On Conversion, Two Reminders

On Conversion, Two Reminders

The conversion problem could be solved very simply if someone would remind the haredim of two things. One, that the Knesset is not a halachic body. The Knesset’s definition of a Jew is a political definition for the purposes of the Law of Return. It is, simply, if you are considered a Jew in your country of origin, you will be considered a Jew for the purposes of the Law of Return. In other words, if Hitler would kill you, the Jewish state will take you in.

Second, the haredim must be reminded that never since the Maccabees have rabbis turned to the police power of the state to enforce their interpretation of halacha. The powers of the rabbi rested in his persuasive ability, and, in rare cases, the communal cherem [ostracism], most famously used for Spinoza and Mordechai Kaplan. 

In regard to converts, no one would ever dream of telling a haredi rabbi that he must recognize any conversion that does not meet his halachic standards. But at the same time, the haredi rabbi cannot use the power of the state to enforce his halachic interpretation on those who differ in halachic conclusions. So any rabbi can perform marriages, as he feels is halachically appropriate. 

An invitation to chaos? Not really. It works in America. Every rabbi can choose to marry or bury as each sees halachically appropriate. The rabbi may want to investigate the family tree. That is entirely appropriate. But, as has been the case since Hillel and Shammai, some rabbis will be stringent and some will be lenient, and the world will continue. 

Congregation Aviv Hadash

Staten Island 



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