Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Improving the Conversion Experience

Bethany Mandel (Twitter)
Last October as a result of the egregious behavior of Barry Freundel, a once respected Modern Orthodox rabbi, the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) decided to review its standardized conversion protocols (GPS - Geirus Protocol and Standards). This was done as a reaction to Freundel’s abuse of power - feeding his voyeuristic compulsions. Freundel secretly set up cameras in the Mikva so he could watch and record his female converts completely naked. (Immersion in a ritual pool known as a Mikva is a one of the requirements of all converts). He was caught and eventually sentenced to 6 ½ years in prison.

The RCA set up committee consisting of RCA rabbis and female experts in their areas of concern. These included a convert who is an expert in litigation,a teacher of family purity laws, a Yoetzet, a female convert who was one of Freundel’s victims, and a psychotherapist. The RCA has announced their recommendations. Which deal with a broad range of issues that go beyond the precipitating event of Freundel’s voyeurism.

One may recall that Rabbi Steven Pruzansky resigned from his membership in the RCA conversion court of his community. He did so to protest what he saw a feminist motive infiltrating the Halachic process of conversions by virtue of the fact that women would be involved in this committee.

In my view he was grossly mistaken in that perception. These women were not involved at all in the Halachic process. And feminism had absolutely nothing to do with choosing to include women in that committee. The reasons women were chosen should be obvious. Female input is vital to assuring that the concerns of female converts are understood and properly dealt with. No one on that committee was in a position to change any of the conversion protocols.

If I understand correctly - their sole purpose was to study the problems involved in some conversions and make recommendations where they felt improvement was needed. This is exactly what they did.  To the best of my knowledge none of these recommendations come anywhere near violating any Halacha. Nor do they advance the cause of feminism one iota. They are all good suggestions and I suspect the RCA will adopt them all.

The fact that the religious authorities that guide the RCA consists of Rabbis Gedlia Dov Schwartz,  Hershel Shachter, and Mordechai Willig add to my conviction that Rabbi Pruzansky was not only wrong, but by his resignation insinuated that these distinguished rabbis have sold out to feminism. I am 100% convinced that if the RCA set up a committee that in any way did what Rabbi Pruzansky accused them of, they would have resigned from the RCA.  Does Rabbi Pruzansky believe feel that their judgment is impaired?  

It is a testament to the RCA that their committee’s deliberations have gotten approval from Bethany Mandel, one of the members of that committee and the victim who exposed Freundel to the public.

There are some interesting statistics that have been compiled by this committee via a survey they took of RCA converts and rabbis. The purpose of which is to get their input into what they would like to see improved in the conversion process that they experienced. 439 Orthodox converts and 107 sponsoring rabbis were interviewed.  Among their findings are answers to questions dealt with here. One of which surprised me. In answer to a question of why they converted to Judaism the survey:

 Eighty percent cited “spiritual-intellectual search” as their reason for Orthodox conversion.

The conventional wisdom is that most converts do it for emotional reasons. Like feeling more welcome, or seeing an Orthodox lifestyle as more family friendly. Not necessarily intellectual ones that might be reached by rational thought. Although I have said that I believe that there must be an intellectual reason as well, I thought it was secondary to the emotional one. But if this survey is a reflection of reality -  it seems I stand corrected. 80% is a huge percentage of converts. And they came to Judaism because they believed it to be Emes.  They discovered a spiritual truth reached via intellectual means.

Now atheists can say that they too reached their conclusions by intellectual means. But what they can’t say is that those who went in the opposite direction and became observant didn’t. 80% of them did.

There are a few other statistics that I found interesting. Like 78% of RCA converts are women. And 72% are between the ages of 20-39. But for me, what stood out was the fact that the reasons why people convert to Judaism are intellectual. And I am very happy to hear that.