve the problem. My question to all the dati leumi propoents is to tell me why Religious Zionism has taken such a back seat to the chareidim in Israel. Whose fault is it that the chareidim have more political clout, more control of the rabbinate that they don’t use and greater zeal for outreach to the non religious. How did it come about that the Mizrachi fell apart and ceased to be a player when it used to rule the roost? How did we get from a godol hador like Rav Herzog to the current Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi who isn’t even mentioned as a player in the argument.
    In short, why are those who are non zionists and who don’t see holiness in the current ingathering of the exiles the ones who have the power? How did they grow from insignificant to dominant in 60 years? And..what does this tell us about the future of Mediant Yisrael.

  • Miriam Shear

    “I find it highly amusing that none of your criticisms of non-Orthodox Judaism have anything to do with either their theology or practices- rather, you shouts about how awful it is that they do superficial things like play golf, watch movies, attend sports events, and get their nails done- all things that NO Orthodox Jews do at all, right? And don’t forget arguing- we all know no one with a kippah ever raises their voice.

    For the record Miriam, the only things on your list I have ever indulged in are movie nights and the odd ham sandwich. But don’t let things like facts interrupt your stereotype parade.”

    Comment by Friar Yid — June 17, 2008 @ 1:46 am

    Dear Friar Yid – Of course there are Orthodox Jews who spend their time on some – and even all – of the activities mentioned. The point I was trying to make is that, as a general rule, Torah observant Jews will spend a significant part of their free time to learning and other Torah pursuits. And while I do not wholeheartedly condemn any of the activities mentioned per se, my argument is with the priority and importance they take in one’s life which, in all intellectual honesty, is different between MOST Orthodox Jews and non-Orthodox Jews.

    I did err in not using the word “some”. Please see my apology in post #20. My apology stands – and so do my beliefs that there is a difference for MOST Jews in these camps as I’ve pointed out in the previous experience. This is not based on any scientific polls but rather first hand experience and exposure from the perspective of a middle aged woman who has spent a lot of time in both camps.

  • joel rich

    original Joel-Another point of your contention seems to be that since the only thing everyone will accept is the most stringent position, that should be the standard. I think it is clear that this approach quickly yields obvious results (convergence to whoever can be most machmir-why not in all cases?)

    R’YA response-I did not state that in this piece, although I may have in my original posting. I made it very clear there that only in matters that affect the nation as a whole do I see the need for convergence around a common (yes, machmir) position. This is not the case in almost all other areas of halacha that I can think of, including some pretty thorny issues like eruvin and brain death.

    Joel response – OK, we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one – and by nature i think pragmatically it would be very difficult to agree as to what issues qualify (e.g. physical defending the Jewish people)
    =================================

    original Joel-As to your conclusion, I again ask you, does the charedi leadership view DL/MO as an acceptable approach in serving hkb”H. If not, all the discussion on geirut courts is a side show-how would they ever accept geirim through or to an approach they don’t accept?
    R’YA response-
    I can’t speak for them.
    I find it a more than acceptable approach, as do my closest friends. Any approach born of a sincere desire to learn the Will of Hashem while submitting to the yoke of the mitzvos has to be acceptable. But I disagree with your premise anyway. Those who would find the DL approach completely unacceptable should still be able to address purely halachic considerations. Following a hashkafa you might reject is not a halachic reason to invalidate a person’s testimony, gittin, etc. If you scratch the surface I believe you will learn that some people who froth at the mouth over the mention of YU will nonetheless (behind closed doors) have no problem accepting a get from the Beit Din of America, or relying on OU hashgacho (before putting on their own organization’s symbol.

    Joel Response – On such a basic issue with such far reaching consequences I would suggest it would be woth your time, as one who iiuc seeks a middle ground, to ask your contacts in the charedi world for insight from their leadership on this question.

    We’ll have to agree to disagree on tthe halachik considerations issue since iiuc your non-response implies you don’t see the macro/micro halacha issue (see the chofetz chaim letter backing beit yaakov schools as an example of macro/micro issue split)

    I will have to accept your assertion that there are frothers who would make that distinction but I imagine that the subtlety is lost on many.

    KT,

  • mb

    ” I made it very clear there that only in matters that affect the nation as a whole do I see the need for convergence around a common (yes, machmir) position.”

    Why?
    I know I need not remind you that R.Akiva was the ignorant son of convert. What sort of conversion did they have.
    Millions of Jews come in all different shapes, sizes and colours. Clearly from intermarriage with the locals. Do you seriously believe they all had halachically strict conversions? Most probably didn’t convert at all.
    Every one of R,Druckman’s court’s converts sure should be given the benefit of the doubt about there sincereity at the time of conversion.
    We do the same for other”acceptable” courts.
    Anything less is simply not Jewish

  • Moishe Potemkin

    I made it very clear there that only in matters that affect the nation as a whole do I see the need for convergence around a common (yes, machmir) position.

