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The Unwelcome Mat

Today’s rabbinic culture is closing the door to converts, and ignoring its own history in the process

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From left: Rabbis Shlomo Goren, Yona Metzger, Ben-Zion Uziel, Ovadia Yosef, and Joachim Prinz. (Collage Abigail Miller/Tablet Magazine. Photos except Metzger and Uziel: Wikimedia Commons; Metzger photo: Religon and State in Israel; Uziel photo: The Committee for the Publication of the Manuscripts of HaRav Ben Zion Hai Uziel Z"l.)

“Converts are a hardship to Israel,” declared the rabbis of the Talmud, “like a bad case of psoriasis.” A callous statement that is, one that reflects a posture held by rabbis toward converts since the Pharisees adamantly rejected John Hyrcanus’s forced conversion of the Edomites, in 125 BCE. But it is also, for others, a surprising statement, given that the pantheon of important actors in Jewish history features numerous converts—including the founding fathers of the rabbinic tradition, Shemaya and Avtalyon; and Onkelos, the author of the Targum, the canonical Aramaic translation of the Torah; and of course Ruth, from whose line King David (and, eventually, the long-awaited Messiah) would emerge. Indeed, the entire history of rabbinic culture is marked by this ambivalence toward gerut, or conversion: openness and admiration on the one hand, but on the other a suspicion and discouraging of would-be converts, a deep sense that, no matter how sincere and pious, their attachment to the Jewish people has the potential to cause endless irritation.

This issue flared up again in public discourse earlier this year, when Tablet Magazine published an investigation into Rabbi Leib Tropper, the ultra-Orthodox rabbi and influential figure on conversion standards brought down by an alleged sex scandal involving a woman seeking his counsel in her effort to join the Jewish faith. The exposé centered on Tropper and his small but influential organization, Eternal Jewish Family, but it was also about something much more important: the monopoly over conversions recently acquired by a small set of ultra-Orthodox rabbis.

The story evoked revulsion from rabbis of all denominations. For starters, there were the non-Orthodox rabbis, whose converts have been denied Jewish status under Israeli law since the establishment of the state. But the Tropper scandal arguably evoked even more delight, exchanged discreetly, among modern Orthodox American rabbis who had recently seen their conversions invalidated—and in many instances even retroactively revoked—largely as a consequence of a 2006 decision by the official Israeli Rabbinate. This body has in recent years seen its ranks filled by fervently Orthodox, often non-Zionist rabbis—a consequence, largely, of years of political negotiations between the major parties and the smaller ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, ones needed to form workable governing coalitions in the Israeli Knesset. Sadly, the U.S. mainstream Orthodox rabbinate, represented by the Rabbinical Council of America, lamely caved to the outrageous new conditions imposed on them by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. With very few exceptions, most notably Marc Angel, the senior rabbi of Manhattan’s Shearith Israel Congregation, this country’s modern Orthodox rabbis demonstrated a shameful failure of courage to express righteous outrage, let alone to assert their own authority.

Tropper’s enemies were not confined to the more progressive side of the religious spectrum. In Israel’s ultra-Orthodox enclaves, such as Meah Shearim and Bnai Berak, his downfall was unabashedly celebrated, boldly announced on broadsides with sensational headlines referring to Tropper as “Oto ha-Ish”—the traditional Jewish moniker for Jesus Christ—and sternly warning that they would publish photographs and videos of his decadent behavior. As it turns out, Tropper’s approach to conversions had long been considered a violation of Jewish law by these ultra-Orthodox Jews, largely because—even while adding all manner of new stringencies as preconditions for conversion—Tropper still encouraged potential converts and embraced already inter-married gentiles, both of which have long been matters of rabbinic controversy.

But as is typical with sexual scandals, especially those involving men of God, the titillating details of Tropper’s misdeeds ended up obscuring the deeper issues at play. Aside from these initial bursts of outrage from very specific corners of Jewish life, the one reaction that should have been generated by this scandal has been unconscionably avoided: a clear and critical evaluation of the obscurantist, divisive, and dysfunctional state of today’s rabbinic conversion business. How did we get to a point at which the ultra-Orthodox essentially maintain a monopoly on conversions? Is there a way to break it? Should there be?

***

As in all matters pertaining to Jewish law, the history of the rabbis’ adjudication of conversion is based on standards set by the Talmud. Unfortunately, those standards are almost impossibly vague, and the Talmudic legislation regarding conversion is limited to a few brief passages in Tractate Yebamot, the most important of which reads:

Our Rabbis taught: If at the present time a man desires to become a proselyte, he is to be addressed as follows: ‘What reason have you for desiring to become a proselyte; do you not know that Israel at the present time are persecuted and oppressed, despised, harassed and overcome by afflictions?’ If he replies, ‘I know and yet am unworthy,’ he is accepted forthwith, and is given instruction in some of the minor and some of the major commandments… He is also told of the punishment for the transgression of the commandments… And just as he is informed of the punishment for the transgression of the commandments, so is he informed of the reward granted for their fulfillment. He is told, ‘Be it known to you that the world to come was made only for the righteous, and that Israel at the present time are unable to bear either too much prosperity or too much suffering.’ He is not, however, to be persuaded or dissuaded too much.”

For centuries, conversions to Judaism were so rare as to have merited almost no discussion in the vast rabbinic literature. Throughout the middle ages, intermarriages resulting in the conversion of a gentile spouse were almost entirely unheard of. Jews living under both Christian and Muslim rule—where conversions to Judaism were considered capital crimes and often punished accordingly—not only followed the Talmudic posture of discouraging potential converts, but strengthened it.

All this changed in the wake of the Enlightenment, the ensuing emancipation of Western European Jews, and especially the rise of Zionism. Among the array of new challenges generated, the proper approach to converting gentiles became the subject of particularly heated debates. These arguments tended to pit the isolationist rabbis of Hungary and Germany—insular, ultra-Orthodox, and anti-Zionist rabbis, who did not share either the reformers’ or the Zionists’ belief that the Jews were on the threshold of a dramatically new historical era—against the more flexible rabbis of Lithuania and Russia. The latter did not have to confront the threat of religious reform, intermarriage, and conversion by building walls of theological stringencies to keep out the Gentile world, and many more of them were sympathetic to the nascent Zionist movement.

For Zionists struggling to create a utopian Jewish future in Palestine, the Talmud’s instruction to depict the people of Israel as “persecuted, oppressed, despised and overcome with afflictions”—to say nothing of the declaration that “Israel at the present time are unable to bear too much prosperity”—were textbook examples of both the repressive realities of European Jewish life and the pathetic exilic mentality it had engendered, both of which Zionism was so fervently dedicated to eliminating. For religious Zionist rabbis, then, neither the Talmudic formulas nor the scant medieval legal precedents would do in dealing with potential converts in what they believed was the dawn of a new, pre-messianic age.

