Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Conversion - What is a Reform ger?


Ora asks the following:

What is the difference between no Giur and a non recognised Giur?

A young man is fascinated by some aspects of judaism. However, orthodox judaism poses some problems of philosphical and of practical nature. (e.g. He does not want to oppose homosexuality, his wife is not jewish and he does not want her to convert because of him, he lives far from the synagogue he wants to attend and would have to drive to go there, he does not really believe in "exclusivity" of religion, i.e. that all other religions but judaism are false)

But he considers a reform giur, since reform judaism is the religion he would like to choose for himself, because it addresses the problems he has with orthodox judaism.

Now: anyway, a reform Giur is not recognised. So it will be considered null and void by orthodox rabbinate. So there is no problem that the person will not be shomer mitzwoth. Is it therefore legitimate for him to convert (reform), knowing that his reform giur has "limited validity"? In other words: Is reform judaism a legitimate way of being mekaim 7 mitzwoth bney noach?



23 comments :

  1. You seem to be asking that even though there is absolutely no significance to a Reform conversion i.e., non-Jew + conversion = non-Jew, does it have any significance?

    Or put another way, even though Orthodox Jews do not see any significance to this conversion - is there in some sense that it is significant?

    Thus your questions seems to presuppose that Orthodoxy and Reform are simply demonimations or flavors within Judaism.

    The answer is that a conversion without acceptance of mitzvos is not a conversion. A conversion to accept all mitzvos except for one is explictly invalidated by the gemora. Thus if a non-Jew accepted kashrus and family purity but refused to accept using the telephone on Shabbos - he is not a convert. Finally if the conversion was done by a beis din composed of judges who did not accept all the mitzvos it is not considered a beis din and the conversion would be invalid.

    Thus the conversion's recognition by the Reform movement gives it not even partial significance by those who observe Torah and mitzvos.

    Regarding the possible benefits for such a "convert" in keeping the 7 mitzvos - there are none and he is in fact worse off than other non-Jews because the Rambam notes that if a non-Jew observes Shabbos or learns Torah because he thinks he has a religious obligation - he is liable to death at the hands of Heaven. While if he as a non-Jew keeps some of the other mitzvos - simply to gain reward - he is permitted.

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  2. My question is:
    Is there any argument (from an orthodox point of view) against performing a Giur that is not a Giur?

    If the potential "non-Ger" has the possibility
    1) to sympathise with reform judaism without converting
    2) to convert to reform judaism in a Giur that has not validity

    Is one of those two options preferable from an orthodox point of view?

    My reasoning is:
    Since the Giur is not recognised, it does no harm, so why not do it if it makes the person happy?

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  3. the Monsey TzadikJuly 7, 2009 at 8:44 PM

    The vast majority of Jews are not Orthodox, someone who convert reform can join a reform/progressive/conservative community be fully accepted and live happily ever after.

    The only issues could be if the convert or his children want to marry an Orthodox Jew (difficulties BT share) or if they move to Israel and want to marry there.

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  4. As Rabbi Eidensohn already pointed out, it appears that Ora's question is based on the assumption that Orthodoxy views Reform is a "less valid" form of Judaism. This is incorrect.

    According to Orthodox Jewish law, Reform Judaism is not Judaism at all. It is essentially a different religion with a historical connection to Judaism, much as Christianity is. Indeed, just like early Christianity, most followers of Reform Judaism are themselves Jewish. However, also like early Christianity, if a non-Jew converts to this religion, that conversion has no meaning or status whatsoever in Judaism. It is a non-Jew converting from one non-Jewish religion to another, like a Muslim converting to Christianity, or vice versa.

    If a non-Jew wishes to follow the seven Noahide laws, then he should certainly do so. Converting to Reform (or Conservative) will not aid him in that goal. On the contrary, given their teachings, it may actually hinder.

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  5. ora said...

    My question is:
    Is there any argument (from an orthodox point of view) against performing a Giur that is not a Giur?
    ======================
    DT - yes there is a problem as I noted before. A non-Jew who thinks he is a Jew and does what he does because he thinks he is a Jew - is liable to death at the hand of Heaven.

