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December 19, 2014 / 27 Kislev, 5775
 
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Posts Tagged ‘conversion’

Neighborly Chesed: Above And Beyond

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

My husband and I are living in our house for over 30 years. We have wonderful neighbors on both sides. The one on the right, a non-frum Jewish couple, lived in their house longer than we’ve resided in ours. We always got along very well with them, as they are unusually kind, friendly and helpful people. When I had an injury many years ago and couldn’t function properly, the husband always offered to drive me – and indeed drove me – to therapy. He was happy to pick up anything I needed from the store – and always with a smile. I tried not to take advantage, but I very much appreciated his and his wife’s help.

In recent years a frum couple, also friendly and kind, moved in on the other side of these people. The man, a doctor, offered his services whenever they needed it, and was always available for advice and help.

Our non-frum neighbors always commented about how they could never move away, even though they were retired and didn’t need a house the size of theirs. After all, they were thrilled with their neighbors, as well as with other people on the block.

The non-observant wife of the aforementioned couple was born a non-Jew and claimed to have converted to Judaism. While not giving that fact much thought, I found it difficult to believe that she would have been converted by an Orthodox rabbi since she had no intention of being observant. I thus assumed that a Reform rabbi probably converted her. Whatever her religious status, our good neighborly relationship remained intact.

This woman (we’ll call her Carol) unfortunately became ill four years ago. Throughout her illness, she remained positive and lived life to the fullest. Sadly, things took a turn for the worse and she recently passed away.

The doctor and his wife (the frum neighbors mentioned earlier), always looking to do chesed, asked Carol’s husband on the day of the funeral for Carol’s conversion papers so as to ascertain if she was really Jewish. To their pleasant surprise, as well as to ours, Carol’s conversion papers revealed that an Orthodox rabbi had performed her conversion. The papers, written in Hebrew and English, were signed by a well-known rabbi.

The frum doctor and his wife arranged through our local rabbi to have Kaddish recited for Carol. The doctor’s wife, another neighbor and I shared the cost.

Despite not practicing her religion, Carol’s soul – due to her caring neighbors – now has Kaddish being said for her three times a day. Her husband and family, overcome with emotion, filled with tears upon hearing this even though they didn’t understand the depth of our action.

I’m quite sure Carol’s neshamah is smiling and that Hashem is proud of the chesed Am Yisrael does for one another. Mi k’amcha Yisrael!

Report: Orthodox Conversions in Israel Down 31%

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

Orthodox conversions in Israel are down by 31 percent over the past two years, according to a new report.

“Both demographic changes and bureaucratic hurdles have contributed to this change,” said Rabbi Seth Farber, director of ITIM: Resources and Advocacy for Jewish Life.

The ITIM study, released on the eve of Shavuot, the holiday in which Jewish tradition celebrates the conversion to Judaism of biblical Ruth, shows that the total number of Orthodox conversions performed in Israel in 2011, including Jews from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia, has been cut nearly in half since 2007.

There were 4,293 Orthodox conversions in 2011, compared with 8,008 in 2007. From 2008 to 2010, the number of Orthodox conversions fell from 6,221 to 4,645.

ITIM’s report also discussed other developments in conversion in Israel during the past year, including the absence of clear criteria for recognizing conversions done abroad.

“Despite the 2005 Supreme Court ruling which calls upon the Ministry of Interior to recognize the autonomy of local Jewish communities on issues relating to conversion, the State of Israel continues to make it difficult for converts to make aliyah,” according to the report.

“This is against the spirit of Jewish tradition,” Farber said.

The report will be placed on the table of the Knesset Immigration and Absorption Committee this week.

From `Sin’ [China] to Sinai

Friday, May 18th, 2012

This is not my story at all. But when I heard it from Avigayil Madmoni, formerly Gin Lin Lug, a Chinese convert, I gained a new view of what Torah means to me. I know for sure, as anyone who has ever met this very charming, sincere, lovable young woman will agree with me, that Avigayil is my sister like any other Jew and that she surely stood at Har Sinai — together with my ancestors and the souls of their descendants, namely me and all the Jews alive today, and who have ever lived, since the giving of the Torah.

Having heard Avigayil’s story and internalizing its message, I know that Torah is everything. It is the past, present and future. It is the air we breathe, and the messages we receive all the time telling us that it is Truth, and the closer we cling to it, the more alive we are and the better person we can strive to become – and actually become, with the help of Hashem!