Among those in the more flexible group of European rabbis was the widely revered chief rabbi of Bessarabia, Judah Leib Zirelson—who, in 1922, issued a landmark lenient ruling on conversions. From our modern vantage point, Zirelson might not appear a likely champion of such a lenient ruling, rooted as it was in Jewish nationalist sentiment. He formally quit the Zionist movement during the heated controversies about the role of the World Zionist Congress in cultural education, and he went on to become one of the founders of the non-Zionist Agudath Israel movement in 1912. But in many ways, Zirelson never abandoned his passionate support of the Zionist cause: He was one of earliest and most distinguished pro-Zionist rabbis in Eastern Europe, a group whose approach to conversions was informed by a historical sensitivity and a concern for the national welfare of the Jews. These rabbis shared the passions of secular Zionists to build a modern Jewish nation, one whose criteria for citizenship would break the medieval legacy of insularity and fear that governed conversions to Judaism.

Zirelson’s 1922 decision was addressed to a Jewish community leader in Pernambuco, Brazil, and concerned a number of Russian Jewish immigrants who had civilly married local Brazilian women and, in many cases, had children with them. (In the absence of local rabbinical authorities in Brazil, the leadership of this tiny Jewish community turned to Eastern Europe in search of guidance.) Soon these gentile wives began expressing an interest in converting to Judaism and even started studying Hebrew. This posed a problem: The classical—which is to say medieval—codes tended to rule against converting a gentile who had already married a Jew, out of suspicion regarding the spiritual purity of their motives. Cognizant of the changed political realities of his era, and sharing the Zionist yearning to build a modern Jewish nation, Zirelson wrote a daring responsum in which he argued that even the principle in Maimonides’s Code, the Mishneh Torah, mitigating against such a conversion, could be disregarded.

Without entering into its Talmudic complexities, Zirelson’s decision was animated by a modern Jewish national spirit, combined with social sensitivity and progressive political pragmatism. In addition to being the city’s Chief Rabbi, Zirelson was, for a time, the mayor of Kishinev and served from 1922 as a member of the Rumanian parliament, to which he was promoted a senator in 1926, all distinctions that rendered him a uniquely pragmatic legislator of Rabbinic law. The other notable feature of this decision was that Zirelson authorized the use of a lay beit din to formalize the conversions, since there was no rabbinical court in Pernambuco. This was an important reminder that, in fact, rabbis were (and are) not needed at all to formalize any conversion to Judaism. All that is required is a tribunal of three Jewish men who observe Jewish law.

****

Zirelson’s Pernambuco decision, as well as a subsequent lenient decision of his that recognized the legitimacy of a marriage between a Cohen and a female convert to Judaism, fomented bitter rabbinic controversies, evoking angry rebukes not only from Hungarian ultra-Orthodox authorities, but, far more consequentially, from the revered founder and chief rabbi of the staunchly anti-Zionist rabbinic authority for the “Old Yishuv” in Palestine, the Edah Ha-Haredit, Rabbi Yosef Hayyim Sonnenfeld, a sage still revered within ultra-Orthodox, anti-Zionist enclaves worldwide. Sonnenfeld issued a responsum rejecting in the strongest of terms any new leniencies in all matters pertaining to conversions. His posture remained the dominant one within the ultra-Orthodox community in Palestine until the establishment of Israel, and to this day.

Beginning in June 1947, when he reached out to the rabbinical leaders of Palestine’s then-tiny Orthodox communities, in anticipation of the establishment of a Jewish State, David Ben Gurion made a cluster of decisions that proved fateful. Motivated by a desire to include the Orthodox parties in a unified first national parliament, he promised certain concessions to the champions of traditional Judaism, specifically to the Mizrachi and Agudath Israel parties. Most of the concessions—for example, that the Sabbath would be the national day of rest, or that the army and other public institutions would respect the Jewish dietary laws—were initially met with barely any controversy, since they merely extended the “status quo protections” enjoyed by religious minorities under Ottoman law. The history of Ben Gurion’s efforts to gain universal consensus on standard and universally accepted criteria for Jewish identity (which were to become critical to establish eligibility to qualify for immediate citizenship under Israel’s law of return), most famously in his “Who is a Jew” referendum issued in 1958 to the Diaspora’s leading Jewish intellectuals and scholars, has been extensively documented. What is far less famous, indeed until very recently almost entirely unknown, is Ben Gurion’s very personal stake in the question.

As it happens, in 1946—exactly a year before his fateful agreements with the Orthodox parties—Ben Gurion’s son, Amos, fell in love with a Christian British nurse while recuperating from wounds he suffered fighting with the British Army during World War II. The woman, who was to become Mary Ben Gurion, was raised a devout Christian on the Isle of Man, knew nothing about Judaism, and evinced little interest in it. But out of love for Amos, she decided to move with him to Palestine. Desperate to appease his wife Paula, who had made it clear that she would never accept Mary into the family unless she converted to Judaism, David Ben Gurion contacted Newark’s famous rabbi and Zionist leader, Joachim Prinz, who was visiting London at the time. In his posthumously published memoir, Rebellious Rabbi, which only appeared in 2008, Prinz recounts at length the bizarre, untold story of his quick and questionable conversion of Mary to Judaism in a London hotel room in June 1946, a conversion about whose legitimacy he himself had grave doubts. Prinz made it clear that were it anyone but the future daughter-in-law of David Ben Gurion, no such conversion would ever have taken place.

But this strange case eventually took an unexpected turn. As Prinz recalls: “I firmly believed that Mary would not stay in Palestine, so that the conversion would be a mere formality and serve mainly to appease Paula. I made out a certificate of conversion… omitted the matter of the naming, and until today Mary remains Mary Ben Gurion. But a great miracle occurred. Although Paula Ben Gurion never fully accepted her as a Jewess, Mary became, according to David Ben Gurion ‘the only real Jew in the Ben-Gurion family.’ Until this day she lights candles on the eve of the Sabbath, attends services, and observes every Jewish holiday. During the War of Independence, just two years after her conversion, she fought with her fellow Jews, a rifle in hand, without any fear and completely identifying with the Jewish people. The conversion, which was performed in violation of every possible ruling, proved to be one of the most successful conversions I have ever performed.”

Maybe so. But though this one story had a happy ending, the same could not be said for the system that Ben-Gurion’s government, Israel’s first, set in place two years later. Ben Gurion could not foresee the astonishing growth of the Haredi sector of the Israeli population; in fact, secular Israelis of his era were so confident in the liberating power of the “new, normalized Jews” that Israel was creating, that they were convinced the ultra-Orthodox would inexorably disappear into their larger, modernized society. And so, he could also never have imagined just how much intra-Jewish conflict and division his good-willed attempt to unite the nascent Jewish state would generate over the subsequent half-century.

