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Judaism: Conversion: An Open Letter to Ronn Torossian

Background and perspective on the conversion issue: the non-recognition of a convert by the Israeli Rabbinate, Rabbi A Gordimer's halakhic critique of Open Orthodoxy, Ronn Torossian's questions to the Chief Rabbinate.
Published: Wednesday, November 20, 2013 5:05 PM



There was always plenty of money for lobbyists, bigger temples and JCCs; but strangely, no money could be found to guarantee every American child a free, quality Jewish Day School education.
Dear Mr. Torossian,

I have read with great interest your defense of Rabbi Avi Weiss regarding his grievances against the Chief Rabbinate, as well as the arguments and rebuttals against the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) in general and Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer in particular. Perhaps I can offer some added background  and perspective on the current discussion.

I must begin by saying I enjoy your frequent writings on Israeli public affairs, Jabotinsky and Zionist Revisionism. Anyone saying that Israel has no hasbara (public relations, ed.) hasn’t read you.

I am also convinced that your advocacy in this matter is born out of a sense of justice and fair play. You suggested that Rabbi Weiss is aggrieved because the Chief Rabbinate has an unfair monopoly on conversions, and that “…a number of Orthodox Rabbis have had their ability to verify that Jews are Jewish taken away from them.”

Further: “If certain communal Rabbis aren't worthy of verifying someone is Jewish, someone should stand up and explain why…There is nothing kosher about secret rabbinical doctrines. “

As a point of information: the Israeli Chief Rabbinate only has authority on the validity of conversions in Israel; American congregational rabbis are free to convert whom they wish. Unless an American convert wants to make aliyah, the opinion of the Chief Rabbinate is inconsequential.

Now on to your main point, that there is a mysterious cabal deciding secret rabbinical doctrines.

Do you remember the old George Carlin shtick about partial sports scores? In his most serious newscaster voice, he would intone, “Turning to the world of baseball, New York 3.” Huh? To claim that this or that rabbi has been ‘blacklisted’ is like a partial baseball score – it’s only part of the story and doesn’t convey any real information.

Here’s the broader context: We Jews are Bnei Brit – the People of the Covenant, meaning that we have a unique covenantal relationship with the A-lmighty. The protections afforded by that contract are contingent on us Jews performing the 613 mitzvoth. The terms are quite explicit: do no work on the Sabbath Day; keep kosher; tzitzit, tefillin, etc. etc.

So converting to Judaism is a serious business; it is irrevocable, and obligates the new convert to a whole host of mitzvoth from which he or she was previously exempt. It cannot be entered into lightly, or for frivolous reasons; conversion to Judaism holds the new convert to a much higher standard of behavior than he or she previously knew. Therefore the process is lengthy and difficult, with many opportunities along the way for the potential convert to reconsider before they commit to the terms of the “contract.”

Precisely because the Jewish adherence to the Covenant has enabled the Jewish people to survive 2000 years of relentless persecution in exile, the sine qua non of a righteous convert is their willingness to keep the mitzvoth.

Unfortunately, for the last 30 or 40 years liberal rabbis have been converting people by the boatload, to fill both the pews and the synagogue coffers. Insofar as the rabbis overseeing these conversion mills have largely rejected the verities of Jewish belief – our unique calling among the nations as a Covenanted People, the obligation of the mitzvoth, and the authority of the Book from which they both derive, it should hardly come as a surprise that (in general) these misguided ‘converts’ have had little Jewish education or training and no intention of keeping the Sinaitic Covenant of the 613. Standards, shmandards. Like Lou Jacobi said, “when you’re in love, the whole world is Jewish, right?”

Neither the Chief Rabbinate nor the RCA created this tragic state of affairs, but they certainly have had to develop mechanisms to deal with it. Your righteous indignation should be directed at those who have willfully engineered this demographic Hiroshima.

In this context, the need to vet any rabbi overseeing diaspora conversions should be obvious.

As to the “validity” of a specific rabbi’s conversions: a person is judged by their actions and their words, not by their titles or their alma mater. The labels “Orthodox,” “Conservative,” or “Reform” are meaningless in this context. Many bright young rabbis from prestigious yeshivot have gone the way of Elisha ben Avuya; and I know for a fact that, in the years before this conversion crisis developed, the conversions of certain “Conservative” rabbis were recognized by the Chief Rabbinate.

No doubt you are familiar with the results of the recent Pew Study, “A Portrait of Jewish Americans.”  The data doesn’t lie: American Judaism is euthanizing itself. For a majority (62%) of American Jews, Jewishness is a cultural identity and nothing more. Bagels and lox on Sunday. The high priests of the morally bankrupt ideologies that have held sway over American Jewish life have failed by any objective measure.

It has always fascinated me that there was always plenty of money for lobbyists, bigger temples and JCCs; but strangely, no money could be found to guarantee every American child a free, quality Jewish Day School education. Well, here’s some sobering news: based on the Pew study, those gaudy temples and JCCs will soon be churches, or bingo parlors, or mosques.

These leaders have systematically destroyed American Jewish Life and dumbed-down the very definition of Jewishness.  Why on earth would we desire their input in Halachic matters in Israel, where the scourge of Halachic dissent has (thank Gcd) made almost no inroads?

Few who have had to deal with the Chief Rabbinate would argue that it is long overdue for fundamental administrative reform.  Like most Israeli bureaucracies, it is unwieldy, inefficient and not user friendly. But the core mission of the Chief Rabbinate must not change. Jewish Unity is ensured only by evenhanded application of the settled standards of Jewish Law – the Halakhah.

May Gcd bless you and strengthen you in your continued work on behalf of the State of Israel and her citizens.

Cordially,

Rabbi Yehoshua Mizrachi, Allentown, PA

Rabbi Mizrachi works and teaches Torah in the Lehigh Valley until he can resume his aliyah. His parasha blog can be found at www.torahovereasy.blogspot.com.