    Ora: If the potential "non-Ger" has the possibility
    1) to sympathise with reform judaism without converting
    2) to convert to reform judaism in a Giur that has not validity

    Is one of those two options preferable from an orthodox point of view?
    ====================
    DT: It is better that he view himself as a non-Jew who is doing extra mitzvos as one who is not commanded to do them. There is an intermediary category called ger toshav which according to the Magen Avraham can do 612 mitzvos and still not be considered a Jew - but gets reward for doing the mitzvos.

    Ora: My reasoning is:
    Since the Giur is not recognised, it does no harm, so why not do it if it makes the person happy?
    ==============
    DT: It actually has two problems which cause harm 1) he does mitzvos because he thinks he is a Jew 2) Because he thinks he is a Jew he will possibly marry a Jew or mislead a Jew who is interested in marry a Jew.

    In sum - a Jew who is Reform and doesn't keep most of the mitzvos because he thinks that a Reform Jew doesn't need to - is still a Jew. A non-Jew who thinks he is a Jew because he had a Reform conversion is liable to death at the hand of Heaven for studying Torah and keeping Shabbos and can end up marrying a Jew because they both think he is Jewish.

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  6. As I said: he is already married to a non-jew, this being one of the reasons that keeps him from doing an orthodox Giur. He would consider an orthodox Giur if this were not the case.

    If he is told not to be shomer shabbat (which he has no intention of doing) is there still a problem left?

    Could he apply for Ger Toshav? What are the implications? Is he allowed to learn Torah as a Ger Toshav?

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  7. @Lazer A:
    If reform Judaism is "not Judaism at all", where is the problem with a Reform Giur, which is not valid anyway, for a person who does not intend to keep tariag mitzwoth?

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  8. As I said: he is already married to a non-jew, this being one of the reasons that keeps him from doing an orthodox Giur. He would consider an orthodox Giur if this were not the case.

    If he is told not to be shomer shabbat (which he has no intention of doing) is there still a problem left?

    Could he apply for Ger Toshav? What are the implications? Is he allowed to learn Torah as a Ger Toshav?
    ======================
    Why does he want to be called a Jew when he realizes it won't be a real Jew or at least not a universally accepted Jew? As I have repeatedly stated, doing mitzvos because you think you are Jewish and obligated to do them - when you are not - constitutes a real problem.

    If the issue is elevating his status as an observant ben noach - so let him contact Chabad which has programs specifically for ben noach.what is wrong with being considered one of the righteous of the nations of the world?

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  9. "A non-Jew who thinks he is a Jew because he had a Reform conversion is liable to death at the hand of Heaven for studying Torah and keeping Shabbos and can end up marrying a Jew because they both think he is Jewish."

    So let's sum up

    1) A reform Giur is by no means a Giur i.e. the person stays non jewish.

    2) If person does an orthodox Giur but says in his heart in the Mikveh "But I don't like the bit about slaughtering the poor lambs", the Giur is not valid.

    3) If person does an orthodx Giur and is Mekabel ol Torah u Mitzwoth, but one of the Rabbis in the Beith din is a secret apicores, the Giur is not valid either.

    If I understand you right, in all three cases the person deserves "death at the hands of heaven for keeping shabbat and studying Torah.

    But in the first case, the "risk" that the person will keep shabbat is much inferior than in the last two...

    So the ones who really expose themselves to this risk are the persons doing an orthodox Giur because it is not really in their hand to control what rabbis on their Beith Din think in the secrecy of their hearts...

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  10. Do you know about Bnei Noach/Ger Toshav programs in Germany?

    Does Bney Noach involve learning hebrew and halacha for Bnei noach?

    The person was in a jewish school in Germany and this brought a "libshaft" for Judaism into his heart. However, he thinks that "orthodoxy" is too strict, he is not ready to respect all precepts, so he decided not to be Megaier. Than he learned about a branch of reform judaism which catered exactely to his needs, and now he considers reform Giur (only for himself, so as far as I understand now, it would not involve future children).

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  11. ora said...

