Revivim, rabbi Eliezer Melamed
Revivim, rabbi Eliezer Melamed

Support for Minister Kahana’s Conversion Plan

In the situation that has been created, it is a mitzvah to follow the opinion of the poskim who rule leniently, and accept a convert who intends to live as a traditional Jew – as long as his principled approach to Torah and mitzvot is positive * Rabbi Eliezer Waldman ztz”l agreed to cooperate with Reform Jews for Clal-Yisraeli purposes, but stood firmly on the truth in opposition to them on the issue of conversion, and considering them as rabbis * He vehemently opposed boycotts, and argued that Rabbi Kook’s proclamations regarding the Temple Mount have no influence on today’s ruling

About a week ago, my position on the issue of conversion was published:

“I support the initiative of the Minister of Religions, Matan Kahana, in restoring the authority of conversion to local rabbis. This is the law from time immemorial, namely, that every rabbi is authorized to convert. This was the practice in the State of Israel until about thirty years ago, and similarly, it is fitting and correct today, in order to open the majority of doors for immigrants from Jewish families who are not halachically Jews, to convert according to halakha. I hope that this initiative will add Torah and mitzvot in Israel, and on account of it, more immigrants will return to their roots, and more Jews in the Land of Israel will be strengthened in keeping tradition, in the love of Torah, and in keeping mitzvot.”

I will elaborate a bit on the issue (based on my book, “HaMasoret HaYehudit” 18: 6).

Acceptance of the Mitzvot

The foundation of conversion is that the ger (convert) accepts upon himself the great vision of Am Yisrael, realized by way of Torah and mitzvot. Therefore, if a ger says that in principle, he is not willing to keep a certain mitzvah, he is not converted (Bechorot 30b). If, nonetheless, he was converted with the knowledge that in principle he does not agree to accept some of the mitzvot – his conversion is void. Consequently, conversion in a Reform or Conservative framework is not a valid conversion, since their principled position is that it is not necessary to observe all the mitzvot according to the tradition of Israel. And if this “ger” married a Jewish woman, and then left her – she is permitted to marry a Jew without receiving a get (a divorce according to Jewish law) from him.

On the other hand, anyone who has accepted the Torah and the mitzvot according to the tradition of Israel, although he is unfamiliar with the majority of the mitzvot, since in principle he is interested in keeping the mitzvot, his conversion is valid. Moreover, even if at the time of conversion he fears he will not be able to keep some of the mitzvoth, such as Shabbat, because perhaps his yetzer (evil inclination) will overcome him, or because of the necessity of earning a living – since in principle he wants to keep the mitzvot, his conversion is valid.

The question is: what is the law when a ger does not intend to live as a dati (observant) Jew, but only as a masoriti (traditional) Jew? Should, le-chatchila (from the outset), he be accepted?

The Opinion that a Ger who intends to be Masoriti Should Not be Accepted

According to many poskim (Jewish law arbiters), he should not be accepted, since only a person who intends to keep all the mitzvot as a dati Jew, should be accepted as a ger. However, if the ger accepted upon himself to keep all the mitzvot, and the Beit Din (Jewish law court) decided to convert him, but after the conversion he weakened, to the point where he stopped keeping Torah and mitzvot – he is still considered a Jew. For just as a Jew who does not keep Torah and mitzvot remains a Jew, similarly, a ger who converted according to halakha but stopped observing mitzvot, remains a Jew.

The Opinion that He Can be Accepted

There are poskim who rule leniently, and are of the opinion that even if the ger intends to live as a masoriti Jew – as long as his principled approach to Torah and mitzvot is positive, he should be accepted. First, since he is interested in keeping the mitzvot, there is a chance that over time he will keep them all. Second, the mitzvot that he intends to observe are countless, and indicate a genuine desire to join the destiny of Am Yisrael: all the numerous mitzvot bein adam le-chaveiro (between man and his fellow neighbor) which are the foundation of the entire Torah, as well as many other mitzvot, including brit milah (circumcision), nisu’in (marriage), halvayah (funeral), aveilut (mourning), and eating kosher food. And even if he does not intend to keep all the laws of Shabbat, he does intend to refrain from working on Shabbat, to honor it by lighting candles and making kiddush, and to celebrate all the Chagim (holidays). And if he enlists in the IDF, well then, he keeps all the mitzvot related to yishuv ha’aretz (settlement of the Land) and the defense of Israel, about which our Sages said, these mitzvot are equivalent to all the other mitzvot.

In practice, even according to the strict opinion, if a Beit Din decided to act in accordance with the lenient opinion and accepted a ger who intends to live as a masoriti Jew – his conversion is valid.

Summary

There are currently hundreds of thousands of people living in Israel who, according to halakha, are not Jews, but are descendants of Jewish families, identify themselves as Israeli and Jewish, and are interested in returning to their roots. On the one hand, the majority of them want to convert and live as masoriti Jews. On the other hand, if they do not convert, they will establish families with Jews who will also move away from the Jewish tradition. In this situation, it is a mitzvah to open the possibility for all rabbis of the lenient opinion, to establish Batei Din and convert them, thereby adding Torah and mitzvot in Israel.

Ultimately, the main goal is for the entire Jewish public to grow in Torah and mitzvot, and in this way, the converts will also grow together with Clal Yisrael.