***

Ben Gurion and his colleagues in Israel’s early government were dealing with, and appointing to rabbinical office, progressive and pragmatic Orthodox rabbis, all of whom were ideological Zionists. Their desire to protect and perpetuate Jewish tradition was balanced by a concern for the welfare of the new Jewish state and the preservation of its social peace. Such modern nationalist considerations greatly influenced the manner in which Israel’s earlier chief rabbis dealt with the issue of conversion, particularly when it came to the respective waves of new immigrant communities coming from distant lands.

A case in point is a remarkable 1951 decision that Israel’s second Sephardic Chief Rabbi, Ben Zion Uziel, sent to his colleagues in Morocco. “It is clear from all that I’ve written that we do not demand of the [potential] convert that she will observe the mitzvoth,” he wrote.

Moreover, there is no need for the Beit Din to know whether she will be observant, for if that becomes the criterion, no converts will be accepted in Israel…. from all that we have learned it is clear that there should be no pre-condition of observance that might thwart conversions…. rather, the Torah today requires that it is not only permissible, but a mitzvah to accept converts even if we know that they won’t observe all of the mitzvoth. And if they indeed do not [observe the commandments], they will carry the burden of their sins, and we [the rabbis] will have fulfilled our duty, especially in this generation when shutting the door before potential converts is a heavy dereliction of responsibility, as it opens the other door, namely of alienating the men and women of Israel and potentially causing them to abandon their own faith and assimilate among the Gentiles… so that we have a duty to embrace and encourage potential converts.”

Rabbi Uziel’s ruling marked the culmination of a tendency toward great leniency regarding conversions that began with Zirelson and other modernizing Zionist rabbis in Eastern Europe in the early 20th century. And it was practically employed, if never quite so boldly published, by all of his colleagues in Israel’s earlier Chief Rabbinates, including such stellar figures as the otherwise very stringent Ovadiah Yosef and the maverick innovator Shlomo Goren, who respectively served as Israel’s Sephardic and Ashkenazic chief rabbis from 1973 to1983. In fact, despite his later turn toward a more Haredi posture as head of Israel’s Shas party, Rabbi Yosef’s earliest responsa regarding the proper posture of leniency toward potential converts relied heavily on the precedents set by Zirelson and other modernist European rabbis (most notably David Zvi Hoffman of Berlin, whose decisions he cited numerous times). As Israeli historian Moshe Samet has documented in his studies of orthodoxy in the modern period, a deep fissure had developed by the first half of the 20th century between progressive Zionist rabbis and their ultra-Orthodox counterparts, particularly on the issue of conversion.

****

Israel’s current chief rabbis are of an entirely different breed. Both Yona Metzger and Shlomo Amar, Israel’s Ashkenazi and Sephardic chief rabbis since 2003, are far closer in their theological thinking and decisions to the ultra-Orthodox ideology than any of their predecessors in the chief rabbinate. While Metzger was raised and educated in a modern religious Zionist environment and served in the Israel Defense Forces for almost a decade, he has over the years drifted steadily toward a staunchly Haredi posture and today turns to the senior sage of Bnai Berak, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, for counsel on all controversial matters, including conversion. Amar, who has been far more aggressive in “strengthening” conversion standards and worked closely with Tropper before his downfall, is a disciple of Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef and is closely associated with the Shas party.

The Haredi rabbis’ response to modernity has resulted in the inventions of extreme stringencies, often with no basis or precedent in rabbinic law. It is hardly an exaggeration to characterize the posture of current ultra-Orthodox authorities toward converts—which since 2008 have included spying on their religious behavior years after their conversion and retaliating by retroactively revoking the conversion, a theologically questionable action, when it is found lacking in piety—as closer to the spirit of the Inquisition than to anything found in the history of rabbinic Judaism.

In my own previous career as a congregational rabbi in Boston and Montreal, I officiated at dozens of conversion ceremonies with both immigrant Lithuanian Sages and native Modern Orthodox rabbis of great stature, in which the observance of the mitzvot, while always emphatically stressed, was an ideal goal, and never an absolute prerequisite, for our converts. And we certainly never followed, or spied upon, our converts to assess their level of halakhic observance. Like all good legislation, cogent adjudication of Jewish law requires not only a technical mastery of the Talmud and medieval codes, but sensitivity to one’s political and social reality.

To preserve not only Jewish unity, but the very dignity and integrity of Israel as the State of all Jews, the government of Israel must introduce legislation requiring that representatives of the rabbinical agency—the chief rabbis are, after all, government appointees—comply with universally accepted principles of jurisprudence, most importantly by being bound by the fundamental principle of stare decisis, a respect for legal precedence that is operative in Talmudic law, no less (some would argue even more) than in modern Western law. The Knesset must rule that the Chief Rabbinate, with its extraordinary jurisdiction in a matter that determines fundamental rights of citizenship, must adhere to the same principles governing the country’s Supreme Court. Only when the chief rabbis are stripped of their carte-blanche license recklessly to disenfranchise their Diaspora colleagues by introducing unheard-of stringencies and inventing new Jewish laws—rulings that overturn more than two generations of precedents set by Israel’s Chief Rabbinical courts—can sanity be restored to Israel’s posture toward potential converts, one that demands a decent embrace of all who yearn to join her people.

Allan Nadler, an Orthodox-ordained rabbi and historian of eastern European Judaism, is a professor of Jewish studies and director of the program in Jewish studies at Drew University.

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Yacher Koah says:

What an intelligent & erudite article. Would Nadler’s view prevail.

shualah elisheva says:

kol hakavod – a much.needed article and opinion. very well.written and timely, too.

Fascinating article; thank you.

May I please ask the author to clarify a few points, just so I can be sure I understand? I understand that the German and Hungarian rabbis were likely to be stringent, because they were building walls against Reform. But how then do we explain Rabbi Hoffman’s lenient ruling? Perhaps the author’s statement about Germano-Hungarian stringency was not referring to the Neo-Orthodox such as Rabbis Hirsch, Hildesheimer, Hoffman, and Weinberg? I don’t now what Rabbis Hirsch and Hildesheimer said about conversion, but I know that Rabbi Hoffman was lenient, and I know that Rabbi Weinberg even privately entertained the possibility that Reform conversions were kosher according to the halakhah. (See Professor Marc Shapiro’s book.)

Also, I recall that whereas in Germany, religion and modernity were seen as dialectically opposed, thesis and antithesis, to undergo a Hegelian synthesis, resulting in a new liberal religion, by contrast, in Russia, Judaism was seen as more of a nationality, and so you saw such things as secular Jewish literature, something which we didn’t find in Germany. Based on this, it is understandable that the Orthodox rabbis (or, at least, the progressive and open-minded ones) in Russia would have been more sympathetic to Zionism and to leniency in conversion. Have I understood?

