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We need to welcome the “Jews by Choice”–not repel them!

I must confess. For decades now, I have never been a fan of the  London Beth Din. I have felt this way ever since they invalidated Rabbi Shlomo Goren’s conversion back in the 1980s.  Well, recently, the London Beit Din has earned my respect again–not because I believe in their halachic positions on “Who is a Jew?” but because they put  Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet of Mill Hill Synagogue, chairman of the US [i.e., United Synagogue] Rabbinical Council, in his rightful place. Now, Schochet proposed the suspension a moratorium on all  conversions within the Orthodox world community.

What a bad idea!

Fortunately, the London Beth Din rejected Schochet’s novelty, saying that his comments  does not reflect the London Beit Din’s  “principles, policies or intended plans.”

Right on!

And the court went on to say, “As dayanim charged with the task of administering and overseeing the conversion process on behalf of Anglo-Jewry, we feel privileged to be involved in this vital and spiritual process. Righteous converts have made important contributions to our community and Anglo-Jewry is greatly enriched by their presence within our communities.”

Ditto. I could not have said it any better myself.

We need to welcome the “Jews by Choice”–not repel them! Perhaps this is the one issue all denominations of Judaism can agree on. We may disagree on the method and procedure of welcoming them, but we can ill-afford to follow Rabbi Schneersons’ foolish follower in Great Britain who, unfortunately, reflects his movement’s deep animus and distrust toward converts. The late Rebbe was responsible for sowing the seeds of discord by insisting on a “giyur khalacha” standard–implying that there is only ONE way to interpret Halacha. Haredi leaders joined the Schneerson bandwagon and the Jewish world has been at odds within itself ever since. Thank you Rabbi Schneerson.

Since when in the last 1800 years has any rabbinic court ever ruled for Jewish communities everywhere in the world? Historically,  halacha has never been so myopic or narrow. Great scholars have always differed since the early days of the Pharisees, e.g., Hillel and Shammai. Revocation of conversions is expressly forbidden in Jewish law. The current “Who is a Jew?” issue as championed by the late Rebbe, continues to create discord at a time when Jewish leaders should be promoting unity.

While I believe there are some fine Chabad rabbis serving their communities with distinction, its organization needs to discard their leader’s attitudes that are contrary to Jewish ethics, halacha, and especially–Jewish history with respect to those who consciously choose Judaism as their spiritual path.



Discussion

  1. Yochanan Lavie  February 14, 2010

    As has been often observed, today we all Jews by choice. In a free society, we can just walk, like the yeshiva student in the other post did, and many others.

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  2. David Samuels  February 22, 2010

    You are so wrong and you missed the whole point. Unless you are a reform rabbi, the notion of giyus kahalacha means only one thing. Converting in accordance with Jewish law. True in Talmudic times and beyond there was always debate as to the application of the law – but never did the conclusion contravene the fundamentals of the law itself. So when the Lubavitcher Rebbe insisted in giyur kahalacha – it was in response to the “law of return” and general non orthodox conversions.

    If you were intellectually honest you would know that there was never a schism in the world so widely generated as that of conversion. That was not triggered by Rabbi Schneerson, rather by reform movements who introduced their own model, essentially splitting the world on the very definition of a Jew. Reform leaders themselves have acknowledged this as noted in Schochet’s original article.

    The big issue today is the fact that Orthodoxy is discrediting one another on the basis of their own conversions (and the recent saga with EJF proves the point that there is vast corruption in the process, even amongst the so-called pristine organizations). So you are fooling no one with your diatribe that it is the fault of Lubavitch.

    To say that there is no basis in halacha to revoke conversions is flawed on two counts: 1) that’s not what Schochet was calling for – he was suggesting a cease-fire to conversions in the first instance. If you think that is against halcha then I challenge you for your sources. 2) Even in terms of revoking, where it is demonstrated that it is a ‘mekach tous’ then it is every bit within the rights of any Beth Din, just as the London Beth Dni (whose praises you are singing) have done on occasion. To say that is against halacha is using language to play up on the lack of knowledge of your readership and laying bare your own ignorance.

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  3. David Samuels  February 22, 2010

    FROM THIS WEEK’S JEWISH CHRONICLE

    I am somewhat baffled by the strong reactions to my article about conversion. The fact is that there is a raging and damaging controversy, causing profound anguish and harm to converts. Many underwent, or are in the process of, legitimate conversion, and now face the travesty of seeing their commitment questioned.

    For better or worse, I offered a suggestion for a possible “cease-fire” during which some acceptable resolution may be found. I have no problem with anyone disapproving of my suggestion. I fully understand and appreciate the reasoning behind its rejection, and it is at least as worthy as what I wrote.

    The tone of the vehement responses, however, is disturbing. It suggests stifling open discussions and debate, replacing dispassionate reasoning with emotive reactions and personalizing or politicizing the subject-matter. If I am shown to be wrong, I gladly acknowledge my error. Gratuitous accusations, however, including outrageous insults like “racism”, “narrow sectarianism” or “subliminal messianism”, do not an argument make and are beyond the pale.

    Despite the JC leader, I do not feel that the Beth Din statement rapped my knuckles, nor is there a “certain amount of backpedalling” on my part. Likewise, there is no need for me to recuse myself in cases of would-be converts as I have never been involved in conversions, and do not intend to do so in the future. That is the exclusive domain of the Beth Din which has my full trust and confidence.

    Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet
    Mill Hill Synagogue NW7

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  4. admin  February 22, 2010

    Actually, I must differ with you. You seem to think that the giyur k’halacha is a fairly new phenomena brought on my non-Orthodox conversions since the Law of Return. I am sorry to say that it isn’t quite accurate. Since the beginning of the Reform movement, Orthodox rabbis like David Tzvi Hoffman and Ben Tsion Uziel, developed a liberal approach, perhaps based on Maimonides’ original responsa that I cited earlier.

    Secondly, if you study Hilchot Gerim, there is NO reference to revocation of converts, nor is there even the concept of placing converts in a permanent state of limbo. Since this is a radically new concept in Halacha, the onus is on you to prove its existence in either the Codes (i.e., the Tur Shulchan Aruch, Maimonides MT, or R. Caro’s Shulchan Aruch).

    I already posted the relevant halachic texts. Kindly do the same, my friend.

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  5. admin  February 22, 2010

    Incidentally, there is no such concept as “mekach ta’ut” in Hilchot Gerim, as you wish to imply. Don’t conflate business law with the laws of conversion.

    There are many practical reasons why this must be so. Say, for example, a woman converts and becomes Haredi; she raises a Haredi family–even lives to have grandchildren who are Haredi–maybe great grandchildren who are Haredi.

    What would happen to the status of all those generations of Haredi Jews be if the original convert decides to become a Catholic on her 120th birthday?

    That decision, according to Haredi logic, would jeopardize the Jewish status possibly even three generations of Haredi Jews. That is why our ancestors had the common sense not to revoke conversions. If you think about it, I think you will agree that it is much more practical to consider a wayward convert as a “cho’te Yisrael” ( a “Jewish sinner”).

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