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July 1, 2016 / 25 Sivan, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘conversion’

Q & A: Ruth’s Conversion

Thursday, June 9th, 2016

Question: When did Ruth convert – before or after she married Naomi’s son? Also, what is the earliest reference in Jewish sources to a formal conversion process?

Lazar Rozenblat
Brooklyn, NY

Answer: Megillat Rut (1:3-5) states: “Va’yamat Elimelech ish No’omi va’tisha’er he u’shnei baneha. Va’yis’u lahem nashim mo’aviyyot, shem ha’achat Orpah veshem hashenit Ruth,va’yeshvu sham ke’eser shanim. Vayamutu gam sheneihem Mahlon ve’Kilyon, va’tisha’er ha’isha mi’shenei yeladeha u’me’ishah – Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. They took Moabite wives for themselves – the name of one was Orpah and the name of the other was Ruth, and they lived there about 10 years. Then both Mahlon and Kilyon also died, and the woman remained bereft of her two sons and her husband.”

The story continues (1:8): “Vatomer Na’omi li’shetei koloteha, lechna, shovna, isha leveit immah, ya’aseh Hashem imachen chesed ka’asher asiten im hameitim ve’imadi – Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law: Go return each of you to your mother’s house, and may Hashem deal kindly with you as you have dealt kindly with the departed and with me.” She was able to sway Orpah, but Ruth remained with her mother-in-law.

The Talmud (Yevamot 47b) sees the conversation between Naomi and Ruth as the model of the conversation a beth din is required to have with a prospective convert. The Talmud understands Ruth’s response (1:16-17) to Naomi’s entreaties that she follow Orpah as answers to Naomi’s efforts to dissuade her from converting. Thus, when Naomi told Ruth that Israelites are forbidden to walk beyond techum Shabbat (a distance of 2,000 cubits) on Shabbos, Ruth replied, “Ki el asher telchi elech – Wherever you go I will go.” To Naomi’s reminder that a man and a woman are forbidden to be sequestered together unless they are married, Ruth answered, “U’va’asher talini alin – And wherever you lodge, I will lodge.” When Naomi informed her that there are 613 commandments that must be followed, Ruth replied “Amech ami – Your people shall be my people.” Naomi’s warning that we are forbidden to worship idols was countered with, “Ve’Elokayich Elokai – And your G-d [shall be] my G-d.” To Naomi’s cautioning that beth din has the authority to enact four modes of execution for certain offenses, Ruth answered, “Ba’asher tamuti amut – Where you die, I will die.”

Finally, Naomi told her that two graveyard sites are put at the disposal of beth din for the burial of executed offenders (Rashi: one site for those executed for extremely harsh sins and another for those executed for less serve sins), Ruth responded, “Ve’sham ekaver – And there will I be buried.” Thereupon, Naomi ceased protesting (ibid. 1:18): “Va’tere ki mit’ ametzet hi lalechet itah va’techdal ledabber eleha – When she saw that she was steadfastly minded to go with her, she left off speaking to her.”

The Talmud (ibid.) and the Rambam (Hilchot Issurei Bi’ah 14:15) go into more detail regarding the questions asked of a prospective ger. If the queries are answered to the satisfaction of beth din, the prospective convert is forthwith accepted and undergoes mila (if the convert is male) and tevilah (immersion).

If the rules of geirut are based on this dialogue between Naomi and Ruth, Ruth evidently wasn’t Jewish at the time. How, then, does the megillah refer to Ruth as Naomi’s daughter-in-law when le’halacha she wasn’t? We cannot resolve this difficulty by applying the principle of “ein mukdam u’me’uchar ba’Torah” (the Torah is not written in chronological order) because this principle can only be applied when two different matters are involved (see Pesachim 6b), not within the same context.

The Midrash (Ruth Rabbah 2:9) clearly states that Ruth and Orpah were not Jewish when they married Mahlon and Kilyon, which is why their husbands were punished. Yalkut Shimoni (chap. 600) notes that according to one opinion the brothers’ names indicate that they made themselves profane (Mahlon/hullin) and deserved death and destruction (Kilyon/kelayah) because they had taken gentile women as wives.