Our high school in Ofakim brought Avigayil to speak to us. A convert of six years (and incidentally, one of the dayanim who signed on her conversion is the husband of our principal), Avigayil speaks a fluent Hebrew with a slight accent. These are her words [translated from Hebrew]:

I have been a student at Seminary Neveh Yerushalayim for the past five years, since shortly after I converted. I have realized a few of my lifetime dreams – that of joining your people and also of earning my degree here as a certified nurse.

My third dream is to get married and raise a family of fine Jewish children, and that, like everything else, is in the hands of G-d, as I have clearly seen every step of the way. Who knows? Maybe just like the Chinese girl from the book, Bamboo Cradle, found her mate, I, too, will merit to get married and raise a family.

My story begins in China, of course, in the home of simple but honest and hard working peasants who taught me good values. I always felt that there was something more, something beyond just living a decent life. I thought that training to be a nurse would provide fulfillment, but my parents couldn’t afford to send me to nursing school.

Divine Providence found me a job in Israel as a caregiver to ten-year-old Elad Madmoni z”l, terminally ill with muscular dystrophy. He was confined to a wheelchair, but his mind was alert and his soul was pure and beautiful.

Elad attended school and spent recess in his wheelchair, watching his friends running around and playing ball. He was fully aware of his situation but never complained. In fact, he radiated peace and joy to everyone around him.

Elad’s family was religious, and I would watch him pray with fervor and study Gemara and Mishnayos. His good spirits always amazed me and I used to ask him, “How can you pray to G-d? Aren’t you angry that He made you this way and that there is no cure for you?” And he would answer so sweetly, “Lin, whatever the Creator does is for the best, even for me. Who knows, maybe He made me this way so that you could come and learn more about Him?”

Now I know that Elad was right, but how could he have known?

We had long philosophical talks, perhaps on a simple level, but I was always amazed how he knew the answers to my questions. “China is an ancient country with an ancient tradition,” I told him once, “but all Chinese people know that the Jews are the most learned and clever nation in the world. That’s what my grandfather told me, too. So tell me, what is written in your Torah?”

And he would patiently explain ideas that you’ve been familiar with since you were small children. I became interested in Judaism and at the age of 21, opened the Bible for the first time in my life and was actually able to read it in Hebrew. I had loved this language from the very first day I came; the very letters seemed holy to me and I used to copy them. When Elad saw my interest, he began teaching me to read and write and speak. He taught me Jewish history and told me stories about the Sages. Thanks to him, I was able to see that everything in this world has a purpose; nothing happens just like that. Then, right before Shavuos, he told me the story of Ruth, Naomi and Boaz, and all the chessed that each did.

From Feet To Amot: A New Jewish Units App

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

During my yearly visits to Australia to visit my wife’s family, I must endure the brutal calculations involved in switching from the imperfect Imperial system to the maligned-by-Americans (but clearly more efficient) Metric system. Pounds become kilos, Fahrenheit becomes Celsius, and feet become meters. Calculations are involved every day – and I don’t have a mind for numbers. Similarly, when I learn Gemara, I often come across ancient and archaic measurements that need conversion into modern numbers. This ensures that today’s average learner and I can better understand the amounts being dealt with. ArtScroll usually provides a formula, or tells us the conversion in the simplest terms. But now, thanks to Crowded Road CEO Adam Korbl and Rabbi Ronnie Figdor, there’s an app that helps us do just that.

The new Jewish Units app conveniently converts all Talmudic measurements (volume, length, time, area, weight, and currency) into their modern-day counterparts. And I literally mean all measurements. As someone who proudly learns an average of an amud of Gemara a day, I was flabbergasted to learn about how many types of measurements there are in Judaism. I had heard of a p’ras, a parsah and a perutah, but a pesiah, a pim and a pundeyon? And that’s just those beginning with the letter “P”!

All in all there are nearly 200 units of measure that can be converted. Perhaps that’s why I always had a hard time remembering the conversion amounts for biblical measurements. I remember thinking that a mil was about equal in length to a mile. But it turns out to be closer to a half mile (or 0.5666 to be exact). I recall the notion that a shekel (not to be confused with a New Israeli Shekel) was about equal to $1 – but it’s really about $18. And was I off regarding a kikar. One of those equals $54,119. And a kikar can be used for weight as well. So if your wife of 150 pounds thinks she’s putting on weight, you can simply say, “Honey, you’re not even 3 kikars.” (One hundred fifty pounds equals 2.668 kikars.)