    Of course, when Hillel converted people that Shammai deemed ineligible, he explicitly disagreed with your formulation. Is there a legitimate source for this innovation?

    I’m frankly a little troubled by Rabbi Adlerstein’s entire line of thought here, especially his search for “halachic language.” It is beyond obvious that Rav Druckman’s position is a minority opinion, and it is beyond obvious that he contends that current circumstances allow (or mandate) reliance on this minority opinion. Rav Shirman disputes this leniency.

    What is particularly fascinating to me is that Rabbi Adlerstein’s preference brings us to the somewhat counter-intuitive position of creating new halachic practices (contra Hillel) that take current complexities into account, specifically so that we can avoid creating new halachic practices that take current complexities into account.

  • Bruce

    Miriam Shear wrote:

    Bruce, Please accept my most sincere apology for offending you. What i wrote was based on actual personal experience [...] It would have been more appropriate – and accurate – for me to have included the word “some”.

    Apology accepted. : ) I understand now that you were referring to particular people who were ill-behaved and insensitive, not making a broader point.

    Just a quick suggestion (and one that, now that I think about it) I intend to employ. When saying something negative about some unspecified set of people (consistent with rule of l’shon hara, obviously) it might make sense to refer to them as narrowly as possible. Your suggestion (saying “some” Conservative and Reform Jews do X) leaves open the possibility that this is a a large group. Perhaps it would be better to make the narrowest possible statement, such as “A group of Conservative and Reform Jews that I met with did X”.)

    I certainly don’t mean to lecture here, but I for one will try to employ this tactic when, on the rare occasions, I must make a negative comment about a set of people. One of the many great lessons I learned from Orthodox rabbis is the importance of choosing words carefully and with chesed.

  • Eytan

    Dati Leumi,

    I feel compelled to second Binyomin’s comments in protest at your treatment of the Chazon Ish’s letter.
    Unfortunately, it is another example of an attitude that underlies much of the commenting on this issue, that is, the failure to recognise the limitations of our own reason and the objectivity of our own intellect when it comes to issues of such grave importance. I appreciate that such sentiments do not sit kindly with the general approach to commenting on blogs, but I feel it is worth consideration nevertheless.

  • Steve Brizel

    I refrained from even commenting on R Shirman’s opinion at least until I read it in the entirety. Like it or not, one can seriously question R Druckman’s POV re Kabalas Ol Mitzvos which is perilously close to watering down this halachic element so as to solve Israel’s demographic problems was against the Rov Binyan Rishonim and Poskim, but the use of rhetorical overkill was also unnecessary.

  • Friar Yid

    Miriam,

    Thanks for the apology. For the record, I share your frustration that many of the priorities of R & C Jews are not on Judaism- in whatever form. However, things are changing and I believe that more non-Orthodox Jews, especially among the youth, are becoming interested in having their Judaism mean something more substantial than somewhere to go a few times a year for holidays and yizkor. I recently attended a Jewish learning festival in which classes on Judaism, Jewish culture and Jewish history were offered focusing on all sorts of different topics and flavors (including some local Orthodox rabbis, Chabad and otherwise). Specifically targeted at people in their 20s-30s, the turnout was dramatic. A lot of non-Orthodox Jews are still hungry to learn, they just don’t want to be lectured, dictated to or spoken down to. Rather, they want to engage with and learn more about the tradition in an environment of mutual respect (and, point taken, flaunting a ham and cheese at someone who is shomer kashrut isn’t good either).

    The more that all different groups of Jews can respond to this great challenge and set aside some of the partisanship (anti-Orthodox bias included), the better for all of us- and those who will follow.

  • Shalem

    Shalem writes: #

    >RAv YItzchok, I believe that Rav sherman at his ruling wrote that he is talking about people that was clear that there was no acceptance whatsoever! That they never observed any shabbat!”

    Charedi Leumi writes:
    “Can someone please explain to me how the case in the gemara of a Ger who does not know ikkar shabbat ever came to occur?

    According to R’ Sherman’s psak, wouldn’t the hypothetical person be considered a gentile?”

