Tuesday, June 3, 2008

A Shavuous Message from a Convert


This anonymous post was sent to me by a good friend. A beautiful and heartfelt piece.

Please, as you celebrate the moment we accepted the Torah at Sinai ask your rabbi "Were the souls of converts present at Sinai?"

The rabbis will always tell you that the converts' souls were present.
Then ask, "How can this ruling stand? Isn't one who has been immersed a Jew for all time?"

Have the souls been retroactively removed from Sinai??

It is up to every single one of us to speak out on the behalf of the Converts who cannot speak out for themselves during this time. Please, do what you can.

Perhaps the most important thing each one of us can do is show kindness to the converts among us. Give them three times the kindness you would usually give. Invite them to your homes, or, better yet, accept their invitations, eat their food, enjoy their company, show you believe in them and their legitimate Jewish status.

Only in these ways may we overturn the Wrath of Heaven which may (G-d Forbid!) be upon us from this terrible ruling.



On The Politics of Conversion

By: Anonymous for Obvious Reasons

Fact: A nation stood at the foot of Har Sinai, accepted the Torah, and became an “Am Kadosh” – a holy nation of priests. At that point, all Jews became converts to Judaism.

The last several months have seen countless articles in almost every piece of Jewish media discussing and debating – again! – who is Jewish, who is authorized to do conversions, who is not Jewish, who is not authorized to do conversions, ad nauseam.

Many converts are in turmoil and anguished over these developments. They fear for their children’s status and legitimacy, their marriages, their way of life, their continued acceptance into the Jewish nation.

From at least this convert’s perspective, let me explain:

Twenty-one years ago last week I was converted through a halachic Beis Din by 3 Orthodox rabbis. Their credentials and authority to do so would not be questioned by most as they are not Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist or Humanist; they are not Israelis. In fact, they are considered to have some of the strictest requirements for conversion.
I, the dippee (convert), am neither deaf, blind or mute.

I’ve never been convicted of a crime or institutionalized for mental or emotional problems; nor have I ever had to take medication to alter/adjust my moods or prevent violent rampages or suicidal tendencies.

Feigned modesty aside, most would consider me at above-average intelligence.
My desire to be a Jew was preceded and nurtured by years of study.

My desire to be a Jew was not based on love for any man or for money, prestige or power. It was – and is – purely out of love for G-d and the truth and wisdom of Torah. Never, ever have I felt that it was hard to be a Jew. Quite the contrary, I cannot fathom how I would live the full, productive enriched life that I lead had I not accepted upon myself to live a life of Torah and mitzvoth which I strive to do every single day.

In the last 21 years, I have been blessed with many and varied good teachers. I have sought them out, begging and bugging them for their time and knowledge to teach me halacha, Tanach, and the many other rich sources of Jewish wisdom.

I have invested heavily to do so: A large library consisting of thousands of seforim that are opened and studied; a vast tape and CD library of shiurim by various rabbis and rebbetzins; and several trips to Israel for the sole purpose of immersing myself in learning.

Speaking of children, my 13 year old daughter is and has always been enrolled in Orthodox Jewish schools. So has my 10 year old son who is currently in what would be considered a “Chareidi” track of more intense Torah learning.

Both children are good students, B”H. Both children present us with report cards that speak of their middos tovos and strong derech eretz.

During our 15 years of marriage, my husband and I have supported, to the best of our ability, various Torah institutions both in N. America and in Israel, with our time as well as with our money.

In a few weeks, my family and I are moving to the West Bank where we intend to raise our children, enroll them in Chardal-oriented schools, and live out our lives as Torah observant committed Jews.

And now, for absolutely no reason, no crime committed, a group of rabbis who have never met me or my children wish to throw a dark cloud of suspicion and doubt over the legitimacy of our Jewish souls.

Why? How?
The Beis Din who converted me 21 years ago is considered Chareidi. Its Vaad HaKashruth is recognized by all major Kashruth bodies. Its conversions have never been questioned and their converts have married into mainstream Orthodox Jewish society.

This Vaad initially appeared on “The List” – the list issued by Israel’s Rabbinate of Who is Recognized to Do Conversions, or some paraphrased equivalent title.
However, for various ugly reasons which have to do with one person’s desire for revenge, the Vaad who converted me 21 years ago was now removed from The List.

