Conversion – Response to Rabbi Angel

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18 Responses

  1. Tal Benschar says:

    “But here is the rub. Those who rely on minority opinions should not expect others to accept their point of view, especially when it impacts upon them directly.”

    This calls to mind the gemara about Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel’s machlokes re tsaras ervah. The practice at the time was that each group was noheig like its own psak, and they did not hesitate to intermarry — BUT they would also inform the other group if, le shitasam, the person was possul. IOW, a person who acc. to Beis Shammai was perfectly kosher would be a mamzer acc. to Beis Hillel — and if such a person sought to marry into a Beis Hillel family, then they were duly informed of the situation.

    Is R. Angel prepared to do that? Is he prepared to say — acc. to me and my Rov, R. Uziel, this convert is a legitimate ger, but acc. to most opinions his conversion is invalid and he remains a non-Jew? And hence he should not be allowed to intermarry EXCEPT among the group who view R. Uziel as their Rov?

  2. jeremy rosen says:

    As an admirer of both rabbis involved in this exchange I must thank Rabbi Adlerstein for the way he has responded to Rabbi Angel and his elegant statement of the position of those of us who while committed to halacha would love sometimes to bend it our way but know in our hearts if not always in our minds that there is a point beyond which we cannot go. This piece admirably describes that position. Yeyasher Cochacha.
    J

  3. dr. william gewirtz says:

    As R. Alderstein writes, this is not the place for halachic debate. So one meta-historical comment and one political one.

    Take a much less controversial topic, and one where I have some expertise – davening maariv/reciting the shema early. There is a vast halachic literature that is covered in detail by many chachmai hamesorah over the centuries. Read the classic literature as well as a long article by Prof. Katz ztl on this topic. Prof. Katz’s historical perspective adds a different dimension than halachic decisors. Poskim tend not to write like academics who identify trends and shifts in what are otherwise described as less nuanced (changes/refinements in) positions. How does this relate to practical halacha? In the minds of most, hardly at all, unless a tier 1 Posek picks up the article and decides to rely on it to pasken a particular issue. I strongly suspect many orthodox jews and certainly rabbis would be fascinated by Prof. Katz, but it would not necessarily be the basis for Psak. The major point that R. Angel is arguing in my mind is a historical one – the past is hardly uniform and there was innovation in the 19th century and psak tilted somewhat afterwards. Is this accurate? Perhaps. Do Poskim acknowledge even the possibility? Rarely, if ever. Poskim tend to establish two (or three) positions and line up opinions as supporting one or the other, often understating minor differences or historical context; a very different methodology – stressing concept over context. The halakhic process typically integrates to varying degrees custom, precedence and conceptualization, not history. (I, like most reading this, was trained in the conceptual method and do not always recognize that in an area with two fundamental positions there may be many more slightly different nuanced opinions. R. Alderstein’s last paragraph – Ritva versus R. Uziel is a perfect example – a historian might find many more nuanced positions along that spectrum.)

    Beyond that, I suspect that the long historical record, both its interpretation and significance would also be heatedly debated. Even if Prof. Shilo’s historical assessment is accurate, will poskim read it and use it in particular situations modifying recent practice? Rabbi Angel urges them to do so given the current situation. Thus there are two issues: 1) theoretically, how accurately has Prof. Shilo classified previous decisors? 2) practically, his being correct is certainly necessary to support R. Angel, but not sufficient until utilized in the halakhic process. (I may have once posted the comment by R. Meir Lichtenstein in a shiur on this topic quoting R. Y. EMDEN that when he says shelo asaini Aved he thinks shelo asaini av beit din.)

    The political issue continues to grow. My earliest post on this topic, pondered if a Slifkinite would be converted? The debate has sadly moved on – forget converting the individual, some would now disqualify any dayan (including both Rabbi A’s) who might harbor similar views. The level of distrust this creates is depressing and the crisis in Israel is not going away. On recent trips to Israel, I have gained some confidence that very slowly and differently than most assume, progress will come.

  4. S. says:

    >Determining practical halacha is both an art and a science

    What is the basis for this statement? Is this an observation, or a kabbalah? Or perhaps it is a colloquialism?

