Letter in the New York Jewish Week, June 24, 2016
Gary Rosenblatt asserts that, as per the headline over his recent June 17 essay, “Ruth’s Conversion Would Be Rejected Today” by the Israeli rabbinate.
The Jewish religious tradition, however, sees precisely in the biblical Ruth’s conversion the sine qua non of conversion to Judaism.
Both Ruth and Orpah, her sister-in-law, loved and wanted to accompany their mother-in-law Naomi in her trek back to the Holy Land. Both wanted to be part of her life and people. But only Ruth refused to be dissuaded. She insisted that, “thy G‑d [will be] my G‑d” – which, along with her other declarations, represent kabbalat hamitzvot, “acceptance of the commandments” of the Torah. The Talmud explains that, while a convert need not be conversant with all areas of halacha, he or she must, in principle and with full sincerity, accept its authority.
What the Israeli rabbinate has attempted to do is ensure that conversions in the Jewish state comply with the timeless requirements for a non-Jew to miraculously become a Jew. “Converting” people who do not meet those requirements misleads those well-intentioned people, casts doubt on the Jewishness of true converts and does Klal Yisrael a well-intentioned but lamentable disservice.
Rabbi Avi Shafran
Director of Public Affairs
Agudath Israel of America