Rabbi Riskin: Hareidim Are the Biggest 'Reformers'

Efrat Rabbi slams conversion law critics, accuses them of pushing people away instead of following commandment to love converts.

Ido Ben-Porat ,

הרב שלמה ריסקין
הרב שלמה ריסקין
צילום: פלאש 90

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Rabbi of Efrat in Gush Etzion and founder of Ohr Torah Stone, strongly criticized hareidi Knesset members on Tuesday for their stance on the government's conversion reforms.

In an interview with Galei Yisrael radio, Rabbi Riskin defended the proposed government decision regarding conversion which would remove Chief Rabbinate supervision of the conversion process, and criticized its opponents.

"I do not understand the whole issue. Yes, I think there is a (Torah) commandment of 'you shall love the convert.' Yes, I think that the Chief Rabbinate until now did not know what it is to get someone who wants to convert treated properly, with love and care," he fired. "How dare they say that my conversions were not done according to Jewish Law?" 

In response the interviewer, attorney Dov Halberthal - who is himself hareidi - said, "They say it's an issue of love replacing halakha (Jewish law)."

Rabbi Riskin replied, "It's not 'instead of halakha.' The halakha itself talks about love. Don't you know a very simple mishna (Talmudic tract): 'be disciples of Aharon, loving peace and pursuing peace?' Love people and bring them closer to Torah through love." 

Halberthal continued to respond, claiming that applies to "Jewish people and not the Gentiles," but Rabbi Riskin retorted: "there is no place in where it says that 'people' means 'Jews.' It means 'human beings' - period."

Halberthal then presented the position of many in the hareidi world that "neither the halakha nor the Jews want converts," apparently interpreting the Jewish prerogative to warn converts against the hardships of being a Jew as meaning Judaism opposes conversion entirely - a sentiment to which Rabbi Riskin responded harshly.

"That is against the halakhic tradition! I'll tell you, in my opinion the hareidim are the biggest 'Reformers', in many many things, including opposition enlistment into the army because 'there is nothing but Talmud (study)," he said, in a dig at hareidi opposition which has claimed those supporting the bill align with the Reform movement. 

"There is no (early halakhic authority) who says that learning Torah physically protects peoples' lives," he said, in a swipe at the hareidi position that yeshiva study should itself be considered national service.

"There is room for dissenting opinions in Judaism," Riskin declared. "There is no one who says that their way is the only way in Judaism - to say so is to be Catholic and follow the Pope," he exclaimed. 

The Chief Rabbinate previously warned it would not accept converts under the new law given the fact that it would not be able to supervise the conversion process, and warned that world rabbis likewise have stated they will be forced not to accept Israeli conversions if the Chief Rabbinate is stripped of its supervision.