“The most successful tyranny is not the one that uses force to assure uniformity but the one that removes the awareness of other possibilities, that makes it seem inconceivable that other ways are viable, that removes the sense that there is an outside.”
Allan Bloom - The Closing of the American Mind
As I have mentioned in previous articles I have posted, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe raised the issue of “Who is a Jew?” and made it one of the most explosive issues affecting Israeli politics. The spillover effect galvanized the Haredi world, who have created new walls separating Jews of all denominations from one another. In the past, it was only Conservative and Reform converts who were rejected by the Haredi Israeli rabbinate–but this has all changed. Now Orthodox converts are affected.
In today’s Israeli news, Rav Nachum Eisenstein, a leading Haredi leader in Israel, is challenging the Israeli courts who insist on recognizing the Orthodox conversions of candidates who have already gone through the process in Israel, while under Orthodox auspices. The Haredi leadership in Israel insists upon a total separation between the Haredi rabbis and the State of Israel. Eisenstein went so far as to say that the majority of converts today—including those converting through the IDF—are not ‘converts’ in accordance with Halacha, and many do not accept living a lifestyle of kiyum Torah and mitzvos, invalidating the process.”
Of course, this position is totally outlandish and reflects the civil war that is taking place between the Haredi and the Modern Orthodox communities. In some respects, it is difficult to feel sorry for the Modern Orthodox, who repeatedly supported the Haredi and the Habad communities’ attempt to isolate and delegitimize the Conservative and Reform converts. Now that their ox is being gored, suddenly the Modern Orthodox are yelling, “Gevalt! (Unfair!), how can they do this to our converts?”
By supporting draconian policies championed by some of the most retrograde forces of contemporary Judaism, they are now experiencing the same kind of rejection “Jews by Choice” have experienced for decades. I would add that when a Chabad institute or a Haredi yeshiva solicit Reform, Conservative–and now Modern Orthodox–”Jews by Choice,” no person with a conscience ought to give a nickle to underwrite these institutions’ exclusionary positions regarding, “Who is a Jew?” Money talks, so make your money talk by just saying, “No!” to Judaic discrimination.
Let us examine the substance of the Haredi concern. What if an Orthodox “Jew by choice” chooses to not follow Orthodoxy down the road, does Jewish law give any rabbi the right to retroactively revert such a person to his former non-Jewish status? Of course not! Such behavior has never been historically done–even during the most oppressive periods of Jewish history.
What exactly does Jewish law say about a convert who abandons his observance of Jewish law? Consider the Shulchan Aruch:
סעיף יב שולחן ערוך יורה דעה הלכות גרים סימן רסח
כג כו] כשיבא הגר להתגייר, בודקים אחריו שמא בגלל ממון שיטול או בשביל שררה שיזכה לה או מפני הפחד בא ליכנס לדת. כז] ואם איש הוא, בודקין אחריו שמא עיניו נתן באשה יהודית. ואם אשה היא, בודקין אחריה שמא עיניה נתנה בבחורי ישראל, ואם לא נמצאת להם עילה מודיעים להם כובד עול התורה וטורח שיש בעשייתה על עמי הארצות, כדי שיפרשו. אם קיבלו ולא פירשו, וראו אותם שחזרו מאהבה, מקבלים אותם. ואם לא בדקו אחריו, (ט) או שלא הודיעוהו שכר המצות ועונשן, ומל וטבל בפני ג’ הדיוטות, ה”ז גר אפי’ נודע שבשביל דבר הוא מתגייר, הואיל ומל וטבל יצא מכלל העובדי כוכבים, וחוששים לו עד שתתברר צדקתו; כח] ואפילו <טז> חזר ועבד עבודת כוכבים, הרי הוא כט] כישראל מומר שקדושיו קדושין. כד (ישראל מומר שעשה תשובה, א”צ לטבול; ל] רק מדרבנן (י) יש לו לטבול לא] ולקבל עליו דברי חבירות בפני ג’) (נ”י פ’ החולץ).