    Do you know about Bnei Noach/Ger Toshav programs in Germany?
    =======================

    http://www.wikinoah.org/index.php/Websites

    I don't personally don't know or endorse any of these programs - but it is a starting point. It also lists all the Chabad programs so I would start there.

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  12. 3) If person does an orthodx Giur and is Mekabel ol Torah u Mitzwoth, but one of the Rabbis in the Beith din is a secret apicores, the Giur is not valid either.
    =================
    Interesting question but highly unlikely. The problem also occurs in regard to Torah study.

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  13. "The problem also occurs in regard to Torah study"

    But Torah study is allowed to a Giur candidate (whereas shmirat shabbat is not). So if the person wants to see if he wants to do a Giur, he could study...

    Thank you for the link.

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  14. "Interesting question but highly unlikely. The problem also occurs in regard to Torah study."

    Well it already happened that persons did bona fidea orthodox giurim that were cancelled afterwards. An example for it could be found here: http://failedmessiah.typepad.com/failed_messiahcom/2009/03/rca-reneges-on-conversion-deal-rabbi-avi-weiss-claims.html

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  15. ora said...

    "The problem also occurs in regard to Torah study"

    But Torah study is allowed to a Giur candidate (whereas shmirat shabbat is not). So if the person wants to see if he wants to do a Giur, he could study...

    Thank you for the link.
    =====================
    Torah study for a prospective ger is not a simple issue. Torah study for a Reform convert is not permitted - except for that which a non-Jew is allowed to study.

    you are welcome

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  16. ora said...

    "Interesting question but highly unlikely. The problem also occurs in regard to Torah study."

    Well it already happened that persons did bona fidea orthodox giurim that were cancelled afterwards.
    ===========
    I seem to recall that this involved doubts concerning the conversions which necessitated doing geirus l'chumrah. This is not necessarily a disqualification or cancellation of the conversion It is usually resolved by doing the conversion procedure again to eliminate any doubts or disputes regarding the conversion.

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  17. ora said...
    "2)If person does an orthodox Giur but says in his heart in the Mikveh "But I don't like the bit about slaughtering the poor lambs", the Giur is not valid.

    3) If person does an orthodx Giur and is Mekabel ol Torah u Mitzwoth, but one of the Rabbis in the Beith din is a secret apicores, the Giur is not valid either.


    If my understanding of the halacha is correct, then neither of these issues as stated is actually a concern.

    Jewish law does not deal with that which is hidden entirely in the heart. If this would not be so, then no conversion ever could be considered reliably valid. In fact, given the fact that a heretic is also invalid for other issues as well, this kind of reasoning could put in doubt all marriages, divorces, kosher slaughter, etc.

    As long as there is no reason for the beis din to believe that the convert is insincere, the possibility that in his heart he is insincere is not considered.

    One issue that is discussed (and has come up recently in the news) is if the convert's behavior in the period immediately after the conversion can serve as evidence that the convert was insincere at the time.

    The same reasoning would apply to secret thoughts on the part of the rabbis serving on the beis din.

    There is a risk that it will be later exposed that one (or more) of the officiating rabbis was, in fact, invalid for whatever reason. For example, it may be found that he was already known to be a "heretic", even if this was not known to the convert. This issue was raised in the controversial psak from Rav Sherman.

    Similarly, in the incident you mentioned involving the RCA, the concern there was that the Orthodox rabbis in that case were either incompetent or irresponsible and failed to follow the proper procedures for a conversion court. Specifically, having a convert sit as a member of the beis din.

    A convert who is serious should be careful to seek out a rabbis that are universally recognized authorities and not fashionable controversialists or popular conversion programs.

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  18. 2) If person does an orthodox Giur but says in his heart in the Mikveh "But I don't like the bit about slaughtering the poor lambs", the Giur is not valid.

    -------------------------------
    -------------------------------


    What about in a case where a person converts, is mekabel ol Torah u’Mitzvos, but after the conversion learns of a mitzvah or some part of Torah that he doesn’t agree with. Is he still called a ger because at the moment of conversion he agreed to accept everything? I guess what I am really asking is what does it mean to be mekabel ol Torah u’Mitzvos?