If you don’t have a currency converter on your smart-device, the Jewish Units app also does basic currency conversions (e.g. dollars to euros). But the best aspect of the app, aside from its prime function, is its essential glossary that permits less learned people like me know that a pesiah is a regular footstep (about an amah) in length, or that a pundeyon was an ancient Roman currency. And if you’re wondering, one pim – a unit of measure in Sefer Shmuel – equals 80 pounds. My in-laws will also be happy to know that the app works in the metric system as well.

I showed the app to the people who will likely use it the most: kollel and yeshiva guys. It was as if I walked into a 7th-grade classroom with a (yet to be invented) Playstation 5. The app appeared to be the perfect combination of convenience and coolness. One boy who had recently completed a half marathon proudly noted that he had run 45,880 amot, about which one of his friends said: “Yeah, but that’s only 5.73 parsahs.”

In the near future Crowded Road will be offering the Jewish Units technology as part of their popular iTalmud and iMishna. “The ability to tap on a phrase in the Talmud or Mishnah that includes a halachic unit, such as daled amos, and instantly receive an explanation and modern-day conversion according to a rabbinic authority of choice should be a very powerful proposition,” says Korbl, the CEO of Crowded Road.

Perhaps the only negative aspect to the app that might dissuade some downloaders is its current $4.99 price tag. But that’s only 0.14 sela – a real bargain.

Why A Jew?

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

Different people in my life have different reactions to me becoming a Jew.

The secularists and atheists in my life don’t know enough about Judaism to know how big of deal this is, so they tend to look at my journey as a mildly exotic lifestyle choice – like a phase Madonna might go through – before they focus on the real issue at hand: circumcision.

Hardcore evangelicals (whom I love dearly) tend to love Jews and Israel more than just about anyone (there are more Christian Zionists in America than there are Jews in the entire world). They view my pending conversion with a great deal of respect and admiration. The way one might view a friend who has decided to become a full-time priest or pastor.

The Jews in my life?  From them, I get one reaction only:

“Don’t you have enough trouble already?”

In my book, there is no such thing as “enough trouble.” Picking fights with the world’s bad people is my business, and business is good. But I am not becoming a Jew to bring more trouble into my life. If more trouble comes, I’ll face it. But I’m not a masochist.  I’m an ethical monotheist.

After my Jewish friends are done trying to talk me out of their tribe, they admit, “you’re pretty much a Jew already,” or “you’re more Jewish than most Jews I know.” They’re right in one sense. They’re talking about Jewish values and ethics. And, if ethics and values were all it took to become a Jew, I could put on a kippah, walk into the end-zone, and join God’s chosen people right now.

Jewish values and ethics are what brought me here. Flipping through Rabbi Joseph Telushkin’s Book of Jewish Values or his Code of Jewish Ethics, for me, is like a kid flipping through a friend’s baseball cards in a playground – “got it, got it, need it, got it” – with a whole lot more “got its” than “need its.”

The hard part for me is learning the Hebrew and rituals, mainly because I have a hard time memorizing. So that’s what I’m focusing on now. A friend of mine, who converted to Judaism, said that I’ll always feel like I’m struggling to catch up to the Jews who grew up immersed in Hebrew and rituals.

Which is fine by me. Because, even though I came to the Torah with more “got its” than “need its,” I still feel like a child who has a world of learning ahead of me. Like a wall that gets bigger the closer you get to it. Even should I live to 120 (God willing) I’ll never reach the end of this journey.

Which is a good reason to start this journey now.

http://notajew-jew.com/?p=58

Conversions – The Supreme Court Decides?

Sunday, April 29th, 2012

One of the sadder chapters to be written about the State of Israel will be what is happening with regard to conversions.

To review the situation that led to this, the mass influx of Jews from Russia into Israel over the last few decades contained many people who were not Halachicly Jewish, even though they had been completely raised to think so. The reason for that is that they were products of an intermarriage where the mother was not Jewish, or products of a mother who was not converted according to Halacha.

There were so many of them coming into Israel and integrating with the country in every way including army service, that it was threatening to create a huge imbalance between Jews and non Jews. This presented a demographic challenge in maintaining Israel’s identity as a Jewish state.

