6/01/2006

More on the Conversion Controversy in the Media

Lots more coverage, with 2 articles appearing yesterday. Here’s the Jewish Press:
Sadly, the need for change is driven by other, more mundane, concerns as well. Many conversions here in America are accomplished by ad hoc batei din whose members do not possess the halachic expertise or experience to make the sort of painstaking judgments and evaluations that are required in a conversion or divorce. Some participants in ostensibly Orthodox batei din here in America are not even rabbis or Orthodox rabbis. Some rabbis nominally identified with Orthodoxy have pulpits in synagogues with no – or inadequate – mechitzas. Some do not enforce the halachic requirement of full acceptance of the responsibility to observe the mitzvot on the part of the convert/applicant. Indeed, some charge many thousands of dollars for conversions, creating the concern that people flock to them because of the relatively easy conversion procedure they offer. Some participants are deeply involved in the kiruv work of the convert/applicant and then sit as judges on the batei din that pass upon the adequacy of the conversion – a clear conflict of interest.
Bravo. Those are excellent reasons to worry about future conversions, but nearly every scenario mentioned would qualify post facto as a valid conversion. So how does this justify the pain you’re causing true gerei tzedek?

Yonason (nee Jonathan) Rosenblum has a JPost column where he writes:
It is also true that even would-be converts fully committed to accepting the yoke of mitzvot may find themselves caught in the jaws of an inefficient and sometimes cruel bureaucracy in the Chief Rabbinate. But curing that problem has nothing to do with lowering standards for conversion.
The Va'ad Olami L'Inyanei Giyur, founded by Rabbi Chaim Kreiswirth, the late chief rabbi of Antwerp, recently intervened with the Chief Rabbinate to expedite the handling of several such cases. Yet the same organization has spearheaded the international campaign for the recognition of a single standard of conversion, and for the creation of regional batei din specializing in conversion issues.
Gee. Where have I heard that before. I’d just say that ‘curing the problem’ of cruel bureaucracy has EVERYTHING to do with the way these standards are implemented. Our obligations to the widows, orphans, and converts are not about tormenting individuals as individuals, but whether or not we can build a society where compassion and sensitivity don’t get lost in the machinery. Maybe my problem is that I’ve read a bit too much of the Book of Isaiah.
Most of Rosenblum’s piece is a critique of this editorial from last week’s JPost, and particularly the last paragraph:
In case the Rabbinate has not noticed, the Jews are a small and shrinking people. The need to protect against insincere impostors seeking to join, assuming it exists, is far outweighed by the need to welcome those who willingly desire to enjoy what Judaism offers their families and the world, and to share in the Jewish fate. The Rabbinate of the Jewish state should be at the forefront of facilitating the choice of Judaism, rather than adding to the already excessive layers of impediments.
The writer of that editorial probably errs when addressing the ‘numbers’. The tension between universalism and particularism is present here, as it’s always been present. To dismiss one side of the coin is as egregious as dismissing the other.

Finally, the Jewish Week basically ripped off the Ha’aretz article and peppered it with a few new quotes. I’m convinced that Michelle Chabin reads this blog, the first to discuss the implications of standardizing divorce policies, and the first to totally shred her original story linking this to the Tendler business. That’s fine, but some attribution would be nice.
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