Times of Israel In a recent JTA Op-Ed, Rabbis Marc Angel and Avi Weiss made a number of claims about the Rabbinical Council of America’s conversion system. While some of their arguments have merit, they paint only a partial picture of what we’re doing in the North American modern Orthodox community. And some of their arguments are just wrong
“The Israeli government recently moved to decentralize the conversion system by allowing local courts to convert individuals on their own.”
Yes and no. Conversion authority was extended only to courts run by municipal rabbis. Most rabbis in Israel still are not authorized to perform conversions. In fact, the new system is an Israeli version of the RCA’s current structure.
“The RCA accredits only those conversions conducted under RCA’s batei din, or rabbinical courts, using the GPS process.”
Individual rabbis are not barred from conducting conversions, and those who do still perform their own conversions find that they are accepted in their communities and by those who respect their conversions (no different than the model advocated by Rabbis Angel and Weiss). If the halachic standards of those conversions are accepted by the RCA’s Beth Din of America, then even those privately conducted conversions will be widely accepted. The advantage of the RCA’s system, known as GPS (for Geirus Policies and Standards), is that conversions performed by its rabbinic tribunals are guaranteed to receive the support of the Beth Din of America.
Centralization is dangerous.
Yes, centralization has the potential for corruption and abuse. That is why there were checks and balances built into the GPS system, why we do our best to ensure our batei din are comprised of people of integrity, and why – in light of the lacunae identified in the Rabbi Barry Freundel case – we are reviewing the entire system with a commitment to improve it.
But a decentralized system is also subject to corruption and abuse – even more so. Who supervises the individual rabbi and protects the conversion candidate from the same possible abuses that Rabbis Angel and Weiss are concerned about? Who protects that rabbi from undue political and financial pressures that may compromise his judgment? Who protects converts and their descendants from rabbis who “sell” conversions or whose conversions are not widely accepted? [...]