A discussion and meeting with Rabbi Shlomo Amar by my rabbi resulted in assurances that “they were looking into it and, in any event, all conversions prior would be retroactively recognized”.

So, according to Rabbi Amar, I’m still a Jew and so are my kids.

That is – until the next rabbi comes along and decides something else.

At what point do my children and I no longer have to even think that somebody would unilaterally and arbitrarily remove the cloak of Torah and Jewish identity out of our definition? How many years – 30, 50, 100 – never?

Does this mean that if I ever speak a drop of lashon hara, or some of my hair peeks out from under my tichel, or my elbows become uncovered, or I wear my sandalim without socks, – that I must reckon with someone’s claims that this is sufficient evidence to disclaim my Jewish soul?

These are not dramatic questions. Somebody actually did.

Much is written in our literature about the convert. Yevamos 47b tells us that a convert is as injurious as “sapachas” -a scab - to the Jewish people. The reason is two-fold but for diametrically opposed reasons.

On one hand, “shekal Yisrael aravim zeh b’zeh” - all of Israel is responsible one for the other (Shavuous 39a). So, my sin will hurt you (but my mitzvah will help you, too).

On the other hand, Tosafos cites several sources that teach something else: Because a convert can be more exacting and meticulous in their mitzvah observance, the bar is raised in judgment for the born Jews which could result in less favorable judgment due to the increased relative standard of expectation.

So one may argue, why not nip these potential problems in the bud and refuse to accept any converts – no matter how sincere and righteous?

Well, this was tried at least once but with disastrous consequences which accompany the Jewish people to this day, even “in every generation”(Shemot 17:16).
The prospective convert was Timna.

This woman understandably admired the lot of Yaakov’s house – wealth, their ability to prevail over their enemies, the shem tov of this illustrious family. And she desperately wanted to marry into Yaakov’s family.

Yaakov had a good reason for rejecting Timna, princess daughter of the Chief of Edom, for Timna mistakenly attributed all of these blessings to the roll of the dice – in other words, it was mazal, chance. She wanted to be part of it. But Timna did not acknowledge or understand the Divine Hand and benevolence in all of Yaakov’s blessings. This was a serious spiritual flaw that Yaakov could not tolerate in the spiritual gene pool – and he rejected her.

The relentless Timna found another way – she married Yaakov’s nephew, Eliphaz – son of Esav, Yaakov’s brother.
The marriage was consummated. The child born to Timna and Eliphaz was Amalek. You know – the one who attacked us for no reason over there at Rephidim. The same guy we mention every day in our davening in the Six Remembrances.

But Yaakov had good reason to reject Timna – after all, believing that our blessings are just life’s random gamble is outright kefira! What yerei shomayim Jew wants that??!!

But Chazal do not commend Yaakov – they chastise him! Why? Because Yaakov should have at least tried. He should have at least tried to bring Timna into the ohel, teach her, guide her.

It is possible that such sincere efforts may have been in vain. This woman may have never changed her faulty hashkafas. But Yaakov would not have been blamed for it – and we wouldn’t have an Amalek. If only he had tried! If only he had not rejected her!

Granted, Chazal tell us that an Amalek would have arisen anyway, in some other fashion or at some other time and even possibly by some other name. But, Chazal’s chastisement of Yaakov stands for one simple reason: Yaakov did not have to be the shliach!

Let’s direct our attention for a moment to Shemot 23:9 – “Do not oppress a ger; you know the feelings of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Mitzrayim.”

Then, look at the very next pasukim, 23:10 - 11: “Six years shall you sow your land and gather in its produce. And in the seventh, you shall leave it untended and unharvested, and the destitute of your people shall eat, and the wildlife of the field shall eat what is left; so shall you do to your vineyard and your olive grove.”

Pay attention to the fact that this conversion machloket is occurring in a shmittah year – the very mitzvah discussed next to the mitzvah of not oppressing the ger! Is it too bold to respectfully suggest that the great rabbinical leaders of today give us some guidance as to whether there is a connection here and, if so, what does it mean? What are we to learn from this?