We talk of them having “married” gentile women even though their marriages were halachically invalid. We find terms used “loosely” in the Talmud as well. For example, the first mishnah in Tractate Yoma states that seven days before the Day of Atonement “another wife would be prepared for [the kohen gadol] in case his wife died, for the Torah states (Vayikra 16:6), ‘And he shall make atonement for himself and for his house’ – ‘his house’ is taken to mean ‘his wife.’” The Gemara proceeds to discuss several hypothetical scenarios; it also discusses how to insure that the kohen gadol not be married to two wives on the Day of Atonement since “his house” denotes one wife, not two. The Gemara considers the wording of various conditional divorces and later discusses a kohen gadol who is an onen (aninut is the first day of mourning, before aveilut takes effect) following the death of his wife. But, asks the Gemara (ibid. 14a), how can he be an onen if he divorced her? It answers that although he is not obligated to mourn, he will surely be distracted and distressed since he still thinks of her as his wife (even if halachically she wasn’t when she died).

There are some indications, though, that Naomi and Orpah had, in fact, undergone conversion before they married Mahlon and Kilyon. Naomi tells her daughters-in-law (Ruth 1:8), “Ya’aseh Hashem imachen chesed ka’asher asiten im hameitim ve’imadi – May Hashem deal kindly with you as you have dealt kindly with the departed and with me.” This reference to dealing kindly with the departed, “chesed shel enmet,” is an illustration of authentic Jewish behavior – minhag Yahadut – that these two women practiced. Midrash Ruth (Zohar Chadash) states explicitly that R. Yosi Ish Socho maintains that Ruth and Orpah were Jewish at the time. If Ruth only became Jewish later, this change in status would’ve been reflected in her name. But the megillah calls her Ruth both before and after her crucial conversation with Naomi.

If both Ruth and Orpah were Jewish, though, why did Naomi try to convince them to return to “their” people? The answer is that they had not converted wholeheartedly. Rather, they had converted like the wives of Samson and Solomon. These women converted for ulterior motives and reverted to their earlier behavior and beliefs in the end (see Rambam, Hilchot Issurei Bi’ah 13:14). Thus, a new commitment – kabbalat ol mizvot – was required of both Ruth and Orpah. Orpah ultimately decided to return to her people and former ways in response to Naomi’s entreaties, whereas Ruth remained steadfast. The commentators note that Naomi kept pleading with Ruth and Orpah because she was convinced that both daughters-in-law would go back to their parents’ homes and former way of life. Incidentally, Yalkut Shimoni cites R. Yochanan who states that Mahlon, who married Ruth (who remained steadfast), was forgiven (mechila) while Kilyon, who married Orpah (from whom Goliath was descended), was destined for destruction (kelaya).

Ruth’s is not the first conversion in Tanach. Exodus 18:1-5 states, “Va’Yishma Yitro kohein midian chotein Moshe…va’yavo – When Jethro, the priest of Midian and father-in-law of Moses, heard…he came” The Talmud (Zevachim 116a) states that this “coming” denotes conversion.

However, it is the conversation of Naomi and Ruth, as stated above, which forms the basis for the laws of derishat ha’ger, the interrogation of a prospective convert by a rabbinical court, as stated in Yevamot. Both the Rambam and the Tur rule that this is the accepted halacha. Ruth’s conversion can thus be considered the first explicit example of conversion as we know it today, and she was surely accepted as a convert prior to her marriage to Boaz, a marriage that resulted in no less than the royal house of David.

Rabbi Yaakov Klass

Innocent Homework or Insidious Conversion Attempt?

Sunday, December 20th, 2015

(JNi.media) Rage over a homework assignment became so harsh and abusive, school officials in Augusta County, Virginia decided to keep all 10,000 county students at home this past week, and to suspend school sports activities over the weekend.

This WW3 battle began when Cheryl LaPorte, who teaches world geography at Riverheads High in Staunton, Virginia, gave her students a homework assignment: to copy by hand a line of Arabic script. The lovely arabesque calligraphy happened to be the shahada, an Islamic statement of faith bearing witness that “there is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is the messenger of Allah.” It has been established, incidentally, that LaPorte did not compose the assignment based on secret instructions she received from her operators in ISIS, but rather picked it from a workbook created by teachers called “World Religions.” The book also includes assignments about Christianity and Judaism.

It took only a few hours before some angry parents demanded LaPorte’s firing for “violating children’s religious beliefs,” but the Virginia Department of Education and Augusta County Superintendent Eric Bond announced they reviewed the material and they don’t believe it violated student rights.

Nevertheless, the county school system removed the offensive statement from the curriculum, replacing it with “a different, non-religious sample of Arabic calligraphy.” The county also issued a statement saying it was not leading a drive to convert students to Islam. Augusta County Schools official Eric Bond said in a statement that none of the “lessons in the world geography course are an attempt at indoctrination to Islam or any other religion or a request for students to renounce their own faith or profess any belief.”

That was too little, too late, as far as some parents were concerned. Kimberly Herndon told WHSV, “The sheet she gave out was pure doctrine in its origin,” adding, “I will not have my children sit under a woman who indoctrinates them with the Islam religion when I am a Christian.”

