Conversion Controversy

From: Britney

Dear Rabbi,

I and many other non-religious Jews are very upset about the intolerant position of Orthodoxy against non-Orthodox conversions. Who are the rabbis to decide what conversion is kosher or not? And shouldn’t they be interested in maintaining the unity of the Jewish People rather than causing divisiveness? Anyway, many converts are even more serious about their Jewishness than born Jews; yet the latter are to be considered Jewish while the former are not? What’s more, if the Orthodox don’t recognize Reform and Conservative converts to be Jewish, that effectively declares Reform and Conservative Jews to be not Jewish. And what about the soldiers in Israel who feel strongly enough about Judaism to convert and sacrifice their lives for the Orthodox, while the Orthodox don’t serve and yet have the audacity to reject those who do serve in the army as not Jewish?!

Dear Britney,

I was impressed by two things about your question. One is your passion about your Judaism, whose matters you clearly very much take to heart. The other is that, when confronted with questions about the Orthodox position, you are sincere enough to seek to understand the Orthodox position, directly from an Orthodox source.

Still, I pain over your bitter resentment, not because there is any truth to it, but because you, and so many others whose opinion you voice, have so blindly and gullibly swallowed such bombastic yet vacuous propaganda, whose only purpose is to justify deviation from Judaism by promoting a rabidly anti-religious agenda.

In the limited scope of this forum, I will nevertheless try to directly and succinctly debunk these fictitious and misleading claims, one by one:

It is not Orthodox rabbis who are the ones deciding what conversion is kosher and what is not. This is a three-thousand-year-old position determined by G‑d at the giving of the Torah. Without the Torah, there would be no Judaism, no Jews and no converts to Judaism. That means that without the Torah’s declaration, the discussion is a non-starter. Thus G‑d’s immutable word is the first and last on the subject. Rather, it is the recently arrived, self-proclaimed reformers who are making subjective decisions about what constitutes conversion and who is a Jew. Your question is thus more rightly directed against them. Given the true and total picture, who are these unqualified, unauthorized newcomers to change such weighty, long-standing and unchanging Divine Laws of the Torah?

It is precisely out of an intensely profound commitment to the unity of the Jewish People that Orthodoxy and Orthodox rabbis take an implacable, uncompromising stance on these issues, despite the unpopularity of their position. Only when the Jewish People are Jewish can there be one Jewish People. Rather, it is the reformers who superficially, fictitiously and irresponsibly dub non-Jews as Jews who are sowing divisiveness.

Consider a Jewish family in which some eat kosher, and others don’t. The family is planning a family gathering over a meal. Surely those who only eat kosher should not be expected to eat non-kosher in the name of family unity. Rather those who are generally lax on kosher, but are certainly able to eat kosher, should, in the name of enabling the entire family to participate in the event, agree to cater kosher for all. In such a case, any family member who antagonistically insists that all eat non-kosher when, in fact, kosher is the only option suitable for all, would be the one guilty of sowing divisiveness and exclusion!

Yes, many non-observant converts are more serious about their Jewishness than born Jews, but that’s not enough to make them Jewish. There are only two ways to become Jewish: by birth, even if a Jew abuses his free-will and abrogates observance; or by conversion, but only if the person does so with the intention to be observant. If initially this seems to be contradictory, it is in fact very logical.

A person who requests citizenship of a particular country is required to declare and accept allegiance to the laws of that country. If a prospective candidate for citizenship to a country with 613 laws was prepared to accept allegiance to only 300 of the laws, naturalization would surely be denied. Could he, or even natural born citizens of that country, claim that it’s unfair to deny him citizenship when many born citizens are even less loyal to the law? Of course, that would be absurd. Just because many born Jews don’t observe as they should is no reason to accept converts who won’t. Born Jews who won’t observe Judaism remain non-observant Jews; non-Jews who won’t observe Judaism remain non-Jews.

Rejecting Reform and Conservative conversions is a rejection of the Reform and Conservative movements’ unauthorized, divisive and irresponsible defiance of the millennia-old, divinely ordained Torah Law. However, it in no way rejects the authentic Jewishness of any Jew, regardless of affiliation or lack thereof. What is tragic though, is how these movements condone conversions and marriages as Jewish which they know oppose the Torah, and then point a blaming finger at the “implacable” Orthodox when the people they misled are confronted with the Truth. In this way, they use innocent non-Jews through false conversions and intermarriage as cannon-fodder for their agenda of onslaught against Orthodoxy.

Non-Jews who request and receive Israeli citizenship either because the secular Israeli government recognizes non-kosher conversions or uses non-halachic criteria for determining who is a Jew, and as a result serve in the Israeli Army, do so as compulsory service. If they also do so with the spirit of sacrifice for the protection of the Jewish People, including the Orthodox, that is commendable and worthy of appreciation and recognition.

As far as the Orthodox contribution to the preservation of the Jewish People, don’t forget that it was the various reformers over the ages who fizzled out, as would have Judaism with them. It was thus the commitment of observant Jews throughout history which maintained the Jewish People, without which the Jewish State would be a non-starter. And in addition, it is the Orthodox who continue to maintain the fundamentally Jewish character of Israel. In any case, there are plenty of Orthodox who serve in the army as well, thereby protecting not only Jews, but also non-Jews within Israel.

But that being said, service or non-service is totally irrelevant to the topic under discussion. There is absolutely no connection whatsoever between serving in the military and being Jewish. At most, such peoples’ dedication and sense of connection to the Jewish People might serve as a basis to be lenient in encouraging and accepting their proper halachic conversion more so than other non-Jews with no prior connection to Jews or Judaism. But nowhere in Judaism is there a soldier-clause for conversion.

So if you will see past the fallacy of the popularistic, sensational diatribes with which you’ve been indoctrinated, it should be clear that the opposite is in fact correct.

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