Shemot 22:20 warns against oppressing the convert. The next pasuk, 22:21 gives the same warning regarding widows and orphans. And right next to that, 22:22, gives a very, very scary admonition without mincing any words: “If you dare to cause him pain – for if he will cry out to Me, I shall surely hear his outcry. My wrath will blaze and I will kill you by the sword, and your wives will be widows and your children orphans.”

There are some opinions that this Divine wrath also extends to those who oppress gerim.
What we are talking about today – the rejection of long-standing, sincere converts – pales in comparison to the above Timna/Amalek fiasco.

Kal vachomer, if the rabbonim today reject numerous hashkafically sound converts and needlessly oppress them causing them untold agmas nefesh, just what kind of Divine wrath can Klal Yisrael expect?

The Ibn Ezra comments that the Divine wrath will not be directed just toward the individuals who commit these wrongs but against the entire community!
One of the Minor Mesechtas of the Talmud, Gerim (Chapter 4, Rule 1), gives specific instruction on what wrongs should be avoided in dealing with the convert – speech and money.

It should be noted that, in general, the halacha for any Jew is that one who deliberately causes another Jew – any Jew – to lose their money makes one liable to death. How much more so if the Jew wronged in money matters is also a convert? How much more so if decrees and edicts are spoken that wrong the convert in that most tender area of all – their children?

Recently, a very kind-hearted, learned, and well-intentioned friend casually remarked, “What’s the big deal? The worst that can happen is that you will have to convert again and your children will also have to convert.” I replied that it most certainly is a big deal.

As it stands now, my son is a Levi – a spiritual status with special obligations and deferences that we do not take lightly. As it stands now, my daughter can marry a Cohein.

A demand to undergo conversion would deny my son his spiritual status as a Levi and my daughter would be prohibited from marrying a Cohein. Why should they be deprived and stripped of these characteristics?
Which brings me back to the opening facts.

We do not care to be involved in internal conflicts and back biting. We call upon all G-d fearing Jews to speak with one voice in our defense. We ask all Jews to not become embroiled and ensnared in this evil which will split the Jewish nation if not reined in now.

We ask that you stand up for us and call our leaders to account.
As we enter into Shavuos this week, let us remember that the entire Jewish nation – even those not born yet or converted yet – were at Har Sinai. Everyone is a convert to some extent.

As we read Megillas Rus, let us remember that this extraordinary woman was the great-grandmother of Dovid Ha Melech and sat next to the throne of her great-great grandson Shlomo HaMelech.
Let us remember that there was a major machloket concerning Dovid HaMelech’s Jewish ancestry with his legitimacy as a kosher Jew called into question by those who did not properly understand the halacha concerning a Moabite vs. a Moabitess – Ruth’s ancestry.

Had they not been challenged, the Davidic dynasty would have been lost. The sparks of Moshiach would have been extinguished.
This horrible machloket had the power to derail forever the mission of the Jewish people. Today’s machloket on Jewish legitimacy is no less grave.

As the Ibn Ezra says – it is a sin so grave that the entire community will be held responsible if converts are oppressed by such cruel edicts.

1 comment:

  1. Not to take away at all from your powerful message of Torah and truth but please remember that for decades, converts who may well be as sincere as you following rabbeiyim who may be as honest and spiritually sensitive as yours have chosen non charedi paths, even non Orthodox paths, and once they came to a different, and what you would call higher, level of "ol mitzvot", found themselves where you are now. And the great rabbis who were on that List did not shudder to think what was coming. Once we have The List, once we have such radically different standards required of the ger - before and after conversion - than of the born Jew, once we care more about the particulars of certain mitzvot between man and G-d to the exclusion of loving our fellow Jew, once we have rabbis checking up on your hair and your toes, we have left the Torah laws you quote regarding the ger far behind. Do not tell your friend it is a big deal because your son is a Levi. Tell her it is a big deal because of Hillul HaShem, because of creating divides between Jews, because of leading congregants into sin, because of lashon hara and dam l'kafzut, because some gerim - Jews every one of them - will leave, because in short, for the sake of paying scrupulous attention to modern rabbinic fences upon fences regarding these strict conversions of the sort that of once you may have been proud, Jews are in mass violation of countless d'orirta laws including, as you mentioned, ones for which we all face Divine wrath.

    And may you be rewarded for your courage by the courage of your fellow Jews,

    Aviva Naomi


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