    Not at all! Actually Rav MOshe Feinstein speaks about this in different places and he too holds EXACTLY like Rav Sherman in the bulk of Rav Sherman’s ruling (lack of kabbalat hamtizvot and in another place alludes to the second problem mentioned by him: the need for kosher judges on these matters that should rise to the level of “hedyotoss”):

    Apossible scenario (and probably the most likely scenario!) for the case in gemara: the person was in a place where there were no jews at all, the person heard about the jewish people and the jewish spiritual driving force: the G-d of ISrael and he wants to abide and live by the laws of those people. Thrree Jewish people happen to be passing by that town where that non JEw resides and they tell him that they are ready to convert him! But they are in a rush…they tell him that there is a G-d of Israel and HIs laws and that there is a way of life, but they are in a rush; they perform the circumcision the immerssion and they tell him that he must commit himself to live jewishly and he must later travel to a town where there jews and he will present the certificate of convesion to the rabbis of that town and they will teach him all the laws of the Torah. They say goodbye…they had no chance to speak to him about shabat…(they were obviously wrong for lechatchila you must tell some of the chamurot and shabbos is one of them) …but they are “hedyotot” no less….in the meantime he does not know about shabbat and he cooks his food ont hat shabat. Immediately after shabbat he goes to the big town where there is a bEyt Din and thy inform him about the laws…lo and behold he realizes that he violated shabbat and he cooked and he wants to perform a proper procedure of atonemnt..they instruc him to bring a korbon!

    Ironically that all mention this halacha (you are not the first and probably not the last) do not pay attention to another interesting point of this Halacha: The Ger wishes to bring a korbon from his own volition to correct the wrong that he did! WE are talking about a sincere and genuine ger who want sto perform what G_d of ISrael has instructed and pays money to bring his sacrifice to Jerusalem and wastes no effort to travel etc towards this end!

    In contradistinction: qwe have numerous of “converts” who are told by their rabbis that Judaism requires them to keep shabbat, but: a) the “convert” is totally uninterested in it! He knows that the Rabbi told him that cooking is a no no on shbbat and yet he could not care less about it, b) Plus: the rabbi who told him that knows clearly that he will not be interteested in the least bit not to drive and to cook on shabbat: here there is total non acceptance of shabbat and and many a time a clear rejection (“chutz meshabat”)where it is clear that the conversion is null and void!

    One more interesting point: The Rambam interprets that gemara to talk about a conversion on a *child* who grew up after the conversion not knowing about shabbat. (I wonder what would the rambam ctually hold in a conversion about an adult! in theprevious scenario and why he avoided talking about an adult!).

  • Shalem

    Rav YItzchok wrote:

    ” Rabbi Sherman cites important poskim that flouting accepted halachic norms invalidates a person’s reliability as a witness, and therefore as a dayan as well. He concedes that these same poskim allow for the possibility that if a person thought he was doing a mitzvah by ruling leniently, he does not lose his reliability. Rabbi Sherman then goes on to differentiate between the reliability of witnesses and judges, but offers no evidence for the distinction other than his own opinion. Regardless of whether he is correct or incorrect, should not a decision that affects the lives of tens of thousands of people rest on something stronger than his own opinion?”

    There was another point I wanted to make on this : *Rav Moshe* himself raised the question that on such conversions the Dayan may be a passul dayan “garua mehedyotos!” (YD 160). He struggles hard and finds a reasoning (one that was mentioned by you and that perhaps may not be relevant in our day and age). But (Surprise) he does *not* offer that rationale “that if a person thought he was doing a mitzvah by ruling leniently, he does not lose his reliability”, even though he mentions a reasoning regarding the convert himself (who thought that the mitzvah is not that important “only a hiddur”). Why hasn’t Rav MOshe stated this reasoning regarding the dayanim? IT would (at the surface) appear because he does NOT agree with that aforementioned contemporary Dayan that equates a Dayan to an Eyd! (although he was talking about a limud zchus for thousands and thousands of convets as REb Moshe was worried about their status and was not comfortable with thier stance for the some of the very same reasons as Rav Sherman was1).

  • mycroft

    “In 1988 I was sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe to address the Knesset and speak with various groups in Israel and the United States on the Who is a Jew issue. I was zocheh to be in the company of Rav Soloveitchik and Rabbi Immanuel Schochet during many of these speaking engagements.”

    Really-by 1988 Rav JB Soloveitchik had withdrawn due to illness from active participation and sadly was in no condition to be where the writer states he was. Rav A Soloveichik spelt his name without a t.