Megan Williams, reporting for the News Leader, noted that “increased police presence and national media attention have made for a weird week as Riverheads High School headed into winter break.” The decision to end the school week early was reached on Thursday, “after district offices were hit by a firestorm of phone calls and emails over the controversy.” Williams reported that “Augusta County Sheriff’s deputies were in all schools and the front doors were locked.”

A Facebook group calling itself SUPPORT LAPORTE was started and to date attracted 5,653 members. Most of the reactions on the social network are expressions of disbelief at the parents’ heightened sensitivity to other people’s religions and cultures.

Williams quoted Prof. Nancy Klancher of Bridgewater College, which serves Augusta County, who explained that county students come from the Shenandoah Valley, and “don’t know anything about any other religions besides their own.”

JNi.Media

Vatican Says ‘Jews Don’t Need Conversion’

Friday, December 11th, 2015

Jews do not need to be converted, and the Catholic Church “does not question the continued love of God for the chosen people of Israel,” the Vatican said Thursday.

The news came in a 10,000-word document released by the Holy See that says Jews do not need to be converted. Moreover, it says, the only way for Catholics to understand their own faith is to view Jesus within the Jewish context of his time.

Entitled “The Gifts and Calling of God are Irrevocable,” the document calls on Jews and Christians to work together to make the world a better place.

“While affirming salvation through an explicit or even implicit faith in Christ, the Church does not question the continued love of God for the chosen people of Israel,” the document states.

“That the Jews are participants in God’s salvation is theologically unquestionable, but how that can be possible without confessing Christ explicitly, is and remains an unfathomable divine mystery.”

The Church recommended that Jews and Catholics jointly combat all forms of anti-Semitism, and condemned the Nazi slaughter of Jews in World War II.

“History teaches us where even the slightest perceptible forms of anti-Semitism can lead: the human tragedy of the Shoah (using the Hebrew term for the Holocaust) in which two-thirds of European Jewry were annihilated.”

Drafted by the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations With Jews, the document also stated clearly that Catholics must refrain from active attempts to convert Jews.

“The Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews,” it says. Judaism “is not to be considered simply as another religion; the Jews are instead our elder brothers.”

The document cited the release 50 years ago of the Nostra Aetate — ‘In Our Times’ — that repudiated Jewish guilt in Jesus’ death.

“Judaism is not to be considered simply as another religion; the Jews are instead our ‘elder brothers’ (Saint Pope John Paul II), our ‘fathers in faith’ (Benedict XVI),” the document states.

“Jesus was a Jew, was at home in the Jewish tradition of his time, and was decisively shaped by this religious milieu (cf. ‘Ecclesia in Medio Oriente,’ 20). His first disciples gathered around him had the same heritage and were defined by the same Jewish tradition in their everyday life.”

Hana Levi Julian

Troublemakers?

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin of Efrat (R) speaks with Rabbi David Stav. Rabbis Riskin and Stav are part of a group of leading rabbis who decided to establish independent Orthodox conversion courts in Israel, breaking the official Rabbinate monopoly.

What happens next remains to be seen.

Photo of the Day

Bennett and Netanyahu Clash over Rollback of Religious Reforms

Sunday, July 5th, 2015

 

The Cabinet Sunday morning approved amendments to the conversion reform law of the last administration and returned more power to Hareidim, over the objections of coalition partner Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home).

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu ordered Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett to vote for the changes, alleging that they were part of the coalition agreement with the Shas and Yehadut HaTorah (United Torah Judaism) parties.

Bennett said at the Cabinet session, “I did not agree to this in coalition negotiations,” but the Prime Minister shot back:

All of the agreements obligate everyone.

Likud Parliamentary Group Chairman Ze’ev Elkin stepped into the fray and confirmed that Bennett opposed rolling back the reform, and the Cabinet passed the changes with Bennett and Bayit Yehudi Cabinet member opposing it.

Avigdor Lieberman, chairman of the Yisrael Beiteinu party that is not in the coalition, also voted against it.

The amendments wreck all of the efforts in the previous government to take conversion out of the hands of Hareidi rabbis an allow local rabbinical courts to decide on the delicate issue that has the most impact on 300,000 Russian immigrants who are not Jewish according to Jewish law. Hareidi courts generally are far less willing to accept conversions than are national religious rabbis.

The Cabinet also transferred authority over the country’s rabbinical courts from the Justice Ministry to the Ministry of Religious Services, which is headed by another Shas MK, David Azoulay.