Shulchan Aruch Y.D. Hilchot Gerim 268:12
When a candidate comes to convert, we investigate the matter, for perhaps his motivation is because of pecuniary gain, or he wishes to attain respect within the community, or because he is motivated by fear. If the candidate is male, we investigate whether he might be interested in marrying a Jewish woman; the same applies if it is a female candidate, for perhaps she is converting because she is interested in a Jewish man.
If the court determines that s/he is sincere, the court informs the candidate the weightiness of the yoke of Torah, and the difficulties that are involved in its practice among the peoples of the lands. This is done in order to give the candidate the opportunity to change his (or her) mind and walk away. If, after this disclaimer has been given, he still accepts the precepts and refuses to separate, and the court sees that he is responding out of love—we accept him wholeheartedly.
In the event the court did not investigate the candidate’s motivation, or alternatively, and they neglected to inform him about the full gravity of his decision to embrace the faith, and the convert underwent ritual circumcision and immersed himself in the mikveh, in front of three commoners—this candidate is still considered as a full-fledged Jew, even if it is known he had an ulterior motive in wanting to convert.
Once that candidate already underwent ritual circumcision and immersion, he permanently loses his gentile status; however, we remain cautious of him [ the person who converted without disclosing his true intent to the court] until his integrity becomes evident. Should such a person revert to paganism, Jewish law still regards him as an Israelite in every respect; even as an “apostate Jew,” his act of betrothal is legitimate [However, even in the case where the convert to a pagan faith, he still has to undergo a ritual immersion--as a rabbinic precaution--Rema] and accept the precepts in front of three commoners.
Several important points emerge out of the above halacha. For one thing, rabbis are not necessarily a requisite for a conversion ceremony. Competent lay leadership suffices; in addition, while the tribunal has a duty to investigate, it is not necessary for them to be overly harsh and demanding when it comes to dealing with a conversion candidate. Even if the court neglects to do its part properly, the conversion remains inviolate. There is no such thing as a second class status for a person who converts; once he converts, he is the same as any other Jew, and should he sin, he is in no way inferior to a Jew in good standing.
Note that even in the extreme case of apostasy, the door remains open for the person to return; the second immersion is purely a ceremonial procedure, symbolizing the individual’s desire to renew his commitment to Judaism. At no time ever is the rabbinic court entitled to behave as law-enforcers who will micromanage the “Jew by choice,” and there is no doubt the rabbis would have been horrified if any of their colleagues ever behaved in such a distrustful manner. We may surmise that if today’s Haredim rabbis ever bothered to read this passage, they would see that their denial of today’s Orthodox converts runs contrary to Jewish law.
What is the real issue here? The Haredim are not interested in Halacha, they are really interested more in control; they wish to be the sole interpreters of Jewish law—and as far as the Orthodox rabbis who differ from them are concerned, damn them! The Haredi agenda is by no means limited to just Israel; they wish to impose their doctrines on the entire world Jewry—through any means possible, whether by persuasion or by blackmail and extortion.
Music offers a powerful interpretive way of viewing our society. Inspired by Sting, I decided to rewrite one of his songs as a parody of what is taking place in Israel, London, and elsewhere in the world—the Tallibanization of Orthodox Judaism. Here are the key expressions for our readers to learn:
Minhag = Orthodox custom; Mitzvah = divine commandments; shul = synagogue; psak din = legal decree that comes from an Orthodox rabbinic court; chumra = Halachic stringency; kula = a liberal halachic interpretation.
We’ll Be Watching You 8)
Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every minhag you break
Every step you take
We’ll be watching you
Every single day
Every word you pray
Every mitzvah you say, “Nay…”
Every shul you stay
We’ll be watching you
O can’t you see
You belong to we
Your heart will break with every psak din we make
Every move you make
Every Haredi vow you break
Every chumra you fake
Every kula you stake
We’ll be watching you