  • mycroft

    The following taken from Tradition just after RYBS’s ptirah shows that Rav Soloveitchik at least had a different attitude to some of the issues discussedthan Rav Moshe Feinstein-just quoting to show that a universal attitude in these matters has not existed,

    “The Rav’s opposition to moves which threatened the unity of the Jewish community also manifested itself in his attitudes towards non-Orthodox groups. He counseled against denying Conservative or Reform Rabbis the right to use communal mikva’ot for conversions. Moreover, he once instructed … that Reform conversions that were accompanied by circumcision and immersion in a mikvah had to be treated as a safek goy. (Accordingly, a get would be required to dissolve a marriage in which one of the partners previously underwent a Conservative or Reform conversion which conformed to the requirement of milah and tevilah.)”

  • Gary Shulman

    Eureka, a solution: In additon to the State of Israel accepting 2 rabbis to head the Rabanut, Ashkenaki and Sfardi let them accept a Dati Leumi rabbi, or 2 DL rabbis one Sfardi and one Ashkanazi. When gerus is done it should be noted on a Teudat Zehut by which rabbi. Let each group have access to the computer of maraige and yechus , or better yet get 4 differnt computers. The computer databases will document yichus. All conversions from the Rabbanut will be accepted by the state. If an individual Charedi rabbi does not want to accept the DL convert, fine its his personal choice. Let that person go to a DL rabbi to get married. It may happen the other way too. After all “East is east and west is west and never the twain shall meet.” The Army and all government instituions representing the Zionist state can have DL kashrus supervision while Nahal Chareidei and the local councils where there is a Charedi rabbi can have Badatz. Shalom al Yisrael

  • Chareidi Leumi

    >the person was in a place where there were no jews at all, the person heard about the jewish people and the jewish spiritual driving force: the G-d of ISrael and he wants to abide and live by the laws of those people. Thrree Jewish people happen to be passing by that town where that non JEw resides and they tell him that they are ready to convert him!<

    Then my next question is:

    what is the difference between a person who legitimatly wants to Join the Jewish people but does not know their laws due to lack of Jews in his location.

    AND

    A person who legitimately want to Join the Jewish people but does not know their laws due to the fact that the vast majority of Jews in his geographical area don’t keep the laws.

    It other words, I think we need a clearer definition of what kabbalat ol mitzvot entails. It is obvious from the rishonim that it does NOT mean lack of knowledge of fundumental mitzvot such as shabbos (even though that is the example often given on blogs – ‘the woman never even kept one shabbos’).

    If its the subjective opinion of the dayanim that the person in front of them is sincerely accepting the Torah (like the people Hillel haZaken converted who obviously did not know most mitzvot before they were converted), then how can another court make passul the subjective judgement of another?

  • Naftali Zvi

    Concerning a Ger that does not know Ikar Shabbos –

    Pardon my lack of bekius, but I am very curious as to where this Gemara is. Are there no meforshim that discuss the scenario?

    In any case, it is certainly very possible to occur with a Ger katan she’matbilim oso al daas beis din (that is discussed in the beginning of Kesubos) who, for whatever reason, never received a proper Torah education.

  • Calev

    Thank you R. Adlerstein for seeking a middle way through this complicated business.
    I agree with some commentors here that there appears to be more here than simply an halachic issue. It is very, very hard to disassociate the current machlochet from the on-going tension between Zionist and non-/anti-Zionist camps.
    However, R. Adlerstein’s concluding comments should be the guide: both sides, by focusing on the halachic issues – even the minutiae – can and should use this as an avenue for dialogue. In engaging in halachic argument shem shemayim there is the real possibility that – even if they don’t agree – they will learn to respect each other’s learning and viewpoints more. One would hope that such behaviour by the leaders of both camps would set the example for their respective followers. I am not optimistic on this last point: read Simcha Raz’s biography of Rav Kook and you will see the tremendous personal respect, even fondness, that he shared with some of his biggest chareidi critics; alas, the aggressive and disrespectful behaviour shown by some of their followers did no-one any favours, least of all, I suspect, in the sight of Hashem.
    The current machlochet is an opportunity for true, positive leadership on both sides.

  • Shalem

    “The Rav’s opposition to moves which threatened the unity of the Jewish community also manifested itself in his attitudes towards non-Orthodox groups. He counseled against denying Conservative or Reform Rabbis the right to use communal mikva’ot for conversions. Moreover, he once instructed … that Reform conversions t”
    the right to use communal mikva’ot for conversions. Moreover, he once instructed … that Reform conversions that were accompanied by circumcision and immersion in a mikvah had to be treated as a safek goy. (Accordingly, a get would be required to dissolve a marriage in which one of the partners previously underwent a Conservative or Reform conversion which conformed to the requirement of milah and tevilah.)”