Refusal to accept reforms means that it is more likely that all of the children and future generations of the immigrants will not be Jewish. If the woman marry Jewish men, there would be even more non-Jews in Israel and would create complications that could affect their children’s future.

The need for Prime Minister Netanyahu to form a coalition forced him to accept the Shas and UTJ demands to put the conversion process back in the hands of Hareidi courts. Under the new amendments local courts still can process conversions but only with the approval of the Chief Rabbinate.

Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef, son of the late Rav Ovadia Yosef, is part of the Shas movement that his father founded, so it is no wonder that the Shas party insisted on eliminating reforms.

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau also opposed the reforms.

It only is a matter of time before reform once again will undo the Hareidi establishment that never misses an opportunity to forego bridging gaps with the non-Hareidi population and bring people closer to Judaism, simply because they insist on such a rigid approach to religion and concentration of power that pave the way for a backlash that could weaken Orthodox Jewish influence in Israel.

Tzvi Ben-Gedalyahu

Rabbi Riskin Hopes the Rabbinate Will Climb Down From Their Tree [audio]

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015

Rabbi Riskin said he hopes the Rabbinate will climb down from their tree, in an interview he gave on Galei Yisrael Radio on Tuesday, as reported by Kipa.

The extension of Rabbi Riskin’s tenure as Chief Rabbi of the town of Efrat is under evaluation by the Israeli Rabbinate because he has reached the retirement age of 75. Only, it appears that the consideration as to whether to extend the Rabbi’s term is based on Rabbi Riskin’s legal/halachic positions, which places him in direct opposition to the Chareidi/Shas controlled Rabbinate.

Rabbi Riskin said, “I don’t want to believe that because of the halachic issue of conversion, which is such an important issue in the State of Israel today, that they [the Rabbinate] would want to terminate my services in the Rabbinate, but so it appears.”

Rabbi Riskin made it clear that he respects the Rabbinate and believes it serves an important role, but he thinks “the Rabbinate should accept opinions that are important, halachic pluralism, when of course it is within the halachic consensus. I don’t do anything that is outside the halachic consensus to open the gates of conversion…”

Rabbi Riskin continued, “I support the establishment and the institution of the Rabbinate, I believe it is important, but it must be a Rabbinate that talks to all of the nation of Israel, and halachically it must be prepared to accept halachic opinions that are not exactly Ultra-Orthodox views.”

“I hope… they’ll come down from their tree. I honestly don’t understand them… if this is true.” he finished off.

Jewish Press News Briefs

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin to ‘Stay On No Matter What’ Says Efrat Mayor

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

Efrat Chief Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is planning take his case to the Supreme Court of Israel if necessary, and Efrat Mayor Oded Ravivi says he is adamant Riskin must stay on, “regardless of what the Chief Rabbinate of Israel says.”

Ravivi warned that he would not tolerate political interference from the country’s rabbinical council officials when there is a “clear consensus that Rabbi Riskin is performing his duties faithfully.”

In an interview Tuesday with the Hebew-language “Kipa” website, Ravivi slammed the threat by the Chief Rabbinate not to extend Riskin’s term of office in his city.

“I watch this process in wonder and amazement,” Ravivi said. “Overall there is a consensus here that Rabbi Riskin is doing his job exceptionally well.

The parliament understands that the rabbi must respond to the definition of “creating for yourself a rabbinic authority” – someone to whom one can turn in time of spiritual and moral need – half of these voters who support the rabbi are city council members, 25 percent are synagogue members and 25 percent are simply those who are spiritual followers.

“Rabbi Riskin is one of the founders of this community,” the mayor continued. “Is there anyone who is a more integral part of this city? He is part of the infrastructure and the living spirit of this place.

“The Rabbinate decides not to reappoint him – so does that mean he will no longer bless celebrations here? People will no longer consult him? I would bet that the reality will not change, even if the Chief Rabbinate does decide not to extend his appointment,” the mayor said.

Meanwhile, Riskin himself has said that he will appeal the issue to the nation’s Supreme Court. In addition to serving as the Chief Rabbi of Efrat, Riskin also heads the Ohr Torah Stone institutions as well.

“I read the newspapers and hear that the matter is about conversions and the fact that I was supposed to set up a conversion court along with other town rabbis,” Riskin explains.

“I wanted to open the gates for people from the former Soviet Union who live here in Israel, born to Jewish fathers. There is an issue here that must be resolved, and that can be resolved, if conversion courts will become more embracing,yet 100 percent according to Jewish law.”

Hana Levi Julian

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/rabbi-shlomo-riskin-to-stay-on-no-matter-what-says-efrat-mayor/2015/05/26/

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