Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Widening the Chasm

There has been another meeting of EJF - Eternal Jewish Family - headed by Rabbi Leib Tropper. And if one reads the list of attendees, it’s almost a who’s who of right wing Orthodox rabbinic leadership.

Curiously there was also not a single Rav or Dayan - right wing or otherwise – who was listed as attending from Chicago. We have our share of Orthodox conversions here too. Some are done by right wing rabbis. I did not see a single name from Chicago!

Nor were there any Centrist of modern Orthodox rabbis or Dayanim. At least none were listed by YWN in their report.

Aside from my issues with some of the tactics used by Rabbi Tropper with respect to converts - I have to wonder why that was the case? I would suggest that this shows a widening chasm between RW and Centrist Modern Orthodox rabbinic leaders. Have they already written off the rest of us?

That is ironic since there seems to be a merging of the two populations. As I have written about in the past moderate right wing Jews and Centrist or right wing modern Orthodox Jews are finding a lot of common ground at the center.

Some may remember that I wrote about two conversion cases that Rabbi Tropper dealt with harshly. One was where he voided his own conversion of a woman he ‘caught’ with her hair uncovered and wearing slacks. Another was a woman who could not prove her Jewish lineage and who he promised to help via a conversion just to be sure there would be no doubt about her status as a Jew. He reneged in the end because she refused to move out of a city where there was no Mikvah even though she was completely sincere about observing Mitzvos. She refused for Parnassa reasons.

I have great difficulty with a man who uses such tactics and leads a worldwide organization to standardize conversion practices. I don’t see how anyone can trust this man.

And yet there he was attracting the crème de la crème of right wing Orthodox Jewish leadership. Do they subscribe to his tactics?

This leads me to ask some tough questions. YWN reports the following:

…the message from a number of Gedolei Hatorah was that only “giyur lechumrah” (conversion according to the highest standards of halacha) can help safeguard the “identity and integrity” of the Jewish nation.

OK, I can accept that as a general statement. After all why not have the strictest standards so there can never be any doubt? Besides - sincere converts need not worry.

Or do they? Looking at Rabbi Tropper’s tactics, I’d say that if he is in charge they do have something to worry about.

In light of his leadership and his tactics, on e has to wander what is meant by the ‘highest standards of Halacha’. I am absolutely certain they are referring to Kabbolas Ol.

Just to quickly review - the basic requirements of conversion there are 3 steps for a man and 2 for a women. 1. Mila (circumcision) for a man, 2. Tevilah (immersion in a Kosher Mikva ) 3. Kabbolas Ol (acceptance of the burden - to observe all the Mitzvos of the Torah). The third requirement is the tricky one and where all the controversy lies. Not going to go into great detail. Been there and done that.
But the following questions cannot be avoided and remain unanswered in my mind. What is the standard for Kabbolas Ol? And how does one determine sincerity? If there is blatant violation of Mitzvos immediately after the conversion –is that proof that any the acceptance is a sham? What if a convert accepts Kabbolas Ol sincerely and then finds it too hard? Is the conversion invalidated? Is there a difference between not observing Shabbos and a woman nort covering her hair?

Remember that the Gemarah tells us that that converts do not have to be knowledgeable in the detail of observance. They just have to be sincere in accepting observance in a general way without any detailed knowledge about what to do. They are taught details of Halacha afterward and observe as they learn. The Gemarah also tells us that as long as a convert is sincere at the moment of conversion he is Jewish. And that if he later violates all the Mitzvos in the Torah – that does not invalidate the conversion. What if a convert is sincere and later changes his mind – say after a week? Is their conversion nullified?

But the trickiest question of all is the following. What if a convert sees the value of observant Judaism in a modern Orthodox setting and converts as a modern Orthodox Jew is their conversion valid? Or taken a step further what if a woman converted by a right wing rabbi who tells her she must cover her hair. She accepts this and later finds it too difficult. She sees modern Orthodox women and concludes that it’s OK to do that. Nor does her modern Orthodox rabbi tell her she must. Is her conversion invalidated?

Did Rabbi Tropper have a right to invalidate a conversion of a woman who adopts a modern Orthodox lifestyle – even if she promised to keep the right wing lifestyle? If she changes her mind about being right wing but retains her general observance Mitzvos like Shabbos, Kashrus, and Mikva - does that invalidate her conversion? That seems to be what Rabbi Tropper thinks. Is he right? Or did his nullification even work?

I am not asking this as a general Halachic matter. I am asking this to the very Rabbanim and Dayanim who are involved with EJF. How far do we go with this standard of Chumra in conversion? How would they answer these questions? – Even if one accepts that we must be Machmir?

Why does it concern me? There will be two Orthodox populations - each with a difference whose chasm may be unbridgeable. One will not recognize the validity of Jews converted by the other. Over time these two populations will be unable to intermarry – God forbid.