The solution by the government was to set up special conversion courts to expedite conversions of Jews with this kind of problem. Rabbi Chaim Druckman was put in charge of this court and used various leniencies in converting thousands of these people.

The problem arose when the Charedi dominated Chief Rabbinate headed by Rabbi Avraham Sherman determined that all of Rabbi Druckman’s conversions were invalid because of insufficient observance of Halacha.

The debate still lives and involves one of the key components of conversion. And sides are being taken. The Charedi point of view is that the conversions were invalid because the requirement that a potential convert must accept Halacha as binding and promise to keep it.

They further hold that since most of the converts did not keep some of the basics showed that there was never any serious intent by these converts to follow Halacha. Hence the conversions were all invalid. And therefore the Dayan responsible for all of that, Rabbi Druckman loses his validity as a Dayan and thus invalidating all the conversion he was ever responsible for. Even if the convert the followed Halacha diligently!

The Religious Zionist perspective was that Halacha was followed in every single conversion albeit with leniencies not normally used because of the urgent nature of this issue that would affect the very nature of Israel as a Jewish state. What the leniencies were is irrelevant. The point is that both sides believed that they were L’Shma – doing the right thing in the eyes of God.

The problem of course is that if one side considers these converts Jewish and the other side does not, the converts remain in limbo. With the numbers being so great and multiplying via their offspring means that from the Charedi point of view it will require a Yichus registry.

It will therefore be almost impossible to get married a few generations from now without a thorough background check of Yichus. This is already happening. People making Aliyah that are not Orthodox are finding out that their Judaism is not being taken for granted. They now have to prove that they have Jewish lineage going back several generations! Something that is often impossible to do.

The new immigrants are now going to suffer even while many of their sons who ebleive they are fiully Jewish if not 100% observant are willing to die for their country putting themselves in harm’s way by joining the army. After several generations of suffering persecution for being Jews at the hands of the former Soviet Union, they now are suffering new indignities by their very own people.

The Israeli Supreme court has stepped in and ruled in favor of the Rabbi Druckman’s converts. The consider all of them fully Jewish and will be registered as such. There will be no discrimination between any of those converts and any other Jewish Israeli. Marriages will be performed in Israel for them will be fully recognized.

Rabbi Seth Farber who is Orthodox but not Charedi and who petitioned the courts on behalf of these converts was very gratified:

“We are pleased to see that the Supreme Court has upheld the petition we submitted and we hope this judgment will be a boost to all those who are in the midst of a conversion process, and those debating whether to enter it.” “It is hoped that the verdict will uproot the phenomenon of non-recognition of conversions, and end the ongoing injustice converts are faced with”

I’m pretty sure that was not the reaction of the Charedi side. They are L’Shma. They believe they are absolutely right and will continue to believe that The State of Israel just declared a bunch of non Jews – Jewish, despite the fact that they are not.

Even though its heart is in the right place – the Supreme Court is not a Halachic body and in my view has no business deciding issues of Halacha. So I’m not sure what was accomplished other than to further divide Charedim from Religious Zionists. Their actual status of these converts as Jews thus remains unchanged in the sense that the right still believes they are not Jews while the left believes they are.

Furthermore it gives these people a false sense of security in thinking that a secular court in Israel can declare them Jewish – end of story. They will find that they will not be accepted into the Charedi world as Jews at all.

One might retort, “So what?!” “Who cares what a bunch of religious fanatics think?!” “We know the truth and that is all that matters.”

Not so simple. Charedim are growing in numbers and in influence. And – right or wrong – the simple fact is that a huge portion of Klal Yisroel will reject these converts as Jews, and reject their sponsors as having no Halachic validity on this issue.

While they gain recognition by the secular state with all the rights and privileges that entails, they will not gain the peace of mind that would come with recognition by all. They will still therefore remain with an unsettling feeling.

In my view the answer lies in some sort of compromise. The idea of a wholesale invalidation is disgusting in my view – that should have never happened. Nor should Rabbi Druckman have been so dishonored! I would much rather see a unified response to this where no one gets anything shoved down their throats by either side – or even by the Supreme Court.

This article first appeared on the Emes v’Emunah blog.

Closing Our Eyes To The New Haman (Part II)

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

Last week I described some prophecies concerning the wakeup calls that would come to our people when the arrival of Mashiach was near. Unfortunately, we have yet to attune ourselves to the sound of those footsteps.

