Conversion Standards – Rabbi Angel’s Response

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8 Responses

  1. Ori says:

    I’d like to thank both of you Rabbis for this enlightening argument. This is highly educational, which I think is part of the purpose of cross-currents.

    Rabbi Angel: …discusses views akin to Rabbi Uziel’s held by 13 great poskim—Sephardic and Ashkenazic—and others could also be adduced easily enough.

    Ori: May I ask you to post the list, for those who do not have access to that article? I think that will strengthen your position.

  2. ka says:

    “In this spiritual climate, R. Yitzhak Shmelkes introduced the notion that conversions must necessarily involve a total commitment to mitzvah observance and that lacking such commitment the conversion was not valid.”

    Can you demonstrate that the position changed and not the situation? In preEnlightenment times, a convert would be more or less obliged to act as the community did. PostEnlightenment, one could join the Jewish people and community without necessarily participating in mitzvot, because of the other nonobservant members.

  3. meir says:

    R. angel writes:

    ” R. melech Shachter …could only be performed for candidates who accepted to observe all the mitzvoth; otherwise, the conversion had no validity”.
    Then:”…1970, I began studying the responsa of Rabbi Benzion Uziel (1880-1953), late Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel. I was astounded to find that Rabbi Uziel had an entirely different view about conversion. Rabbi Uziel argued that for the sake of maintaining whole Jewish families and raising children within Jewish families, rabbis were obligated to do conversions of non-Jewish spouses or potential spouses, even if there is no clear commitment to observe all the mitzvoth”.

    Then:”1) Rabbi Uziel is in good company, with the Talmud, Rambam and Shulhan Arukh.”.

    With all due respect to R. Angel and his quotations of many professors stating that R. Shechter’s position is a novel position and stating that 13 RIshonim and Achronim hold R. Uziel’s way, I challenge you (R. Angel) to present the loshon of *one* Rishon who states that the conversion is valid and that we should proactively convert those who clearly state that they will not accept in prinxiple all the itzvot! ONE Rishon please.

    You write: “As I examined the primary sources in Talmud, and the codifications in Rambam and the Shulhan Arukh, I came to realize that Rabbi Uziel’s opinion was not a new and strange viewpoint, but was actually the normative halakhic view until the nineteenth century. This conclusion surprised me”.

    Which talmudcial statments are close to your presentation that one could be converted while not acepting all mitzvot. You cite that Talmudcial statement that we do not inform the convert all the mitzvot. What is that got to do with our discussion, of whether or not a covnert needs to *accept in principle to live by all commandments of Hashem*? And if he rejects them it is even worse.

    See the powerful words Maimonedes codified aas the very defintion of covnersion which is “כשירצה להכנס לברית ולהסתופף תחת כנפי השכינה ולקבל עליו עול תורה צריך מילה…”, that only after the individual wiches to enter the covenant (of Torah and MItzvot like the covenant of Sinay) and to be under the wings of the shechinah and to ACCEPT UPON HIMSELF THE YOKE OF TORAH! only then can we apply the details of cnversion (milah etc.) how can you deny tht Maimonedes requires a very stringent acceptance of Mitzvot.

    How can you deny that Shulchan Oruch does not require a stringent acceptance of Mitzvot when it rules that without kabbalat hamittzvot in from of a Jewish court of law! the conversion is invalid? Do you mean that for the convert to accept to eat gefilte fish it requires the blessings of Jewish COurt of LAW?

    If anything: it is Rav Uizel’s position that is anovel positio, for earlier on a convert would accept the norms of conduct by peer pressure and there would be legal and valid acceptance for if he would live by the acceptancee he would be shunned by the community as Rav Hertzog wrote and ruled. Rav Hertzog thought that all the current conversions where there is no pressure for the convert to keep torah and mitzvot and where there is a strong assumption that the convert would not keep torah and mitzvot and there would be no peer pressure that the conversion is null and void.

    While you talk about Rav Mordechey Eliyahu: I can assure you that he is very stringent on the issue of Kabbalat Hatmizvot and hispersonal opinion might invalidate many many conversions where the convert was not sincere in his acceptance and never kept shabbat kashrut and taharat hamishpacha. I know this first hand from the Rabbi himself!