    That is contrary to what I was told by HaRav Hershel Shechter how Rav Soleitchik was very strict about Kabbalat Hamitzvot at the gerut and held that that is the main ingredient of gerut . He was actually stricter than HaRav Moshe Feinstein with regards to the conversion of a minor; where Rav Moshe was lenient and Rav Soloveitchik was extremely stringent regarding the observance of child and parents and held that without the observance there is no gerut period!

    (His stance about refusal to deny the right to them use the mikvaot has no bearing whatsoever in the present discussion as that does NOT mean that he accepted that there any shred of validity to that gerut (As RAv Moshe who we have in writing did not give any validity to a reform conversion not needing any get whatsoever etc. and yet advised not to engage in a fight over refusal to allow them to use mikvaot for those purposes (as the fight would useless etc.). Incidentally haRav Aaron Soloveichik fought vociferously not to allow the usage of mikvaot for their sham conversions).

  • cvmay

    The DL world argues that the inability of haredim to come up with a modus vivendi for so many issues plaguing the State implies that our Torah is antiquated and not a Toras Chaim that can shine Divine illumination upon the issues over which we agonize.

    This plays itself out in the Charedei world in the USA also, (it is not only an Israeli plague)where issues of higher education, employment, Jewish voting block, participation in the secular world, etc. is totally ignored and ‘building higher & stronger walls’ is the solo modus vivendi. The divine mission of a ‘holy NATION’ has been rewritten to equal ‘my sect, my yeshiva, my chassidiss, my mesorah, my hashgafa, my roshyeshiva, my rebbe’ rather than the concept of a JEWISH PEOPLE.

  • norm

    “Haredim believe that the dati-leumi (DL) camp is prepared to subvert “real” Torah to the dictates of non-religious and anti-religious forces in the government. They charge that when Torah matters are left in the hands of members of the DL orbit, issues of State ultimately trump issues of halacha. Gerus is just the latest in a series. The DL camp, on the other hand, believes that haredim have turned a deaf ear to concerns of Israeli society as a whole, content to contribute their mitzvos and learning, but nothing in areas of the enormous political, military and social issue that face Israel.”
    So the solution to the problem from the haredi side is to be more active in playing a role in Israeli society as a whole. The problem is as soon as they do they are accused of hijacking the system for their own cause. We need no better example than the Rabbanut. No doubt the same thing will happen as haredim become more involved in the army. Beside the willingness of one party to change there has to also be a wilingness on the other side to accept that change. On the other hand, if the DL were willing to separate ideology from Halacha and accept a somewhat more stringent approach in high-impact areas such as geirus they would be lauded by haredim.

  • Michoel

    cvmay,
    You paint with a rather broad brush. It is exactly the concept of a JEWISH PEOPLE, to quote your upper-case, that is driving the Charedim in the geirus issue. If it were only about MY SECT, than I couldn’t care less about the geirus issue.

  • Michoel

    Comment number 12 by R’ Yehoshua Rabinowitz makes a very unfair statement about Rabbi Adlerstein, that he is unable to step out of the yeshiva mindset. Rabbi Adlerstein has consistently shown himself to be a very independent intellect. Just the opposite, he is too far to the left on some issues, but he is at least an honest and substantial commentator.

  • very frightened

    Again, there is an issue in that the court abolished ALL of the giyur done by R. Druckman and R. Avi-Or. The apologeticists and attackers keep framing this debate in terms of extremes, in which a case here or there may not have meant to have a real giyur. A case by case review when there is some kind of safek, may be worthwhile.

    However, the fact remains that not all of the converts in Druckman’s bet din were these controversial cases. Many fine frum dati leumi yeshiva types went to Druckman and Avi-Or because the local Rosh Yeshiva sent them, whether its to adopt a child from overseas or to marry a giyoret who had settled in Israel. I know for a fact, since I’m one of these, a yeshiva student who married a giyoret, sent to this bet din, with the best intentions, by a well known rosh yeshiva in Israel.

    My kids have been in yeshiva their whole lives. Will Rabbi Adlerstein come and tell my kids, innocent bright children who spent their whole lives in yeshivot, raised frum their whole lives, and explain to them that suddenly they are not Jewish?

    While its fun to debate frumkeit and knock this party or that one, does anyone have any idea how real world horrible this is for many of us?

  • sima ir kodesh

    In engaging in halachic argument shem shemayim there is the real possibility that – even if they don’t agree – they will learn to respect each other’s learning and viewpoints more.———This is an Utopian Fantasy, the charedim engage the RZ as those who are in need of kiruv rechokim. “Every shevet with its own degel” is a lost art, and the sibling rivalry (various children of one father)is at a highpoint.
    Dialogue is imperative, as in sibling rivalry it dawns on the children at a time of deep sorrow and loss.