Thank you.

I’m reminded of a statement by Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Glasner, the famous Hungarian member of Mizrahi, in his essay “Zionism in the Light of Faith”:

“It is clear, then, that anyone who does not believe in the future of the Jewish people in its historical homeland twists the Torah from its plain meaning. That is why when a Gentile comes to convert to Judaism he must first pledge solidarity with the Jewish people, as in the words of Ruth the Moabite: ‘Your people shall be my people, and your G-d my G-d’ (Ruth 1:16). My opinion, then, is that the proclamation that it is possible to belong to the Jewish faith while also belonging to the Hungarian, German, or Slavic nationalities is absolute heresy and that the prohibition against such heresy is of such severity that one is obligated to be killed rather than to transgress (yei’hareig v’al ya’avor). I therefore cannot understand how our rabbis, the leaders of the Hungarian Orthodox Jewish community could have officially announced that the Orthodox Jews uphold Judaism as a religious community, but that they have nothing to do with the Judaism as a nationality, that they see themselves as Hungarians of the first rank and perceive no distinction between themselves and the ethnic Hungarians except their religion. In the annals of the Jewish people this proclamation will remain as a disgraceful, indelible stain on Hungarian Orthodoxy. It is wrong to see the Torah as a simple religious law for the following reason: all obligatory religions stand on the foundation that they alone entitle a person to reward and they therefore aspire to gather to themselves the hearts of all mankind, whereas the Torah of Israel, the law of a national state, excludes members of other nationalities from the group that must fulfill its religious laws while also admitting that not only the Jewish religion grants reward but that everyone who believes in the Master of the Universe and fulfills the Seven Noahide Laws can be rewarded. It seems to me that I have said enough about the question whether we are a nation or a religious community. The discussion can be summarized in a short sentence: We are a people with national aspirations, to a land of our own and a language of our own, and if we ceased to be so, or if we relinquished our nationality, we should cease to be a religious community. The highest criterion of an authentic religion is a supreme religious authority, which in Judaism is found only in the land of Israel and by virtue of the semiha (ordination). Whatever has been established in this area in the Diaspora is only a temporary expedient.”

Thank you for this thoughtful piece.

An unfortunate by-product of this “unwelcome mat” is its effect on Jewish adoptive families and prospective adoptive families. The current debate about conversion adds another layer of complexity to the adoption decision for many families. It has become increasingly difficult for adoptive families in the US seeking to obtain conversions for their children to rest assured that those conversions will be “accepted” when the children are adults. This rigidity threatens the fabric of our community by alienating those families.

I was welcomed into Judaism thirty years ago by a Reform rabbi in Canada. It involved a year of studying jewish History and Jewish Philosophy at a university under the supervision of my rabbi. Then, I had to face the committee at my synagogue and answer the necessary questions. This was done as I wished to become a Jew. I later married a jewish man in our synagogue and my children were brought up in a jewish home, and named in our Reform synagogue.

Does the above article mean that I am not considered jewish and therefore not allowed “the right of return’ to Israel?

Roberta Rosenberg says:

I’m an adoptive parent, as well. My younger children were converted under Conservative auspices – mikveh and ritual circumcision and a bet din. My husband, a ‘retired’ Catholic converted to Judaism, as well, under the same auspices as our children. The fact that my kids may not be Jewish enough for future spouses appalls me. (And even if we had committed to a shomer shabbos lifestyle and converted by Orthodox standards, it still may not be considered good enough since those standards apparently are arbitrary and designed by whim.)

Regarding Ruth’s comments: Unless the recent harsh turn towards a rigidly ultra-Orthodox standard has suddenly changed things, I was always told that American converts to Judaism (and I assume Canadian ones too) are considered Jewish. My husband is a convert, and we were told 25 years ago (when he chose to become Jewish) that should he ever decide to live in Israel, his Conservative (Masorti) conversion would be considered valid.

But I must admit the drift in Israel towards imposing a form of Judaism that seems quite fanatical (and standards that seem quite un-Jewish) worries me, and these rabbis do seem to be trying to over-rule the conversions of American and Canadian rabbis. How sad is that? Actually, this seems more political than religious– given the fractious nature of Israeli politics, leaders in the ruling party (like Netanyahu) need the ultra-Orthodox on their side or they can’t remain in power. So politicians don’t want to speak out. But it’s not just Israeli politicians showing cowardice. As the author points out (and I thank him for doing so), when will American and Canadian rabbis take a stand in the matter? Conservative and Reform converts ARE Jewish. To doubt their sincerity, and to say that only ultra-Orthodox Jews are the “real” Jews is both shameful and wrong-headed.

Steven Howard says:

Important material. Ben-Gurion’s arrangement with the Orthodox rabbinate was not supposed to last as it has. Its a sin that Israel’s goverments continue to trade political expediency for the long overdue recognition of all practices of Judaism as real and worthy of recognition.

A sidebar – I never met Rabbi Prinz; my parents were married by him in Newark, NJ. Rabbi Prinz was going along with the wishes of 1 of my grandmothers not to have men wear kippot. My father insisted that they would be present, and worn. Perhaps insignificant trivia, or an important illustration that we all must chose how to perform Mitzvot.

Regarding people’s questions of whether their children would be recognized as Jews or recognized as Jews in Israel, I believe it depends on whether the conversion happened outside Israel or not. The strict standards described in the article apply to people attempting to convert in Israel. I believe if you have already converted to Judaism outside of Israel, your conversion is considered valid.

Esther Nebenzahl says:

Very well written and thought provoking. It is sad to realize that besides being victims of prejudice from the “others” we run the risk of being victims of prejudice from “our own people!” It seems that the ghetto mentality has been deeply embedded into Jewish culture: we are building physical, cultural, and spirituals walls around our identity.

Yossi Ginzberg says:

Excellently written and well-researched- Thank you.

I do have one caveat, though: While the quote at the beginning is correct, it would have been helpful to put it into context. Several disasters have been directly connected to Judaism’s accepting converts.

It was cited in the edict of expulsion from Spain in 1492 as the cause, it led to several massacres under various governments dating back to Talmudic times, and so on. It was never a rejection of converts, whom the Torah commamnds us repeatedly to love and care for.

Jeff Carpenter says:

Welcome the foreigner, the alien . . . . I am not a Jew, nor would I consider becoming a convert; but is there a place for me as “a friend of the congregation”?

Steve From Raleigh says:

It’s not merely an issue for aliyah. It is also of grave concern WITHIN the various diaspora communities. For instance I converted in 1980 with an Orthodox bet din and have been an observant Jew since. But according to Lubavtich all of that is meaningless. Moreover the conversion itself is rather meaningless whereas what is more crucial to them is living entirely Frum, according to their and only their definition.

