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On Ruth And Conversions

On Ruth And Conversions

The responses from Rabbis Avi Shafran and Allen Schwartz (Letters, June 24) to Gary Rosenblatt’s column (June 17) stating that Ruth’s conversion wouldn’t be accepted by today’s Israeli Chief Rabbinate are unpersuasive, laced with platitudes and avoid Rosenblatt’s central point.

Even accepting the argument that Ruth’s scriptural statement, “Your God will be my God” likely entails more extensive commitments than the superficial promise to somehow “be Jewish,” Rosenblatt’s basic concern is still valid and well taken. The disturbing fact remains that many sincerely motivated and deeply observant Orthodox converts, educated and attested to by highly competent and respected Orthodox rabbis, have been rejected and their lives upended, with an insensitivity bordering on cruelty, by halachically inexplicable rulings from the Chief Rabbinate and others.

Rabbi Shafran claims the Israeli rabbinate is simply trying to “ensure that conversions … comply with the timeless requirements” for conversion, and that converting those “who do not meet those requirements … casts doubt on the Jewishness of true converts…” How does that assertion apply to the recent case of a pious young woman instructed and approved for conversion by Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, an icon of the Modern Orthodox community, who was refused permission to marry in Israel? To cast implied aspersions upon her as someone who has failed to meet proper conversion requirements or is not a “true convert” is offensive and outrageous. The fact that Rabbi Lookstein was reportedly not on an “approved list” of acceptable rabbis regarding conversion decisions calls into question the process and competence involved in the compilation of such “lists” by those allegedly protecting Klal Yisrael from religious impostors. Of course, this is not the only such case.

Rabbi Schwartz advocates “working with the current righteous Ruths of the world and making them part of a halachic community.” I ask again how this reconciles with the above case. He also refers to Rosenblatt’s assertion about Ruth’s conversion as “throwing red meat” to critics of the Israeli conversion situation. This is an unfortunately dismissive reaction to a serious problem. I’m confident such rhetoric will not deter The Jewish Week’s continued examination of the issue.

Alan M. Schwartz (no relation to — Rabbi Schwartz) Teaneck, N.J.

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