Thursday, November 05, 2009

When Yoel Met Yael

I wish them nothing but happiness. The beautiful Ivanka (Yael) Trump married handsome Jared (Yoel Chaim) Kushner last week in what was probably one of the most talked about events of the year. This ‘merger’ between two of the wealthiest families in the world is enough to make headlines around the world. The celebrity surrounding Ivanka’s father Donald Trump surely added to this. Ivanka has herself been featured on his successful television show ‘The Apprentice’. So she is not a stranger to celebrity either.

What makes this event significant to Orthodox Jewry is the fact that Jared Kushner was raised a Modern Orthodox Jew. Ivanka Trump was not Jewish. She has recently converted to Judaism. It was an Orthodox conversion. In subsequent public appearances I noticed that although she does dress modestly in accordance with Halacha she does not cover her hair. That of course is very common in Modern Orthodox circles.

The question arises about whether a woman who will not cover her hair should be allowed to convert. I assume that Ivanka Kushner has accepted the requirement of Mitzvah observance. The vast majority of Poskim hold that this is a necessary component of conversion. I’m sure she is therefore now a Sabbath observer, keeps Kosher, and observes family purity laws. But I doubt she ever accepted the requirement to cover her hair. According to most Poskim, however a married woman is required by Halacha to cover her hair.

Rav Moshe Feinstein held that if one upon conversion says they accept the requirement of Mitzvah observance- and then immediately after the ritual ignores Halacha – by for example eating a cheeseburger – there is no greater proof that one never really accepted the Mitzvos. The whole thing was one big sham from beginning to end. The person is not Jewish.

That said even Rav Moshe would agree that if the acceptance was truly sincere, then if one completely rejects the Mitzvos immediately after the conversion the conversion is legitimate. Not observing any of them makes them a Mumar Yisroel – a sinful Jew. It’s just that in the above example he says there was never any real doubt that Mitzvah observance was going to be ignored. Therefore there was never any real acceptance. ‘Saying ‘I accept’ and not really meaning it is – well – meaningless.

The Gemarah is also very clear about how much a convert must really know about Judaism before converting. The answer is - not that much really. They must commit to keeping all of the Mitzvos – are taught some basics and convert immediately. They are also told to keep learning and keep the Mitzvos as they learn them.

The question is how far do we go with the requirement to observe Mitzvos? Is not covering hair a deal breaker? What if the rabbi who performed the conversion told a convert that this was a Halacha and a female convert accepted it. Then she sees many Modern Orthodox women who do not cover their hair and decides that she doesn’t want to really cover it either. Does this invalidate the conversion?

I was told not too long ago of one situation like this where a convert was ‘caught’ with her hair uncovered in a remote area and her conversion was nullified by the converting rabbi. Was this correct? The rabbi contended that this was a clear violation of ‘the agreement’ to observe Mitzvos and he therefore revoked her conversion.

If a convert is converted by a very Charedi Rav who insists on Charedi Hashkafos and Charedi Psak - must his convert take upon himself the Charedi position? Or may he – after becoming more sophisticated about differences between Poskim rely on - even far reaching Kulos? May converts change their lifestyles from a Charedi one to a Modern Orthodox one?

As I have said many times here, I am not a Posek. But it would seem to me that the meaning of requiring Mitzvah observance should only mean at the most minimum level. As long as there is this commitment - the conversion is valid. I don’t mean to say they should accept more stringent views if they wish. Of course they can. But it should not be a deal breaker if they are lenient to the maximum extent Halacha allows.

Most areas of Halacha of course overlap among all observant Jews - from the most extreme left wing to the most extreme right wing. But in areas of difference of which there are many a convert should have the right to choose whichever Psak Halacha they are the most comfortable with – as long as it legitimate. If they converted Charedi and decide later to be Modern Orthodox – that should in no way invalidate the conversion.

So this Rav who supposedly revoked a conversion like this was wrong. He had absolutely no right to nullify it just because he caught his convert with her hair uncovered - if indeed there is even one obscure but legitimate Posek who permits it.

And certainly Ivanka Trump who was probably never required to cover her hair as part of the conversion process is Jewish. Her conversion was Orthodox and legitimate. Rabbi Haskell Lookstein was the Mesader Kedushin – the officiating rabbi. He is a man of high integrity and he would never have officiated if the conversion was invalid.

On a separate note I read an article last weekend that asked the question ‘Is Ivanka Trump Good for the Jews? I don’t really think that is a fair question to ask. We are required by Halacha to accept converts into the congregation of Israel and not look as to whether it is a good thing or not. But that doesn’t stop anyone form speculating about it. So I will offer my 2 cents.

Yes it is a good thing. It is in fact a great thing when a popular figure converts to Orthodox Judaism. That is a Kiddush HaShem. Ivanka Trump who had every material thing in the world chose to embrace the yoke of Torah. In the process she just about single-handedly brought Tznius back into vogue.

She has also made it acceptable for an individual from high society to convert. No more snootiness from the upper crust about ‘those people’. As the article I read points out, back in the twenties it was about as taboo as it could be for a Jew to enter that world. That was demonstrated when the heiress to the Comstock Lode mining fortune married a Jew named Irving Berlin. She was disinherited.

Today the opposite happened. A non Jew from that society converted to Judaism. It hardly makes a blip in the radar. This conversion is just another step in our acceptance as full fledged members of American society. While there are still pockets of anti Semitism here -they are becoming increasingly rare. And the once snooty upper crust – well they are still snooty but being Jewish does not apparently mean that much anymore - one way or the other.

What a country.