A terrific piece. However, I am a product of an intermarriage (Jewish father, you can fill in the rest). Today, I am a practicing Reform Jew, bringing my children up Jewish. The future of Judiasm must consider patriachal descent and welcome all for the future of ALL children who would be, in my father’s words, Jewish enough for you-know-who. Oy.

This is an excellent piece, and it points out the illegitimacy of the current orientation of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate with respect to conversions and converts. As a convert myself, it never ceases to amaze me the degree to which the irrational fear of the “bad convert” drives horrible and heartless responses to converts and potential converts as a group. The vast majority of converts I have met are dedicated to living a Jewish life within the expectations of their communities, and many play important roles in raising the next generation of Jews, teaching, supporting their communities and speaking out on behalf of Israel and other Jewish interests. Frankly, it is ridiculous to read about rabbis disparaging converts and erecting unnecessary roadblocks when these same individuals who are Jews by Birth have no personal experience with how difficult conversion is, and what it means to many converts (i.e., losing connections to family, friends, etc. from the convert’s previous religion who just can’t understand). Becoming a Jew is already difficult without rabbis on the right wing of the spectrum in Israel tripping over themselves to make it nearly impossible. Thanks for this piece Rabbi Nadler.

chakira says:

It happens to be that the Talmud does seem to demand a kabbalat ol mitzvot. It also seems just as likely that Uziel and other statist rabbis perverted the Torah to their nationalistic ends, as Elyashiv and his followers distorted it with fundamentalism. It is more natural, it seems to me, to question the effectiveness of conversions motivated by the banal political considerations of the State than to question the refusal to convert of the Haredim. And if the latter is motivated by extreme animus towards modernity, perhaps you should realize the complicity of your heoric accomodationists and nationalists in this as well. In any case, this article fails to come close to articulating the complex internal dynamics of Halachic processes and produces a nice cartoonish plot instead.

Miri says:

This article raises a lot of important issues about conversion in Israel and America. I agree that (sincere) converts should be welcomed and not ostracized. That doesn’t negate the fact that there’s a lot of phony “converts” who care nothing about Judaism.

There are many many converts who only converted to get married to their Jewish lovers. This is especially true in the case of women converts. In the last several years there have been a jump in fraudulent conversions for marriage in the Orthodoxy. One example is of Orthodox convert Ivanka Trump who isn’t kosher, violates the Sabbath and dresses like a stripper. This after being converted quickly by prominent Modern Orthodox Rabbi Lookstein and the RCA. If this happens in the Orthodoxy one can only imagine what happens in the Reform and Conservative Movements.

The Jewish community should embrace and welcome all sincere converts with open arms. At the same time we should be wary of phony converts who couldn’t care less about Judaism and “converted” with ulterior motives.

Ruth says:

I can see from some of the comments that many of us who converted really aren’t sure of our status in the community as a whole.

I converted of my own accord as a result of much reading and soul-searching. It had nothing to do with marrying a Jewish man.

So many people, like Miri above, assume that marriage is the sole reason for women converts. This is totally untrue in most cases that I know of.

In fact, in my synagogue alone, I know of at least four converts, all of whom converted with no ulterior motive. Three of them were the children of Protestant clergy! All had therefore had a great deal of religious training but rejected Christianity for Judaism.

“If this happens in the Orthodoxy one can only imagine what happens in the Reform and Conservative Movements.”

This kind of statement betrays a person with no genuine yiddishikite but a delusional belief that only Orthodoxy somehow represents “real” Judaism. An attitude that leads directly to having an adulterous leech taking money (and demanding sexual favors) from numerous prospective converts. If today’s Orthodox movement had any concern with the spirit of the law rather than the pretense of its practice, that scandal, and the whole “who is a Jew” issue would not be tearing the Jewish People apart as it is today.

As for the facts, what happens when it comes to conversion in the Conservative movement, in contrast to todays Orthodoxy, never involves the exchange of money or sexual intercourse (what a concept!) A potential convert approaches a rabbi, expresses their desire to study, is turned away thrice (as was historically required) but with empathy and perhaps some information about how one can worship G-d without becoming a Jew, and then, if the subject persists, they’re engaged in at least a year of study. Finally, a bet din is held, the convert enters the mikvah, and behold! the convert disappears and a new Jew emerges. End of story. Perhaps this Jew then goes on to marry another Jew. Or not. Perhaps they are shomer shabbos, perhaps not. Once they have followed in Ruth’s footsteps it is not permitted for anyone to “spy” on them to find out. They’re now Jews, and if they sin, well, all Jews sin. That’s why we recite the Al Chet at Yom Kippur!

R. Miller says:

Ironically, the trend Nadler describes is what Alan Dershowitz touches upon in his book ‘The Vanishing American Jew.’ It would seem that to alienate Jews who marry non-Jews may further alienate Jews who still want to raise their children in the Jewish faith. For the offspring of a mixed marriage to be written off by the Ultra-Orthodox would be an unfortunate trend indeed. . . .thereby, future generations denied from making an Aliyah to Israel . . .making Israel weaker in the long run.

Jeremy says:

This issue is a microcosm of a much larger problem: the growing political force of the ultra-orthodox as a destructive force within the country.

Through out Israel I hear the same refrain over and over, “they will kill the country”. The ultra-orthodox and their ilk do not serve in the military, are largely unemployed, and receive loads of welfare. And in return they express nothing but disdain toward the Israelis whose sons die to protect them and whose taxes pay for their lifestyle. To make matters worse, the ultra-orthodox reproduce at an epic rate with welfare provided to each child, turning this into a profitable business.

With demographics as their weapon, the power of the haredi and their ilk grows. And as it grows, non-orthodox Jews such as myself will become emotionally estranged from Israel. This breaks my heart.

Alyssa says:

Ruth- Just in case your question has not been answered. I am a convert that is making Aliyah in a few months and I converted only 2 years ago. As far as the State of Israel is concerned, after some landmark Supreme Court cases, an individual that had a conversion in a mainstream form of Judaism by a legitimate rabbi and has lived in the Jewish community for at least one year will qualify for the right of return. So yes you can go to Israel and you will be included as a Jew for census information. You can always go to the Jewish Agency with any questions of status.

The issue still remains with the rabbinates control of the religious aspect of Israeli life. For the most part it won’t bother you. There are a few Reform shuls and even more Masorti ones. In day to day life you find a shul you like and that is it. But when it comes time for your children to marry or have any other life cycle event you will have problems. The issue with the revoked conversions is very dicey as it is delegitimizing the claim a person had to make Aliyah. Some of this came about because of African immigration to Israel. Individuals desperate to leave East Africa and go to Israel converted but soon after conversion began setting up Christian churches. The review and ability to revoke a conversion was supposed to be used in the case of someone defrauding the right of return not to overthrow legitimate conversions by rabbis the rabbinate doesn’t like. For me, no one can take away my Jewishness and even with the hassle this puts in front of me I still desperately love Israel and feel more passion to go there and fight the good fight because of it. I hope you do too.