Had you heard the prophecies of which I wrote when they were first uttered centuries ago, you might have laughed and scoffed. Even if you had read them as recently as 1970, you would have been hard put to believe it, for of all the Muslim countries, the Shah’s Iran was probably the friendliest to Israel and the U.S. But today the impossible has become possible, and events are unfolding so rapidly that we have difficulty absorbing their impact. So how are we to understand it all?

Before I answer that question, I must ask my readers’ forbearance. I am going to repeat some of the things I wrote on this subject a few months ago because I believe it is so absolutely crucial for our people to finally wipe the slumber from their eyes and realize what is going on.

The Yalkut compares our suffering to birth pangs. But birth pangs are deceptive; when the contractions begin, it’s easy to ignore them since they are mild and occur at long intervals. As birth becomes imminent, however, the contractions become more frequent, the pain more intense. And just when it appears the woman can no longer endure the pain, the baby is born and new life enters the world.

Labor pains are what we are now seeing in terms of world events. How long will the pains last? It’s anyone’s guess, but one thing is certain: please G-d, the birth is sure to take place. In the interim, however, we may ask whether it’s possible to ease the suffering and to protect ourselves from these painful contractions.

Every woman in labor needs help to ease her pain and speed the birth of her child. So too we need help to lessen our pain and hasten the coming of Mashiach. We have been blessed by our sages, who have the perfect formula to assure us an easy and painless birth. “Let he who wishes to be spared the birth pangs of Messiah occupy himself with Torah and gemilas chasadim (acts of loving-kindness) and let him be scrupulous about Seudah Shlishis – the third Sabbath meal.”

The first two recommendations – Torah and gemilas Chasidim – are self-explanatory and do not require much elaboration, for he who is committed to Torah and mitzvos and to reaching out with loving-kindness, must, of necessity, become a better, more spiritual person.

But eating a third Sabbath meal is not as readily comprehensible. We are enjoined to have three seudos on the Sabbath: Sabbath eve (Friday night), Sabbath noon (following prayer in the synagogue) and the third seudah in the late afternoon as the Sabbath Queen prepares to depart. Through these three meals, we honor the three Patriarchs, the three sections of our Holy Writ (Torah, Prophets, and the Writings), and we also recall the three Sabbath meals of manna G-d provided us during our sojourn in the wilderness (Exodus 16:25).

The final Sabbath seudah is called Shalosh Seudos, which translated literally means “three meals” rather than Seudah Shlishis – the third meal. Our sages explain that the reason for this is that all three Sabbath seudos are embodied in this one.

This third meal presents a most auspicious time for prayer. And to this day, when I close my eyes, I can hear the sweet voices of my revered father and beloved husband of blessed memory leading their congregations in singing Psalm 23, the psalm that is traditionally chanted at Shalosh Seudos: Hashem is my Shepherd, I shall not want…”

The task of the shepherd is a lowly and lonely one. Day in and day out he is destined to wander from place to place seeking pasture for his flock; and yet David did not hesitate to refer to G-d as a shepherd, for he perceived that G-d’s love is so total, so encompassing, that when it comes to caring for His children, nothing is beneath Him.

What a magnificent and fortifying thought – for no matter where life takes us, even if we have to walk in the treacherous valley overshadowed by death, we need not fear, for G-d, our Shepherd, will always be there to lead us to greener pastures, even if at first we do not realize the pastures will be greener.

Still, it is difficult to comprehend how the mere eating of a third meal, singing Psalm 23, and discussing words of Torah could have such awesome power that they can actually protect us from the suffering that will accompany the birth pangs. But there is a profound lesson at the root of this teaching.

The first two Sabbath seudos are eaten when we are hungry, but after a festive noontime seudah, we are hardly in the mood for yet another meal. So it is not to satiate our hunger that we gather around the Shalosh Seudos table. Rather, it is to celebrate the Sabbath and sing her praises, and that is why the Third Meal encompasses them all. The Third Meal is symbolic of the conversion of the physical to the spiritual and, ultimately, that is our purpose – to become spiritual beings and to free ourselves from the shackles of materialism – and that is something that our generation, obsessed with materialism and the pursuit of pleasure, has yet to learn.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/rebbetzins-viewpointrebbetzin-jungreis/closing-our-eyes-part-ii/2012/03/07/

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