How To Explain Hilchos Geirus To The Skeptic

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19 Responses

  1. ben dov says:

    “In terms of a pure and uncompromised religious ideal, this means that some Jews should not be Jews.”

    I see it differently. All Jews should be Jews, in every sense of the word, but some have a cloudy vision of themselves for whatever reason, preventing them from actualizing their Jewishness.

  2. DF says:

    The best exposition of the Jewish mission remains, for me, the brilliant little book by the genius known as R. Aryeh Kaplan: If You Were God. I have yet to read a more lucid vision of the purpose God intends for the Jewish people on this Earth.

  3. DavidF says:

    Humanity and sensitivity are nice, but not at the expense of halachah.

    I emphatically reject the notion that “Halacha create victims” or “casualties.” דרכיה דרכי נועם – there are no victims or casualties from pleasant ways.

  4. David Z says:

    “What makes one a Jew? Being born to a Jewish mother? Converting to Judaism? Not really.”

    What if I answered yes?

  5. Raymond says:

    The image that comes to my mind when reading Rabbi Cardozo’s almost majestic words above, is that of President Abraham Lincoln. He has been my favorite President since I was a small child, and now in my more advanced years, I have returned to reading about him with increasing interest. And the more I read about him, the more I realize that I am drawn to him because he just seems so Jewish to me, so much so that had he been born Jewish but had to hide the fact, that he would have acted the same way as he did as a gentile. I also imagine, when reading Rabbi Cardozo’s words, that among the gentiles he talks about, who are so Jewish in spirit if not in the law, are the very quotable philosemites in history, such as John Milton, John Adams, George Eliot, Leo Tolstoy, Mark Twain, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, Paul Johnson, Rudy Giuliani, and Mike Huckabee. And think of the tens of millions of Fundamentalist Christians who are so instinctively pro-Israel, that they often seem to care more about Israel than many Jews do. America itself was founded by Christians so enamored with our Torah, that they referred to themselves as Old Testament Christians.

    I also think it would be interesting to have some kind of discussion on what areas of Judaism that Rabbi Adlerstein and Rabbi Cardozo differ in their viewpoints from one another.

  6. Ben Bradley says:

    “In terms of a pure and uncompromised religious ideal, this means that some Jews should not be Jews”

    At the risk of sounding knee jerk, I’d say chas v’shalom. Is there any justification for such an opinion in Torah sources? The dictum of ‘אע’פ שחטא ישראל הוא’ seems to indicate the opposite, as does the whole point of klal yisrael being an ‘עם’

    [YA – As I said, I would have phrased some of this differently. But if all you seek is some justification, that should not be too difficult. Consider, for example, the Zohar’s assertion that a certain class of trouble-makers for the community – including some of the wealthy – while halachically Jewish, come from the erev rav. And the shitah of the Besht that before the times of Moshiach there would be a birur acharon, that would weed out those who had joined Klal Yisrael and didn’t belong there – an idea echoed by other achronim.]

  7. Jewish Observer says:

    “I emphatically reject the notion that “Halacha create victims” or “casualties.” דרכיה דרכי נועם – there are no victims or casualties from pleasant ways”

    – it takes a certain breadth and poeticism to jump outside our natural literal inclination and understand that certain phrases are used בדרך מליצה. That tradeoffs exist in Halacha is evident from things like לא פלוג, which acknowledges that we would have liked to have been able to pasken differently for a particular יחיד but must keep the Halacha standard, for a greater good. Whether you term the impacted יחיד as a ‘casualty’ is a matter of semantics to which R Adlerstein alluded to when he implied that we each have our own style of expression. But to do so at the expense of appreciating the main point is to do oneself a disservice

  8. Leah Adler says:

    If you have the luck to be born (fill in the blank here: Jewish, American, British), because your parents were part of that people or because you were on their soil, then you are by chance, part of the people, whether or not you embrace the values and culture. If you were born in another place or to other people, you are not. However, sometimes, countries/peoples allow immigrants to join. Requirements to join a people might include a residency requirement (live in the US for five years, live in a religious Jewish community for three years) or they may ask you to show allegiance (swearing in ceremony, living according to the Torah, taking a test or language learning). You may be asked to state your intention to live the way the new people do, announce you share their values, give up a former citizenship.
    Being Jewish is NOT like joining another religion – it is more like being adopted into a new family/people. What’s hard to understand about why converts can’t just say, “Hi, I want to be Jewish.”

  9. Raymond says:

    The image that comes to my mind when reading Rabbi Cardozo’s almost majestic words above, is that of President Abraham Lincoln. He has been my favorite President since I was a small child, and now in my more advanced years, I have returned to reading about him with increasing interest. And the more I read about him, the more I realize that I am drawn to him because he just seems so Jewish to me, so much so that had he been born Jewish but had to hide the fact, that he would have acted the same way as he did as a gentile. I also imagine, when reading Rabbi Cardozo’s words, that among the gentiles he talks about, who are so Jewish in spirit if not in the law, are the very quotable philosemites in history, such as John Milton, John Adams, George Eliot, Leo Tolstoy, Mark Twain, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, Paul Johnson, Rudy Giuliani, and Mike Huckabee. And think of the tens of millions of Fundamentalist Christians who are so instinctively pro-Israel, that they often seem to care more about Israel than many Jews do. America itself was founded by Christians so enamored with our Torah, that they referred to themselves as Old Testament Christians.

    I also think it would be interesting to have some kind of discussion on what areas of Judaism that Rabbi Adlerstein and Rabbi Cardozo differ in their viewpoints from one another.

  10. Y. Ben-David says:

    David F-
    While your sentiments are laudable, many people, including major talimidei hachamim have difficulties understanding the way a mamzer is treated, or the law to eradicate
    all Amalekites. For that matter, what about a Kohen who falls in love with a divorced woman? While we can say the restrictions that they confront are for the ultimate good of Am Israel, emotions can still interfere interfere with this outlook.

  11. reder says:

    Rabbi Cardozo’s prose is certainly most edifying. To me there remains but one question. Does he have a mikor for his assertion that but not for the “compromise” concern, being Jewish would be simply a matter of your innate spirituality. Is there truly no inherent spiritual change when one undergoes conversion? No infusion of a new Jewish soul?

    [YA – Without taking sides on the issue, if all you want is mekoros, that should be easy. Not everyone, apparently, believes in differences between Jews and non-Jews on the level of the neshamah. See http://www.hakirah.org/Vol%2016%20Balk.pdf and its treatment of the Rambam. It may not be the majority view – certainly not what you and I were brought up to think – but it is a view, and can be cited.]

  12. David Ohsie says:

    I emphatically reject the notion that “Halacha create victims” or “casualties.” דרכיה דרכי נועם – there are no victims or casualties from pleasant ways.

    Another viewpoint can be found in Guide 3:34 (http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/gfp/gfp170.htm)

    It is also important to note that the Law does not take into account exceptional circumstances; it is not based on conditions which rarely occur. Whatever the Law teaches, whether it be of an intellectual, a moral, or a practical character, is founded on that which is the rule and not on that which is the exception; it ignores the injury that might be caused to a single person through a certain maxim or a certain divine precept. For the Law is a divine institution, and [in order to understand its operation] we must consider how in Nature the various forces produce benefits which are general, but in some solitary cases they cause also injury. This is clear from what has been said by ourselves as well as by others. We must consequently not be surprised when we find that the object of the Law does not fully appear in every individual; there must naturally be people who are not perfected by the instruction of the Law, just as there are beings which do not receive from the specific forms in Nature all that they require. For all this comes from one God, is the result of one act; “they are all given from one shepherd” (Eccles. xii. 11). It is impossible to be otherwise; and we have already explained (chap. xv.) that that which is impossible always remains impossible and never changes. From this consideration it also follows that the laws cannot like medicine vary according to the different conditions of persons and times; whilst the cure of a person depends on his particular constitution at the particular time, the divine guidance contained in the Law must be certain and general, although it may be effective in some cases and ineffective in others […]

  13. SF says:

    It is a noteworthy feature of this style of argumentation that the only alternative to precise adherence to the author’s views is invariably “chaos”.

  14. reder says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein. I read the Hakira article you linked to. With all due respect, do you feel that his hypothesis of the shitas harambam has a leg to stand on. Not every opinion need be given the imprimatur of being even a daas yachid. And then to top it all off to take the famous rambam re get meusa and completely twist it to fix his theory.The mishna say kofin oso ad sheyomar rotze ani. To say that this only applies to an otherwise Torah observant Jew, when there is no precedent in halacha for such smacks of hubris and irresponsibility. This is is no mere philosophical discussion. This Rambam is hard halacha and has always been taken at face value. Lets not jettison hashkafa yisroel on the altar of political correctness

    [YA – 1) I find it appalling to suggest that anything the Rambam says could be even less than a daas yachid. It might be better to say that significant numbers of those who followed the Rambam strongly disagreed. Given the license that exists in hashkafic areas that doesn’t in halacha, that hardly amounts to a criticism of R Cardozo. This is especially true when it comes to the Rambam, who like it or not, does function as a hashkafic lodestar to many frum Jews. I woudln’t count myself as a Maimonidean rationalist, but I would shudder to invalidate their right to champion the views of Rambam. 2) The idea that Ishus 2:20 may only apply to Jews who see themselves as part of the mitzvah community is an old one. There has been a machlokes for centuries as to whether it applies to an apostate. See – among many others – sources cited in the Ohr Someach]

  15. DavidF says:

    “– it takes a certain breadth and poeticism to jump outside our natural literal inclination and understand that certain phrases are used בדרך מליצה” etc.

    I understand that this MAY have been his intention, but Rabbi Cardozo has taken certain liberties with regard to conversion in his previous works [e.g. deriving from Esther’s marriage to Achashverosh that sometimes for a very important cause it’s okay to be very lax on halachic requirements and the same principle should be applied to Hilchos Geirus] and I am very leery of accepting anything he says even בדרך מליצה when it strikes an uncomfortable note.

  16. AC says:

    YA, I think you misunderstood ‘reder’–he was not saying that the Rambam’s shitta was a daas yachid/less than a daas yachid, he was saying that The Hakirah article’s interpretation of the Rambam wasn’t a valid approach. Meaning, not everything that can be said as p’shat in something is necessarily “An Opinion”.

    [YA – Please see my several responses to “reder” elsewhere. Your last sentence is true – but like other truths, is often misapplied or applied too broadly. In areas of parshanut, midrash, etc. there really is not any absolute hachra’ah unlike conventional halachah. Three are exceptions, such as that analyzed by the last teshuvah of the Chasam Sofer in Yoreh Deah, in regard to the opinion of Hillel that there will not be a human Moshiach in the future. A great contemporary posek once insisted to me that this should not be extrapolated even to the other ikarim of the Rambam. The Chasam Sofer’s case is special, because the daas yachid was firmly rejected already within the gemara. I do think that we must concede that there are disturbing positions that must be regarded as “an opinion.” This should not deter us from following what we see as a mesorah from our own rabbei’im. We can conclude that we would not want our children taught by someone who believes that the Zohar and/or all of kabbalah have no legitimacy. I would campaign not to hire such a person in schools attended by my kids. Nonetheless, I would not be quick to call R Kafach an apikorus, and would resist taking such (minority) declarations at face value. Bottom line: we should be able to enthusiastically embrace a particular view, while conceding that competing views do indeed have the status of legitimate opinion.]

  17. Bob Miller says:

    A non-Jew who feels Jewish in his soul is not a “soul Jew” or any other kind of Jew until he has met all requirements for geirus. Before achieving that, he can be a proper Ben Noach, which is nothing to sneeze at.

    [YA – In halacha, there are only two options: Jew or non-Jew. Someone who has not met all the halachic requirements is simply not Jewish. There is a realm outside of halacha, however, in which Jewish souls are found in places before being reunited with the body of the Jewish community. Gedolei Yisrael have spoken of this in the past. It is hinted at in seforim hundreds of years old. See, e.g. what the Ohr ha-Chaim ha-Kadosh writes about the korbanos of Succos. Baalei halacha have even assigned halachic weight to the idea of zera Yisrael, or partial, non-halachic descent from Jewish progenitors. So halachically you are correct – but so is Rabbi Cardozo.]

  18. reder says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein. Firstly, let me mention how much I appreciate you posts. Ever since I discovered this blog I look forward to your writing. My only critique us that there isn’t more of it. Let me clarify my last response I didn’t c’v mean to imply that the Rambam’s opinion isn’t valid. Certainly the rambam doesn’t need my ok. What I was trying to say was that I don’t believe that rabbi balk’s take on the rambam is the conventional understanding of the rambam’s opinion. It seems that his proofs can be refuted. Just because the rambam discusses the spiritual level to which a non-Jew can reach as being in certain cases equal to that of a Jew doesn’t seem to mean that there is no inherent spiritual difference between them. You are much brighter and better versed in understanding of hashkafa than I. Do you feel that his hypothesis in the rambam is conclusive. thanks for telling me about that ohr someach. I wsnt aware of it

    [YA – I plan to take issue with R Balk (who is an extremely fine Ben Torah who knows his material, but along different lines. He is not the first to make this case within the Rambam. Much of the case is built on what the Rambam does NOT say. Namely, one is hard pressed to find places where he speaks of essential differences between Jews and non-Jews, unlike e.g R Yehudah Halevi the Maharal the Baal HaTanya and Rav Kook. Looking at what he does say, it is not hard to make the case for the Rambam believing not in a difference in essence, but in role and mission. This should not be too disturbing. For most of us, the fact that so many over centuries deeply disagreed with the Rambam is enough to get us to hitch our hashkafic horses elsewhere. But c”v to reject the validity of the Rambam as a possible way to go, and one that many can find valuable in their own quest for the truth.]

  19. Selah L says:

    “Perhaps it is these Jews whom God had in mind when He blessed Avraham and told him that he would be the father of all nations and that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky and the grains of sand on the seashore.”

    ….these words are quite generous, and filled with hope, for the prospective convert to be able to understand the ‘Halachic way’ which is necessarily complicated, and sincerely lovingly and embracing at the same time!

    Self-recognition of our personal role in life happens only after arduous tests while navigating the adventure of a personalized journey scripted in our treasured ‘road-map: The Torah’

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