Chanoch says:

While this article is interesting and shed some light on some history …it also fails to bring into light modern reasons why conversion may have become more stringent (a post above did mention some issues). I just have a few comments to make. Please do not mix the “Right of Return” to make Aliyah to Israel with other Jewish affiliation (conversion).

Currently, the Right of return is available to those persons that had one Jewish grandparent or any form of Jewish conversion. (I happened to have a conservative conversion in June of 2006 with a Beit Din in Philadelphia.) This is according to current laws in Israel (please keep in mind that some want to change this law).

Now, for concerns of which Jewish law applies, the areas where the Rabbinate is responsible, such as marriages and divorces, only a person who is considered a “Halachic” Jew, born to a Halachically Jewish mother or someone or has gone through a Halachic conversion, is given the ability. So, even though under the law I was able to make Aliyah (in December 2007) I would not have been granted a marriage license by the Rabbinate. My Jewish Agency Shaliach was very upfront about this. After a year of contemplation and learning, I actually decided to complete a Halachic conversion and sat under the Chareidi Beis Din of Bnei Brak.

Without getting into many details … the experience I had with the Beis Din of Rabbi Nissim Karelitz was nothing short of an amazing and wonderful experience.

Finally, let’s remember that (at least it appears in many regards) Jewish law is not being decided differently for different demographics. For example … here in Israel there is a big problem with hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish persons that made Aliyah under the right of return, but have no desire for Yiddishkeit except to get married. How are these persons supposed to fit into society? When so many things are important to mitzvah-observant Jews, how can you have lenient conversions when Kashrut, Tznius (modest dress), and family purity laws can come into question?

If converts are not Mitzvoth observant, accepting or doing their best to fulfill all 613 mitzvoth, can they be relied upon (in regards to Jewish practice, etc.)? If the answer becomes no, then what did their conversion serve in the first place?

(I am not quite sure I understand the context of the Lubavitch comment, but here and across a number of cities in the eastern-US, a Halachic conversion is required to be considered in an Orthodox minyan. Chabad is no different and as I have a Chabad Rabbi, who assisted in my Halachic conversion, it was very clear to me that without a Halachic conversion, my conservative conversion would always remain a suffok (doubt).)

lorrie bernstein says:

Wonderful article, and perfectly timed to get us thinking about Israel’s internal challenges as we celebrate Independence Day (Yom Ha-Atzmaut). Thanks, Rav Nadler.

Mike Shapiro says:

This is a most thoughtful, erudite, and well researched article. What is more, the author, an Orthodox Rabbi, is willing to place criticism where criticism is due, while neither ranting nor excusing. In the long term, this controversy highlights festering wounds in the Jewish community.

1. The question of who is a Rabbi. While Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist (and most “Modern Orthodox”)Rabbis have no problem recognizing the bona-fides of their colleagues, such cannot be said of the Haredim. In fact, they often won’t even recognize the legitimacy of their fellow Haredim. This is what the controversy centers on, in both Israel and parts of New York.

2. The failure of anyone within the central structures of both Reform and Conservative Judaism to “call out” these Haredim. As long as the mainstream Jewish institutions in the US (and to a lesser extent, Israel) remain on the defensive, the “upper hand” will remain with the Ultra Orthodox. Even the Modern Orthodox (who really are the traditional Orthodox, since the “Black Coat” movement only goes back a couple of hundred years) are harmed by this attitude, in that the impression is left that, somehow, they are not as good as those who would wear Shtrimels.

Sooner or later, someone, acting as a spokesperson for these movements will need to come out and state that the Haredim are simply not Jewish. They are members of a series of small cults that have grown out of Judaism, just as Christianity was once such a cult. When American Jewry begins to understand this reality and begins to put pressure on the fund raising organizations that provide support for Israel and on the lobbying organizations that provide what little support is left in the US government, things will change. Until that time, we’re going to read about a continual stream of similar scandals. What is worse, the Jewish community and its leadership will be seen in the same light as the Taliban, and the Mullahs that rule Iran. And that view will be justified.

samg says:

so let’s see. in the u.s. and generally, around the world, the jewish birthrate is less than replacement. in addition, half of u.s. jews marry outside the faith. many, additionally, fail to identify as jews. ten per cent of the population of israel has already emigrated here and to other countries.

if the situation in the mideast continues stalemated or worse (it sure doesn’t look like it will get better in the forseeable future) that will likely mean more emigration. and despite the law of return, the orthodox rabbis who control the question of who is a jew, deny that religious status to thousands of immigrants to israel. and conversion is mightily discouraged, not only in israel but elsewhere, including the united states.

that is a prescription for jewish suicide. and over time it will result in exactly that. the children of mixed jewish and gentile marriages in this country will, largely, not consider themselves jews, or even if they do will have minimal if any identification with israel — why should they identify with a country that doesn’t consider them jews. over the years, jewish charities which play an important role in helping israel will suffer. much more important, american support for israel, which depends largely on the passionate feelings of american jews, will decline to the point where israel will risk losing its most powerful ally, which is also virtually its only strong ally (forget the american christian rapturists; their support is, in the long run, as undependable as it is self-serving and ultimately anti-semitic, depending as it does on the destruction of judaism in the so-called endtime.

still the rabbis in israel and elsewhere (including here!) refuse to encourage conversion. any rabbi with that mindset has what i’d call a goyishe kup. i’m with rabbi uziel in the article who urges “that we have a duty to embrace and encourage potential converts.” if we don’t, we aren’t going to be around for another couple of hundred years, much less the four thousand we’ve already survived.

questioner says:

@Michael Shapiro: “Sooner or later, someone, acting as a spokesperson for these movements will need to come out and state that the Haredim are simply not Jewish. They are members of a series of small cults that have grown out of Judaism, just as Christianity was once such a cult. When American Jewry begins to understand this reality and begins to put pressure on the fund raising organizations that provide support for Israel and on the lobbying organizations that provide what little support is left in the US government, things will change.”

Hear Hear!

Miri says:

Ruth; I stated unequivocally in my comment that sincere converts should be welcomed in the Jewish community. Not all conerts do it for marriage but most do. I included Ivanka Trump because she’s one the most famous “converts” who only did it to get married and is making a mockery of Orthodox conversions.

So the women converts you mentioned don’t have Jewish boyfriends or husbands? I find that unlikely. Most of the converts I’ve met, including men, converted because of their partners. Sometimes it’s turns out good but most of the time these “converts” are only “Jewish” as long as their marriages last.