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  19. the monsey TzadikJuly 8, 2009 at 10:48 PM

    A convert who is serious should be careful to seek out a rabbis that are universally recognized authorities and not fashionable controversialists or popular conversion programs.

    Do not exist , just like the unified theory.

    The best a convert can do is to decide beforehand which community he wants to live and then convert sccording to that community standards. If one want to live in Ramat bet Shemsh modern Orthodox conversion would not be useful, if someone wants to leave in 5 towns a haredi conversion would not be useful and actually dangerous.

    Because if the convert follows the minhags of 5 towns and you got converted by Tropper/Rony the conversion could be nullified by him and Rabinovitch just because the convert adopts Modern Orthodox lifestyle, wearing pants , going to college or eating falafel with using a napkins instead of actually washing the hands etc. Or the worst of worst: accepting Christ as the savior/believing in old universe/following rav Slifkin.

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  20. the monsey Tzadik said...
    "...if someone wants to leave in 5 towns a haredi conversion would not be useful and actually dangerous.
    Because if the convert follows the minhags of 5 towns and you got converted by Tropper/Rony the conversion could be nullified by him and Rabinovitch just because the convert adopts Modern Orthodox lifestyle..."


    I was not aware that Rabbi Tropper's popular conversion program has now become the only recognized means of conversion in the chareidi community. In fact, until recently, I was fairly certain that it was pretty controversial in that community.

    Any popular conversion program, whether it is run by EJF, the Israeli government, or any other group, is not a wise choice for a serious convert. Do some research, consult with multiple rabbis and community members, and find a recognized rabbi (possibly out of town) whose conversions are accepted across the board.

    Such rabbis do exist.

    BTW, is it really the "minhag" of the 5 towns to use napkins instead of washing on bread? L'chatchila? Only pita? Do you mean cleaning the hand with a napkin beforehand, or holding the pita with a napkin while eating? Do any of the local rabbis actually approve of this practice? I'm interested in learning more of this.

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  21. You only need to wash if your hands touch the food.

    So if you make sure that the hand will by no means touch the food, e.g. by putting plastic bags over your hands while eating, you do not need to wash.

    This is used for people who cannot wash, e.g. when they have a dressed wound on their hand.

    So some people who do have no water nearby use it also, obviously.

    A napkin is in general a bit too small to make sure you do not touch the food at all...

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  22. ora said...
    This is used for people who cannot wash, e.g. when they have a dressed wound on their hand.
    So some people who do have no water nearby use it also, obviously."


    Obviously? Not necessarily. The poskim (Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chaim 163) are clear that this option is only acceptable b'di'eved - i.e. when it is too difficult to get water. (This is also applied to bandages, see Mishna Berurah 162:69.)

    Of course, defining the amount of difficulty for getting water is tricky. Considering that, before the development of running water, it was always relatively difficult to get water compared to today, it is hard to imagine that a person today would have a justification to rely on this exemption except in unusual circumstances.

    From the poskim it is clear that if there is water available within one kilometer (roughly equivalent to one מיל according to R' M. Feinstein), then one may not exempt oneself from washing. (Possibly even four kilometers, but this is an area of debate among the poskim.)

    I would be surprised to learn that any Orthodox rabbi would explicitly endorse relying on this exemption l'chatchila. That was the question I asked. The fact that there are some who, in violation of halacha, rely on this exemption when it does not apply does not make the practice a "minhag".

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  23. If orthodox Judaism indeed does not recognize reform as being within the sphere of Judaism, why would it concern itself with 'death at the gates of heaven' for one who converts to a religion - reform - that orthodox Judaism regards as being equal in its non-Jewishness with Islam and Christianity? It would be one thing if the convert converted orthodox while leading a double- non-orthodox lifestyle, but different parameters emerge if you're saying that orthodox does not recognize reform as Judaism at all. It's impossible to prescribe punishments for non-Jews - ie reform converts - from the basis of orthodox Judaism if you say reform is not Judaism at all. You've either indirectly recognized reform, or made an argument from the basis of orthodox punishment for one who is not a part of orthodoxy.

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