From the Words of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Concerning Meeting with Reform Jews

Last week, I spoke about Rabbi Eliezer Waldman ztz”l. Now, I will add things he said to me in regards to Reform Jews:

Several times he was invited to talk to Reform congregations and participate in panels with Reform rabbis, and asked our teacher and mentor, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda, whether to participate. Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda replied that if they wished to listen, of course he should speak to them, and added with satisfaction, that after the establishment of the State of Israel, the Reform movement began to change direction: initially it was in the process of moving away from Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael, but now, after the Holocaust, the general direction is a return to the values of the Nation and the Land. Some joined the Zionist Organization, and others returned to the traditional wording recalling the Land of Israel in their prayer books (unfortunately, today there are also opposite trends). Rabbi Shapira ztz”l and Rabbi Eliyahu ztz”l spoke similarly, as well.

Rabbi Waldman added: I always understood from Rabbeinu, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda, that regardless of the fact that positive changes of rapprochement to the values ​​of the Nation and the Land had begun to take place, it was possible to participate with them in Clal-Yisraeli matters, such as for the sake of Russian Jewry, and against anti-Semitism. The intention of course, is with the rabbis, since the rabbi is the person who manages the life of the Jewish community, and in addition to religious affairs, organizes all social activities; consequently, everything depends on him, and only if he is involved in the activity, will his congregants take part.

About his Lecture in Los Angeles

There was a Reform congregation in Los Angeles, which at the time was the largest in America, and the rabbi there was probably the only one who supported right-wing positions in relation to the Land of Israel. Therefore, he invited Rabbi Waldman to speak to the community (not in the synagogue) about Hebron, and Judea and Samaria. The rabbi told him that they would probably ask difficult questions, including about conversion, because in those days there were discussions in the Knesset about conversion according to halakha.

After finishing his speech about Eretz Yisrael, a woman stood up and said: “I am a Reform convert! What do you have against me?!” Rabbi Waldman replied: “I have nothing against you. I assume you really want to belong to the Jewish people, but I do have a claim against whoever converted you. He should have told you that, indeed, there are people who convert in different ways, but there is only one conversion by which you will be accepted as a Jew amongst all of Israel, and that is conversion according to halakha.”

Telling the Truth with Sensitivity

He also related:

I was invited to participate in a panel at the Plaza Hotel in Jerusalem in front of an American audience. The organizer asked me to arrive early so that the participants of the panel could talk, and get to know each other. I was happy about that, because I wanted to ask them their names, so that in the panel, I could call them by their name without the title “Rav” or “Rabbi” as is customary in America. Indeed, when it was my turn to speak, I opened and said that I was happy to be here and participate along with some friends – so and so – without mentioning their title rabbi. The Reform rabbi jumped up and said to me: “Call me Rabbi! Why don’t you call me Rabbi?” I replied: “If you want me to call you rabbi, I am willing to call you rabbi, because in my opinion, every person should be called by the name he wishes to be called by. But I will not hide from you the fact that I do not recognize you as a qualified rabbi, because there are criteria for a qualified rabbi.”

He argued against me: “Indeed, there are intellectual criteria, and I meet them, because I have sufficient knowledge.” I said to him: “Not only do we need knowledge, but also moral-ethical criteria and they are emuna (faith), kabbalat ol Malchut Shamayim (accepting the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven), Torah min ha’Shamayim (Torah from Heaven), kiyum mitzvot (observance of mitzvoth), etc.”

In the end, since Rabbi Waldman respected him and complied with his request to call him a rabbi, they concluded the meeting with respect and friendship.

An Explanation of the Situation of Reform Jews

Rabbi Waldman ztz”l added that the Reform public follows their rabbi, and if we do not respect him – they will all be insulted. In addition, the public that becomes members of the Reform community joins with the intention of connecting to Judaism, which is a positive direction. There are those who are not even aware there is another option. Nevertheless, even those who are aware that religious communities exist, but prefer to join the Reform community because of its easier demands – in the end, they want a connection to the Jewish people, which is good.

I asked Rabbi Waldman ztz”l what he would answer a person who asked if it would be better for him to join a Reform community, or to be left without one? He replied: Unfortunately, there is a large American public that is not connected to any community, and is disconnected from the Jewish people. Therefore, it is certainly better to belong to a Reform community, than no community at all.”

Incidentally, I have asked rabbis from abroad what the customary answer is to this question among all rabbis abroad, including those from all the various circles. They replied that almost all rabbis respond “it is better to belong to a Reform community”, but many of them add “but do not say it in my name”, and some even add “and if you say it in my name – I will deny it”…

On Boycotts and the Temple Mount

Rabbi Waldman ztz”l added that the whole issue of boycotts is distressing, and not a good thing. When Rabbi Kook ztz”l established the Talmud Torah in Jaffa where they combined vocational and language studies, people argued against him that rabbis of the previous generation had imposed a boycott on doing so. He responded that the boycott greatly upset him, especially considering that times change, and a claim should not be made from a judgement said in a different time and place, to our generation.

Similarly, in regards to those who printed posters with Rabbi Kook’s signature that it is forbidden to ascend Har HaBayit (the Temple Mount), he said, what do things written nearly a hundred years ago have to do with our times? Only one foundation can be learned from this – that the halakha follows Rambam, and not like Ra’avad, namely, that there is kedusha (holiness) on Har HaBayit even after the Destruction. However, if one ascends in holiness in the permitted areas, then it is good. This concludes his remarks.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.

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