I’m sick of hearing how anti-intermarriage Rabbis, real Rabbis should be anti-intermarriage, are alienating Jews who marry non-Jews. Just the opposite is true. Most Jews who intermarry don’t care about Judaism and that is why they intermarried in the first place. Most of them don’t care about their children being Jewish and neither should we.

Despite this I believe that children of intermarried couples should be welcomed in the Jewish community and be converted where it’s warranted. I just don’t believe we should violate the Torah or Halacha to appease gentiles and their Jewish spouses. Watering down our religion, history and heritage will only makes us weaker and will ultimately destroy Judaism.

dave says:

elyashiv is in jerusalem, not benei brak. come on allan, i know you know better!

Miri; Your kind of comments show the hateful attitudes that converts are subjected to by some jews. To accuse me of lying about the converts in my synagogue is inexcusable. I think you ought to go out more and meet more converts.
What you say about Ivanka Trump may be true. It is not up to me or to you to judge. Only G-d knows what is in the human heart.

To the other writers who understand what a conversion costs in thought and understanding, I appreciate all the positive feedback I received.

Miri says:

Ruth; Did you even read my comment? I didn’t accuse you of lying. I asked you if any of the four women converts you mentioned had a Jewish boyfriend or husband. If they don’t then they are definately sincere converts. I’m just wondering why you didn’t answer my question.

I don’t have any “hate” toward converts. What I don’t like is when I see individuals make a mockery of my religion and heritage. I have every right to speak out when I see Judaism being disrespected and treated as a joke by someone like Ivanka Trump. FYI I go out a lot and have traveled extensively. I’ve met several great sincere converts who deserve much support. Unfortunately I’ve also met many “converts” who only converted for their spouses. I’m not going to apologize for writing the truth.

elisheva says:

It is now standard practice amongst the orthodox batei din to spy on converts after the conversion process (ie after their mikvah immersion) and report on the strictness of their adherence to orthodox halacha. Converts found wanting are delayed their paperwork proving their new jewish status and are not given any recourse to due process – they cannot defend themselves to the batei din. I know of a case where a convert who, after having gone through the very lengthy conversion process, was denied their paperwork after missing shul over some (not all) of the high holidays due to multiple deaths in the family. These batei din have made an idol of halacha and of power. It is mostly women who suffer. I would say the dayan emet will judge them in the end but i’m not sure they actually believe in Him, only in their grasp on power.

R. Miller says:

see – ‘samg’ he did a more substantive job of elucidating what I was trying to express. . . On a follow-up side note, how will the State of Israel ultimately survive if less and less people are part of and contribute to what Dan Senor describes in his book: ‘The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle’

I have read the article and read the comments. I agree that converts need to be true of heart to want to convert. But how is someone to know that? People make assumptions on what they “think” they know and what they perceive. I am converting and I have been unwelcomed many times. It took me a year before I had the courage to walk into a synagogue for the first time. When I did, I walked into several and was not spoken to at all. When I meet someone, there second question after my name is”So, how did you become a Jew?” When I tell them, they go on their little “speech” how Jews don’t need converts, ya da ya da ya…

It makes me want to scream. You don’t think I know how it feels not to be wanted. How in my heart I have always felt Jewish but because I could not choose my parents I was not given the same opportunity as you? Or let them know how many times I have cried thinking about of how intolerant and unwelcoming some have been to me just because I am converting.

For someone to convert is not easy. Instead of putting someone down for not meeting your own personal standards, how about finding out why they stopped doing what you feel makes someone Jewish. Could it be that something happened in their life and they don’t believe in G-d at all right now? Maybe they are at a point in their life where they are trying to have a more personal relationship with G-d.

I have heard more and more how converts have let down the Jewish people. The question should be is how have the Jewish people as a whole let down the Jewish people. There are large numbers of born Jewish who do not embrace their Jewry or even get mad if you say they are Jewish. No one says anything about that. They are born Jewish and that is it. They are Jewish. But for us converts, who experience hate, fear, discouragement and prejudice, we need to be perfect. Not so much…We are human too…

I know in my heart being Jewish is what I always wanted to be. I am sorry world that I could not choose my Mother and Father to be Jewish. I cannot change who I am. In some people’s eyes, I will always be a convert. G-d knows that in my heart and in his eyes, I am a Jew.

Ruth says:

Miri, You didn’t read my comments clearly. I talked of four converts; three women and a man in fact.
I’m afraid your question came across as a sneer rather than a real question. Especially in view of your following comment,”I find that unlikely.” In fact none of these converts had jewish boyfriends, wives or lovers.

As far as Ivanka is concerned I think the Rabbi who did the conversion has a lot to answer for as do many other rabbis. In my experience the higher the financial, or status gain at stake, the easier it is to get a quick conversion.
Like you, I have also met people who converted for marriage, but who were truly sincere, and went on to become staunch pillars of the jewish community and raised wonderful jewish children.
Let us agree that there are many sincere converts to Judaism and we should welcome them to our community. Others may have different motives and they can be a danger to us all. And some rabbis are a divisive force in our community as the article points out.
Shalom.

Ruth says:

Alicia, I read your pain. After forty years since my conversion I still get rude remarks from some people. Ignore them. Find a synagogue where you feel happy and welcomed, and feel sorry for the ignorant ones.

Miri says:

I apologize Ruth any misunderstanding. I should have never written the sentence you mentioned. I didn’t mean to insinuate that you were lying. I’m sorry about the way my question sounded. It wasn’t my intention to sound condescending.

Our opinions are really not that different. We agree that sincere converts should be welcomed and their committment to Judaism should never be questioned. I’m so sorry that you still get rude comments. That’s not right. Your comments On Ivanka Trump and the Rabbis who are dividing our community were absolutely on the mark.

My heart goes out to you Alicia. Follow Ruth’s advice and go to a Synagogue where you will be treated with love and respect. There are many Orthodox Rabbis who would welcome you if that’s what your looking for. Good luck.

All this talk of those dreaded “fake converts” making a mockery of Judaism.

Lately, I have seen evidence that born Jews need no help making a mockery of Judaism. Let me count the ways: Sex, power, control, money. Shall I list the faces and names I am talking about? Do we all really need reminding?

Oddly enough, the same people who like to point out that the actions of a few prominent Orthodox Jews do not represent the entire community use the examples of a few female converts (like Ivanka) to stand in for the entire system .

So, let’s talk about this.

Assumption: Converts who convert for a spouse are not sincere.