    Again I challenge you to produce ONE Rishon that states that kabbalat hamitzvot does not require an acceptance to actually keep all mitzvot! as Jews said in SInay “Naasse Venishmah” where they accepted all mitzvot in order to become Am Hashem!

  4. David says:

    I don’t think that anybody suggested not studying the works of R. Uziel. However, the halakhic process does not work in the manner that R. Angel suggested. Often in a Gemara, one of the Amoraim is outrightly rejected. If R. Angel were to find compelling evidence from a Tosefta supporting this view, would we reinstate the position of that Amora? Certainly not.

    The halakhic process has rejected the opinion of R. Uziel. The halakhic process has NOT understood and interpreted the Talmud, Rambam, and Shulhan Arukh as R. Angel suggests.

    Moreover, in halakhah, we DO rank opinions. If I have a novel interpretation of a Gemara that contradicts the consensus of the poskim, I may not apply my reasoning to practical application. I think R. Angel would agree. We rank opinions out of practical necessity – R. Uziel’s approach was summarily rejected by all poskim in his time to this day.

    It is also somewhat disingenuous to present this issue as an Ashkenazi / Sephardi dichotomy. R. Mordechai Eliyahu, whom R. Angel suggests held R. Uziel in high esteem, does NOT subscribe to R. Uziel’s views on conversion. He believes that while R. Uziel was an eminent talmid hakham, his pesak was not accepted on this matter.

    Furthermore, R. Ovadiah Yosef, the champion of redeeming Sephardic pesak in our day, who often quotes R. Uziel, certainly does NOT agree with him on this point. In fact, in none of his published articles, does R. Angel cite any poskim who accepted R. Uziel’s approach. For several rather well written pieces, the lack of such a list is glaringly missing, and perhaps all too telling.

  5. bracha S. says:

    There is an historical perspective to this question that I don’t see being mentioned at all. Until the Age of Reason,(when religion itself started to be questioned from all quarters of Europe) almost all Jews were by and large Halachic Jews. They lived mostly among themselves, belonged to a Kehilla, and were subject to excommunication if they left the confines of their religion.(for example Baruch Spinoza) Therefore, converting to Judaism until about the mid 1700,s almost always meant becoming a Halachic Jew. Until the advent of the Reform movement, the idea of practicing Judaism was just that-to actualize the Halacha. I don’t see that conversion until that time would have entailed so many of the problems that we have today where the vast majority of Jews practice a vapid form of our religion and assimilation is on the rise by the minute. These set of variables did not exist for the most part, till the last three hundred years ago(or less).

  6. meir says:

    Bracha S.

    THanks for making your point so clear. RAv Hertzog makes your point very forcefully. But he makes the point that (not only would acceptance mean accepting the religion of Judaism as always known, but) the peer pressure of the kehilla would pressure the convert to accept the *practice* of Halacha!

  7. LOberstein says:

    As a former pulpit rabbi I empathise with Rabbi Angel. If orthodoxy today is very stringent, that is in itself a new phenomenon. For most of the past century, rabbis were dealing with laymen who were less educated and becoming acculturated to the gentile world. It is all fine and good to have a wall of seperation by which what was normative orthodoxy until 1960 is now not good enough, but when you want to retroactively make goyim out of frum Jews because their mother’s mother converted through an orthodox rabbi in 1950 and was never really 100% observant,you are going to destroy the lives of generations of good Jews. Therefore “Chachomuim hizoharu b’divreichem” be careful what you wish for, you may be reaping the whirlwind as far as American Jewish lives are concerned. See further than your nose.

  8. meir says:

    “‘mother’s mother converted through an orthodox rabbi in 1950 and was never really 100% observant,”

    That is not the issue; the issue is when there was never an acceptance to observe torah and mitzvot.

    (When one accepted torah and mitzvot and did not live up to it’s ideals, it is a different story (we all do not live up to our ideal) from someone who never accepted the whole torah and mitzvot to begin with.

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