  5. noclue says:

    You say that you are handicapped because you do not have access to Prof. Shilo’s article. Why? I am sure that Rabbi Angel would have supplied you a copy? (For the record, I have not read the article and have no particular point of view in the debate.)

  6. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    To S-

    It is a colloquialism that I received as a kabbalah from some trustworthy mentors who made the observation

    To noclue –

    If I asked and waited for the article, I would then have to read it before responding. Getting the posts up in a timely manner seemed like a better, albeit not perfect, way to go

  7. Ken Bloom says:

    I think you and Rabbi Angel actually agree on point 3. You’re both saying that different cultural segments of the Jewish world have different rankings of rabbanim. I think R’ Angel is also adding to that an observation that Sepharadim tend to read everybody’s books, and Ashkenazim tend to read Ashkenazi books, so Ashkenazim have a harder time understanding that Sepharadim have a different ranking.

  8. Steve Brizel says:

    This was a very impotant and polite exchange of views. We need more of them, even if views will differ on the issue being discussed at hand.

  9. Chaim Wolfson says:

    Dr. Gewirtz, I would argue that “psak”, by its very nature, is a function of tradition. “Psak” has its own unique methodology, which is very difficult to acquire on one’s own; hence the emphasis placed on “shimush” (which roughly translates as “apprenticeship”) from an experienced “posek”. “Book knowledge” alone does not make one a “posek”; practical experience does. Many great “talmidei chachamim” have given “shiurim” that they themselves would not rely on for purposes of “p’sak”, not because they think their “sevaros” were incorrect, but because they were not forfulated in the spirit of “psak” — the concept of “halachah v’lo l’maaseh”. [I once saw an astounding comment from the Chida along these lines, but that’s a topic for a different discussion. An example that is very relevant to the present discussion can be found in the Mossad HaRav Kook edition of Ritva to Yevamos 24b, footnote #650, authored by Rav Aharon Yoffen.] I submit that articles written from an academic perspective, fascinating as they may be, also do not meet the criteria of “halachah l’maaseh”; they are of, well, acadamic interest.

    That quote from Rav Yaakov Emden, by the way, can be found in the Chida’s “Shem Gedolim” under the entry for Rav Yaakov Emden. Rav Yaakov Emden WAS a Rav for a short while in his younger years, and tThe Chida, who knew Rav Yaakov Emden personally, writes that the saying reflected his bad experience.

  10. dr. william gewirtz says:

    Chaim Wolfson – it may yet be the time for Moshiach. We agree! Academics are not poskim and shimush is critical. BTW you are perilously close to Prof. Urbach ztl who defined halacha not (primarily) as text based but tradition based, but let’s not veer into areas of difference. A posek like RYYW ztl was unique in his ability to read academic works and OPENLY integrate into psak. I have argued that academic works should be read by poskim particularly when they can provide insight to help deal with extraordinary circumstances. I have a few real examples that are not appropriate for a blog, in a narrow area where I have some (academic) expertise. And thank you for the reference to the Chida – alas I never read his seforim.

  11. Yitzie Kagan says:

    Rabbi Alderstein, I think you argue something backwards here: It is clear to almost anyone who knows how to read gemara and rishonim that Rav Uzziel’s is the basic, peshat interpretation of the Rambam and the various gemarot. It is not just an argument from silence, as you describe it, but makes perfect sense out of the gemara’s demand that the ger be informed of a few “kalot” and “hamurot” so that he can accept their *consequences* (which is what kabbolas ha-mitzvos means in this interpretation and is exactly what Israel accepted at Sinai).

    You argue that interpretations far from the peshat can still be firmly grounded in the sources, and in this you are of course absolutely correct. Nor would Rabbi Angel disagree. But would an interpretation that allows yichud between a father and his adopted daughter *disqualify* the peshat interpretation that prohibits such yichud? Would those who feel that the gemara allows gentile milk *disqualify* the peshat reading that prohibits it? Of course not! Nor does Rabbi Angel deny that the reading of the Beis Yitzchok and so many other acharonim can be firmly grounded in the sources. But in this case he wants to know why davka the peshat is vehemently delegitimized and so completely marginalized. The answer, it seems to me and many others, is not a halakhic one at all. It is rather a not fully kosher mix of hashkofoh and politics. The is what accounts for so many articles in the religious press claiming that there is one, and only one, valid approach to accepting the mitzvos.

  12. yoni says:

    correction it should be “rif, rambam, tur, rabbainu nissim, rashi, rosh, and basicaly all other giants of the time argued otherwise (ie that it was permitted). Those who do argue that it is generaly refer to it as yaish omrim…..”

  13. Chaim Wolfson says:

    Dr. Gewirtz,
    Indeed it is a hopeful sign. By the way, since I am a wolf(son), does that mean you’re a lamb?

    Seriously, though, this is far from the only thing on which you and I agree. I think it would be very helpful for public discourse if we all kept in mind that what we agree on far outweighs what we disagree on.

  14. Yossi (Joe) Izrael says:

    Another point forgotten is that the situation of Jews up to the 19th century, and during a certain period of the 20th, was totally different than today. WADR, it’s just wrong to marry people who meet in college and than want to get married, knowing full and well that they will not be observant. I know “orthodox” rabbis who do such giyurs.

  15. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    To Ken Bloom (#7) –
    I do not believe this to be true at all, unless you mean in the last hundred years or so. Before that, I am not aware of any tendency to ignore Sefardi seforim. It could hardly be true in the time of the Rishonim, and wasn’t thereafter either.

    To Yitzie Kagan (#11) –
    I could not disagree more. It is not the simple pshat in Rambam, unless you look only at one line of the Rambam and ignore others, like the need to wait and clarify observance before full acceptance. Most seforim I have seen written by people who certainly know a good deal about learning do not think that it is the simple pshat in the Rambam. (An exception seems to be R. Aharon Yaffen z”l in his notes in the Mosad Rav Kook edition of the Ritva to Yevamos 24. Even he has to deal with contradictory evidence from other passages in the Rambam.)

    It would not matter if you were correct. The Rambam is not the only Rishon. You would have to demonstrate – at least is a matter that is d’orayso and has huge impact on the public – that the majority of Rishonim concur. Picking one Rishon to rely upon is not the way halacha is conducted.

    Unless, of course, that it is a Chinese menu.

  16. meir says:

    WIth regards to the Rambam a literal reading without any preconceived notions would lead one to interpret like RAv chayim oyzer and Reb MOshe and most gEdoyley yisroel in the past hundred years that Kabbalat hamitzvot is the basicdefinition of conversion itself an is meakev. It is surprising how very few look at this Rambam;

    ” רמב”ם הלכות איסורי ביאה פרק יב

    הלכה יז
    כל העכו”ם כולם כשיתגיירו ויקבלו עליהן כל המצות שבתורה והעבדים כשישתחררו הרי הן כישראל לכל דבר שנאמר הקהל חוקה אחת יהיה לכם ומותרין להכנס בקהל י”י מיד, ”

    The literal reading of this rambam is that “kabbalat KOL hamitzvot is necessary that he/she be part of “keyisrael lechol davar” and be able to marry a yisrael! (and the languge is “jkol hamitzvot” ALL MITZVOT!

    Likewise it is remarkable how those who misread the rambam either fail to note the following rambam and “Water” it down:

    רמב”ם הלכות איסורי ביאה פרק יג

    וכן לדורות כשירצה העכו”ם להכנס לברית ולהסתופף תחת כנפי השכינה ויקבל עליו עול תורה צריך מילה וטבילה והרצאת קרבן, ואם נקבה היא טבילה וקרבן שנאמר ככם כגר, מה אתם במילה וטבילה והרצאת קרבן אף הגר לדורות במילה וטבילה והרצאת קרבן.”

    the Rambam writes literally that BEFORE anything, before we are going t5o apply the practie of milah tvila and korbanot: the ger must want “lehikaness labriss” (to enter the covenant), “ulehistofefe tachas kanfey hashchinah” to be hoevred under the wingsof the shinah (wants to have a close relationship with Hashem which hovers on the Am Yisroel), and he must “yekabel alav OHL TORAH” he must accept upon himself THE YOKE OF TORAH! (what is a yoke if not the acceptance to live by the ideals and practices of TOrah and mitzvot. Does Rav Uzziel and thse who feel that the “literal” rambam does not require acceptance of mitzvot, interpret “kabbalat ohl mitzvot” in parshat vehaya im shamoa to mean ONLY that the accepts the consequences but not to “shamoa tishmeooh el mitzvoay ” not to mean to accept to keep them? or does it mean the literal pshat: that one accepts to keep having mind the consequences if one will not keep them? DOes G-d want us to accept the punishment or does G_d want us to accept the observance of mitzvot anf the punishments are merely a “stick” to guide us to that direction?

    In any event the ltieral reading of the Rambam is exactly the “primtive” of the “unenlightened” that conversion is “Aceptance to live by TOah and mitzvot.

    Some commenters here and elsewhere are confused by the follwoing Rambam:
    רמב”ם הלכות איסורי ביאה פרק יג הלכה יז

    מכלל העכו”ם וחוששין לו עד שיתבאר צדקותו, ואפילו חזר ועבד כו”ם הרי הוא כישראל מומר שקידושיו קידושין, ומצוה להחזיר אבידתו מאחר שטבל נעשה כישראל, ולפיכך קיימו שמשון ושלמה נשותיהן ואע”פ שנגלה סודן”.

    They fail to realize that the literal reading is contrary to their interpretation. Even Rav Yaffen stumbles on “choshshin loy ad sheyitbaer tzikatoy”, which is the opposite of their reading: The literal words of the rambam that in event that the tzidkus is not clarified one may NOT MARRY THEM!

    Now let me offer a ltieral reading to the other part of the Rambam that confuses them: where the Rambam writes that even if he later worshipped avoda zara he is a still a Jew (mumor): The Rambam refers to someone whom we had the “chashash” AND THERE WAS “YITBAER TZIDKATOY” WE REACHED A LEVEL WHERE THE CONVERT WAS KEEPING MITZVOT! and *THEN* reverted to worship Avoda Zarah! then we say “keyisroel mumar” but not if there was never “yistbaer tzidkatoy”!

    This way we understand Shimshon and Shlomoh: Of couse there was “peer pressure” in the kings house that initially they would accept to live by the tents of G-d and Shlomoh would enforce it initially and therefore the married these wives. But *LATER* they reverted their old practices!

    Look again at the earlier wuotes of the Rambam i presented. I can see no other *literal* interpretatinon other than saying: tha tacceptance of mtizvot is THE defining point of conversion, iwthout which there is NOTHING TO DISCUSS!

  17. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    My apologies to the very astute reader who pointed out what he believed was an ironic flaw in my championing the Beis Yitzchok over Mishpatei Uziel. He noted that the practice of batei din is to teach gerus candidates a significant amount of Torah before their acceptance, apparently accepting the opinion of Minchas Elazar (vol. 4 #63) over the much greater R. Akiva Eiger (vol.1 #41)

    The irony is in the eyes of the beholder. Batei din have not opted for the later Minchas Elazar over the earlier and greater R. Akiva Eiger. They have opted for the much earlier yet Meiri (Sanhedrin 59A ד”ה ב”נ שראינוהו) and the Maharsha (Shabbos 31A ד”ה א”ל). The Minchas Elazar is often mentioned in discussion simply because he explicitly disagrees with R. Akiva Eiger, utilizing an argument that talmidei chachamim all seem to find persuasive, but would not have carried the day without the earlier sources.

  18. bb says:

    Stating that psak is an art and science is not a direct quote from the Me’iri, but quite close.

    The Me’iri in the second perek of Yoma (26a) states that we see Talmidei Chachomim who when presented with a question “can’t even find the door.” That is a direct translation. He continues to state that there are two things required for psak, knowing the Talmud and its Kabbalah and second, full intelligence in it to understand one thing from another.

    The ability to derive one thing from another requires clarity of the sources, clarity of the situation and the ability to relate issues clearly. Definitely a blend of art and science.

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