Well, ok, let’s look at this rationally. Intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews is at an all time high, and the trend is upwards. So, clearly, people are getting married without needing to convert. In fact, large NUMBERS of Jews do this already. Many women in this situation come to understand that they want to have a unified home as they age and mature. Would you so callously suggest that you need to break up intact families who are inter-married legally already? So, if someone who is already involved with a Jew seeks to make a religiously unified family by going through the hideously arduous process of orthodox conversion, who on Earth has the right to question their sincerity? No one “on Earth” for sure.

Assumption: Well, how about all those unmarried women….. who are “involved with Jews”? Certainly THEY are only converting for a man.

The conversion process takes 2-3 years, and often goes on during the time when a single woman is most likely to marry. Meeting someone in the process is totally normal. In fact, MANY female gerus meet their spouses before their official conversion, and converts who marry soon after conversion tend to be more easily integrated into orthodox communities. So, yeah, lots of converts meet men before they convert.

Assumption: Ok, so, lets just say…….. only those women who STARTED the conversion process before meeting someone are the “real” converts, right?

Many women who convert to Reform or Judaism, meet someone, become more observant over time and eventually they seek an orthodox conversion. Are THEY suspect? How are they different than the BT born Jews who start out in Reform shuls?

Assumption: Well, then, so…. let’s NOT include THOSE converts, and talk only about the ones that are totally NOT Jewish at all, MEET Jews, fall in love, want to get married, and then convert. Maybe we can all agree that those are the “bad converts” who break apart Judaism.

Hmmmmm… problems there too since many of the “mothers” of the Jewish faith meet that description exactly. Not even to mention the example given above of Mary Ben Guiron. And, I know other personal examples I don’t have permission to share.

Question: So, can we categorize ANY group of converts as those “bad insincere converts” who only convert to get married?? Wouldn’t life be easier if we could “group” people by external factors and draw conclusions about them.

Wait, you can… it’s called PREJUDICE. And we know how well that works for us.

Ultimately, no one can know the sincerity of a convert except the convert and G. You simply cannot assume that someone involved with a Jew is insincere, and you cannot make any assumptions that someone who is converting… and then quickly marries… was converting to get married.

Even in the case where someone converts, marries, divorces, and then reverts to Christianity, NO one has the ability to see into their hearts and see if their conversion is valid. If you have ever been in a divorce, you cannot possibly understand how emotionally shattering this can be. I bet there are plenty of born Jews who abandon their faith at times like this. So, do you expect less from a convert?

None of us have the right, or the responsibility, or the ability to see into the souls of others. And, anytime you FEEL you have the right, responsibility, or ability to see into someone’s soul, you are putting yourself in the place of G.

There is a great Jewish idea about the kind of judgment we shall all face when we stand before G. The idea being that G will use the standards to judge us that we used to judge others during our lifetimes. Maybe that is something to keep in mind when you consider judging the sincerity of someone who you don’t know, don’t take the time to know, and have already made assumptions regarding.

Miri says:

Eve; I understand your point of view but disrespecting Judaism should not be tolerated by the Jewish community. I’m all for welcoming converts to Judaism but I will speak up when I see frauds. I do believe that some converts who initially converted for marriage are sincere but it’s never a good sign to convert for someone else or to have a Jewish wedding.

The majority of Jews who intermarry don’t care about having a Jewish home. In many of these cases “conversions” are done only to appease the Jewish partner’s parents or grandparents. It has nothing to do with having a “unified” home. Btw I never said that women who start dating Jewish men during their conversion process are insincere. I would expect these women to date Jewish men since they are becoming Jewish.

There are many unethical Jews in the news right now but that has nothing to do with insincere converts. One has nothing to do with the other. You seem to think that anything goes should be the standard when it comes to Judaism and conversion. That’s unfair to the sincere, I will keep using that word, converts and not good for the Jewish community.

Miri,

I am merely commenting on the inconsistency between the claim that converts destroy Judaism juxtaposed against the obvious reality that Jews do a pretty good job of destroying Judaism all on their own. One could argue that the damage done by one, vocal, visible, born Jew is far more devistating than the converts who “convert to marry”. But, with all the hoopla about cracking down on converts, I hear very little about solving the evils present internally in the community.

IN addition, there is a troubling use of language here so I want to be VERY clear and repeat my point.

When a prominent Jew makes the paper for doing something bad, apologists are very fast to step up and say… “this does not paint the entire community”. And, “he is not representative of real Judaism”.
But, on the other hand, Converts are a great scapegoat so instead we can use Ivanka (a single representative of a large community) to show how broken the system is. In other words, one person is NOT a true representative when he is a born Jew, but one IS a true representative when she is not. There is a bias here, even if you are not prepared to admit it.

I will also add that the orthodox conversion process, even at its best, is arduous. People don’t “convert to keep the grandparents happy”. And, as for the many women and men who convert reform just to keep the peace, is the problem these women/men, or the fact that the men/women that marry them are so uninterested in their own religion that they don’t care if their spouse has a deep spiritual connection to their faith?

So, what is the damaging part?? The women….. or the men that choose non-Jewish women in the first place and then are appeased by a conversion in name only?

Instead of going after conversion standards and punishing the many, many, many sincere converts who get put through the ringer, attacked, and subjected to all kinds of horrible discrimination, why doesn’t the Jewish community instead spend time figuring out why its youth are do disenchanted by Jewish practice that they see nothing wrong with marrying out, marrying people who aren’t dedicated to their faith, and marrying when they know a conversion to be invalid?

Notice I didn’t say one single thing about what my standards were about conversion. Go back and read. You make a very large assumption about that my standards are “anything goes” with no evidence at all as to what my standards are.

The point of my point remains that no one can judge the validity of a conversion from the outside. And, that judging the outsider is far easier than solving the deep problems that exist from within.

Miri; Thank you. We do agree on a great deal.

Eve; Very well put.

Story; A very well-known Jew was about to give a speech to a large group of a Jewish organization. He was accompanied by his Christian wife. As they walked to the podium there was much whispered discussion about the wife; not much of it friendly.
Well-aware, he began his speech by saying, “Remember, she married a Jew.”
Prejudice cuts both ways and always causes pain.
Shalom to all.

It is terrible that these fanatics are in a position to determine who is a Jew. I have read horror stories of American Jews, born Jewish by matrilineal descent, having to “prove” their Judaism in order to get papers for marriage. A letter from the petitioners’ American rabbi attesting to their circumstances at birth or the rigorousness of their conversions is not accepted, even to the point of various Beit Dins having their ultra Orthodox cohorts check American cemeteries to confirm the petitioners’ backgrounds.

It is obscene and insulting. If the Israeli government or the people themselves do not moderate this rise of radical Judaism, Israel will soon find itself where no one of independent means will want to immigrate – it will only be the destitute or desperate who make Aliyah.

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The Unwelcome Mat

Today’s rabbinic culture is closing the door to converts, and ignoring its own history in the process

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