web analytics
November 28, 2014 / 6 Kislev, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
IDC Herzliya Campus A Day on Campus

To mark IDC Herzliya’s 20th anniversary, we spent a day following Prof. Uriel Reichman, IDC’s founder and president, and Jonathan Davis, VP for External Relations, around its delightful campus.



Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

Conversion To Judaism: The Need For A Uniform Standard


Three weeks ago, Rabbi Marc Angel, the retiring spiritual leader of Manhattan’s Congregation Shearith Israel, argued in these pages (“Conversion to Judaism: A Discussion of Standards,” op-ed, June 22) that: (1) there is a multiplicity of standards for conversion within halacha; and (2) the determination of what standards to apply is best left to the discretion of every individual rabbi.

Both claims are dubious.

The most widely revered contemporary poskim – Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, and, yblch”a, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv – have all written explicitly that a full acceptance of the yoke of mitzvot is the fundamental requirement of geirut (conversion). Without the acceptance of mitzvot, the various technical requirements of conversion – milah (circumcision) for men; tevilah (immersion in a mikvah) for men and women in front of a qualified bet din – are meaningless.

A convert need not know every mitzvah, but he or she must accept the entirety of the halachic system as binding upon him or her. As the Gemara in Bechorot (30b) makes clear, the rejection of even one mitzvah at the time of conversion renders the would-be convert unfit.

The view of the poskim cited above is not, as Rabbi Angel suggests, a modern-day haredi invention, but one held by the greatest halachic authorities across the Orthodox spectrum. Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Palestine, and Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, the towering figure of Modern Orthodoxy and longtime head of the American Mizrachi movement, viewed the requirement of kabalat ol mitzvot as axiomatic. (See Rabbi Soloveitchik’s Kol Dodi Dofeik fn. 22.)

Rabbi Soloveitchik was not expressing his own opinion but offering his understanding of the Rambam, who explicitly likens conversion to the process by which the Jewish people accepted the yoke of mitzvot and entered under the wings of the Shechina at Sinai.

Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Halevi Herzog, the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, was also of the opinion that acceptance of the yoke of mitzvot is required. When the overwhelming majority of Jews were shomrei mitzvot and Jews were a downtrodden people, it could be safely assumed that anyone who came forward to convert did so with the intention of being shomer mitzvot, he writes. Today, however, when neither of those factors pertains, no such assumption can be made and we must be much stricter about the acceptance of converts.

Rabbi Angel apparently rejects the halachic conclusions of all the great talmidei chachamim mentioned above. While we should do our utmost “to inspire converts to be faithful to the Jewish people, Torah and mitzvot,” he writes, “we do not live in a perfect world, and we often have to deal with real people in less than ideal situations.” Sometimes, that is, we have to accept those who have no intention of becoming shomer Torah u’mitzvot.

But nowhere in halacha will one find any suggestion that conversion standards can be lowered as a cure to prevent either individual tragedies, such as intermarriage, or a national tragedy like the hundreds of thousands of non-Jews living in Israel who have no interest in becoming fully mitzvah-observant.

Rabbi Angel is an ardent proponent of rabbinic autonomy: Let every congregational rav do what is straight in his eyes. But that system has proven a disaster. Nearly twenty years ago, even before Rabbi Angel’s term as president of the Rabbinical Council of America, the RCA undertook to establish a series of regional batei din to deal with conversion – an effort that is only now beginning to be seriously implemented.

Congregational rabbis who perform conversions are vulnerable to unbearable pressure from powerful congregants who want their child’s non-Jewish boyfriend or girlfriend converted, no questions asked. Savvy communal rabbis – Rabbi Emanuel Feldman when he was a rav in Atlanta comes to mind – avoid the problem by announcing a blanket rule against performing conversions.

A second problem is the danger of conversion mills – rabbis whose primary livelihood comes from performing hundreds of conversions a year. Such conversion mills have also been operated by those possessing s’micha from Orthodox institutions. The RCA does not allow its members to offer their private kashrut supervision. There is no reason to follow a different rule with respect to conversion.

About the Author:


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Conversion To Judaism: The Need For A Uniform Standard”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry .
NYT Ignores US Condemnation of PA Incitement, Prints Info on Ferguson Cop
Latest Indepth Stories
Kessim (religious leaders) mark the opening of a synagogue in the village of Gomenge, Ethopia, one of five built in Gondar with JDC aid, 1988
Courtesy of American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, New York.

In a world where people question whether they should be engaged, we are a reminder that all Jews are responsible for one another.

Greiff-112814-Levaya

My son is seventeen; he didn’t want to talk about what happened, or give any details of the Rosh Yeshiva’s words of chizuk.

Protesters in Ferguson, Missouri

All involved in the Ferguson debate should learn the laws pertinent to non-Jews: the Noahide Laws.

Charley Levine

Prominent Jewish leaders acknowledged that their predecessors had mistreated the Bergson Group.

Abbas has been adding new layers of rhetoric to his tactical campaign to de-Judaize Jerusalem

The Jew’s crime is his presence.

Hamas’s love for death tried to have as many Palestinian civilians killed as possible

Israel recognizes the fabrication called a Palestinian nation; So what do we want from the Swedes?

Arab attacking Jews in the land date back a century, long before Israel was created or in control.

Creativity without clarity is not sufficient for writing. I am eternally thankful to Hashem for his gift to me.

Golden presents a compelling saga of poor but determined immigrants who fled pogroms and harsh conditions in their homelands for a better life in a land of opportunity.

It seems to us that while the Jewish entitlement to the land of Israel transcends the Holocaust, the Jewish experience during that tragic time is the most solid of foundations for these “national rights.”

Too many self-styled civil rights activists seemed determined to force, by their relentless pressure, an indictment regardless of what an investigation might turn up.

Unfortunately, at present, the rabbinate does not play a positive role in preventing abuse.

More Articles from Jonathan Rosenblum

Three weeks ago, Rabbi Marc Angel, the retiring spiritual leader of Manhattan’s Congregation Shearith Israel, argued in these pages (“Conversion to Judaism: A Discussion of Standards,” op-ed, June 22) that: (1) there is a multiplicity of standards for conversion within halacha; and (2) the determination of what standards to apply is best left to the discretion of every individual rabbi.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/conversion-to-judaism-the-need-for-a-uniform-standard/2007/07/16/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: