A Bit of Clarity on State Conversions

When R Avrohom Sherman issued a long psak in 2008 questioning the procedures of Israel’s “special beis din” for conversion, he set off a heated debate that has not gone away. Can a beis din undo a conversion years after it supposedly went into effect? If it could, would converts ever have closure, or would they live in fear that some new court would one day decide that they weren’t really Jewish? You can draw a straight line between the arguments of those days and recent attempts by Americans associated with Orthodox far-left/neo-Conservative groups to undo the Rabbanut’s control of giyur, even in the pages of the New York Times.

One victim of pitched debate is the truth. Just how good or how bad were the procedures of the special court? Eventually, some of the truth emerges. We now have a pithy, simple summary of the seriousness of the candidates of that court by someone who is no believer in halachic process, from a recent article in the Jerusalem Post:

Hiddush director and Reform rabbi Uri Regev said it would require “extreme detachment from reality not to know that the majority of converts from the immigrant community from the former Soviet Union do this [conversion] without true intent to accept Torah and commandments upon themselves and are forced to promise false promises that they will observe the religious commandments.”

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15 Responses

  1. dr. bill says:

    I suspect that there is a straight line, but not the one you are assuming. The reaction to R. Sherman’s psak, attacked by no less than Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, leads many to want to remove the chief rabbinate from control. I think the rabbonim supporting a more de-centralized system, include a good number, whose participation deserves a modicum of respect.

  2. Chochom b'mah nishtanah says:

    What is all the more outstanding is that Regev was using that statement to attack the court which upheld the Bet Din’s decision to nullify a fake conversion.

    That should indicate the true goal of those attacking the right of chief rabbinate to assert that there be conversion standards. And that includes those who attack through the NYT editorial pages.

    They are contributing to the spiritual holocaust.

  3. meyer says:

    so now you want to passel the work of the bais din, based on ed echud, possul l’edut reform “rabbi”

    [YA – No, not at all. Most people I know had trouble understanding the extent of R Sherman’s decision at the time, especially after the fact. But some people went further, and criticized him for all kinds of things, including fabricating a problem b/c of political considerations. What we see from Regev is how Reform looked upon those conversions, and it tells us about why we must not be naive in getting behind measures to be more liberal about conversion standards, such as those now being pushed by the AJC, Reform, Conservative and OO.]

  4. Bob Miller says:

    What is the point of batei din, and really all courts, if decisions are colored by politics, perceived needs of state, personal wealth and influence, and other distorting factors? We pray in our daily Amidah for a proper restoration of our justice system. Even before Mashiach arrives, we need to begin setting our house in order.

  5. Nachum says:

    Kind of ironic that those applauding the beit din here attacked R’ Goren for doing the same exact thing for the same exact reason. At least he was trying to prevent mamzerut.

  6. Chochom b'mah nishtanah says:


    I guess we can turn the same question on you and see what you come up with.

    But I suspect that even you know that the cases are not even remotely similar.

  7. mycroft says:

    Everyone knows and has known for close to a decade at least that the primary purpose of their implementation is an internal fight against those who are not chareidi. Sadly hardly anyone on any sides has cared one way or the other about gerim and promises made to them that their gerus would be accepted. When the new non acceptance of gerus which were accepted for decades came out I was told with glee by a commentator look how their going after Rabbi A or Y- not even concerned about the attack on the legitimacy existing gerim I have used the acceptance of Russian gerus in general for years as an example that politics is behind the standard non acceptance of gerim even after half a century. It is clear both from talking to those who were involved in the education of the Russians that in general it was an obvious sham-yet the CR due to political reasons accepted their gerus but refuse to accept gerus of people who attend Orthodox schuls-kids went to Orthodox day schools etc as a matter of course.

  8. dr. bill says:

    Chochom b’mah nishtanah,

    You are correct; the cases are dissimilar. First, Rav Goren’s ztl case involved a particular circumstance, not all geirut performed by a particular Beit din. Second, Rav Goren’s case involved mamzeirut, not just geirut, where there is a long history of how poskim ruled (more leniently). Rav Goren ztl combined a variety of reasons to avoid mamzeirut, including an element of doubt if a geirut by a proper Beis din ever occurred! His grounds went beyond reliance just on post-geirut (non -)observance. Leaving aside the brash treatment for which he was (probably correctly) accused, his long published psak had 10 prominent dayanim who concurred. One who agreed to the psak was Rav Eliyahu Henkin ztl.

    Nachum’s observation is more than correct. The dissimilarity makes things yet more ironic.

  9. Nachum says:

    Do I? I do not. You tell me.

    Go ahead and turn it on me, I will be glad to answer.

  10. Moshe says:

    his long published psak had 10 prominent dayanim who concurred.

    Care to name them?

    One who agreed to the psak was Rav Eliyahu Henkin ztl


  11. Moshe Dick says:

    Dr. Bill is absolutely correct. Rav Shlomo Goren zz’l issued his psak on one solitary event-following millenia of Poskim who took each case individually.Additionally-and this is the crux of the matter – this was done to avoid a case of mamzerus-something that has dire consequences for all generations and where all Poskim went to extraordinary lengths to avoid such a dire result. Rav Sherman’s psak invalidated thousands of geirus-without taking each case on its merits-clearly going against all norms of psak. The result of accepting such geirus does not have any real consequence for those families. And here is the kicker-by accepting the psak of Rabbi Attias of Ashdod,whose case he was reviewing,and invalidating the geirus,he was creating a much worse result.Because the woman in case was told that she did not need a “get”-and thereby introducing real mamzerus amongst the tsibbur. His psak was indefensible and Rav Amar was right in overruling him.

  12. Nachum says:

    Moreover, in the Langer case, it didn’t affect the person overruled. These people *want* to be Jewish. Often, in fact, religious Jews.

  13. Lawrence M. Reisman says:

    Let me understand this correctly. If you need to avoid mamzerus, you can possul a conversion; otherwise you must let the conversion stand. Isn’t that bending the halacha to arrive at a “desired” result? And by the way, while no one can name the 10 rabbis who concurred with Rav Goren on the Langer matter (and anything said in Rav Henkin’s name is suspect, given his age and health at the time, and also his very machmir attitude about matering mamzerim), we can name two prominent rabbonim who reviewed the Langer matter and found that the conversion was valid: Rav Eliyashuv and Rav Ovadia Yosef. In fact, the Langer case was the reason Rav Eliyashuv resigned from his post as head of the marriage and divorce office of the chief rabbinate.

  14. dr. bill says:

    Lawrence Reisman,

    Relative to your first question, the answer is you cannot willy-nilly passul a conversion to avoid mamzeirut. but, in cases of mamzeirut, you can combine various plausible scenarios, opinions, etc. as Rabbi Goren did. the history of psak is replete with such examples.

    The reason one can only guess at the names of the 10 rabbonim, is because Rav Goren kept their names secret lest they be attacked as he was. Sitting in my library I am staring at 11 of 23 or so volumes by one rav who is likely to be one of the ten. (Though not that encyclopedic work, other seforim by him are in every beis midrash.) I know that many have a much better guess than me about who they were. (I discussed the case back then at length with one who was very close to the Rav and ever since have had a bias that I attribute to the person I talked to. He has since passed away and explicitly told me not to attribute his ideas to him publically.)

    What is clear is that the manner by which Rav Goren behaved, ruffled a lot of feathers, riding roughshod over established procedure. I believe, we are still awaiting an authoritative history of the case. But some of what is now stated as fact, hardly represents what is undisputed.

    Finally, the views of Rav Henkin, who was as you observe old and weak at the time, are all second – hand at this point. I am relying on what I was told by people I trust but have no first-hand knowledge.

  15. David Z says:

    So funny–I sw that line from Regev and thought the exact same thing. “Huh?”

    As to mamzerut, I know nothing about the Langer case, but mamzerut is actually one fo the areas where we O bend halakha to reach a result. The other is, to a somewhat lesser extent, agunot (the kind where the husband is missing, like after a war, not where he “just refuses to give a get). I have often said that the difference between Traditional Orthodoxy and Modern Orthodoxy is that the Modern version adds to mamzerut and agunot any issue affecting a gamut of “women’s issues” (depending on what MO means to the practitioner). And now with Open Orthodoxy they added anything that goes against Democratic Party platform. (Democratic Party is still okay with tsitsit, thank S-cial Justice.)

    But we (Traditional Orthodoxy) have always had at least those two areas where we DID bend halakha to reach a result. In the case of mamzerut so far as to not investigate suspected but not confirmed mamzerut.

    [YA – We have to be careful to explain what “bending” halacha means. It does not mean fabricating arguments that are not true or unworthy of support. It does not mean pulling kosher halachic rabbits out of a black hat. It does not imply legal legerdemain and hocus-pocus, or turning a blind eye to truth or to acceptable halachic thinking. It means that where there are opinions that are entirely sustainable and defensible – but offset by other approaches that are also defensible – we have the right to embrace the lenient argument to permit a mamzer or unchain an agunah. When we refrain from asking certain questions in regard to mamzerus, it is only insofar as there are chazakos in play that are still intact. Where there are good grounds for suspicion, we do not refrain from investigating. Quite the contrary. We investigate, and then use whatever legitimate halachic weaponry is available in our arsenal.]

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