Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Strategies against intermarriage I - Syrian Jews

Please read the following article from the New York Times by Zev Chafets

Money in New York

The Sy Empire

Published: October 14, 2007


"In school, though, the SY kids mixed with other children, not only J-Dubs but also gentiles. The gentiles posed the gravest concern. Friendships with them developed, love affairs sprouted. There were intermarriages. Some Christian partners even volunteered to convert to Judaism.

Enter the rabbis with their Edict, in 1935. They wanted to build an iron wall of self-separation around the community. They couldn’t do this the Hassidic way, dressing the men in costumes of ancient design, physically segregating women and making sure that children received nothing in the way of useful secular education. After all, the Syrian men couldn’t be expected to make money if they looked like figures from 18th-century Poland.

And so the rabbis turned to the heart of the matter: matrimony. Most American Jewish communities in those days (and many today) viewed intermarriage as a taboo. Conversion, however, was a loophole. The Edict intended to close that loophole. It proclaimed, “No male or female member of our community has the right to intermarry with non-Jews; this law covers conversion, which we consider to be fictitious and valueless.”


  1. My husband and I both grew up in the NY/NJ Syrian community. We were upset by Chafets's portrayal of the community in this article which we felt was rather denigrating.

    Chafets is himself married to the daughter of high ranking Evangelical Xtian missionaries from Louisiana, a woman named Lisa Beyer. It should not be surprising that Chafets would take offense at a community that does not condone intermarriage.

    It is also not surprising that Chafets would write a book that asserts that Jews should do more to align themselves with the beliefs of Fundamental Xtians.

    In 1925, the Turkish Sephardic community in NY/NJ numbered 50,000 and boasted many beautiful synagogues, Jewish schools and community organizations. The Syrian community by contrast numbered 2500 at that time.

    Today, the Turkish Sephardic community in the US is all but extinct while the Syrian community is bursting at the seams with 170,000 members in communities in NY, NJ and Florida.

    Essentially there is no difference between Turkish and Syrian Sephardic Judaism, in fact there was not even such a thing as Syria pre WWI. The ONLY difference between the two communities has been the Edict against intermarriage.

    The Syrian community has an intermarriage rate of less than 3% despite the fact that Syrian Jews do not dress distinctively, they speak English, attend secular colleges,travel extensively and work among Gentiles.

    The Syrian community should be an example to those who are wondering how to effectively stop the hemorrhage of intermarriage and assimilation as well as a model of what can be achieved when ALL of a community's tzeddaka dollars are spent on JEWS.

    Another aspect of not condoning intermarriage via "conversion" in our communities has to do with the cost of such policies.

    A huge amount of tzeddaka money in American Jewish communities is spent on proselytizing and social services for "converts" and their children, including tuition.

    American Rabbis spend a great deal of their time addressing the problems of "kids at risk" and "families in crisis"; people who never should have been admitted to our communities in the first place, rather than focusing their efforts on the needs of elderly and needy Jews.

    In contrast, the Syrian community not only provides top notch social and community services to ALL Jews, but also has plenty of tzeddaka money left over to fund yeshivas and services in neighboring Ashkenazic communities and in Eretz Yisrael.

    THAT should be a lesson!!

  2. There is a common misperception about the Syrian Takana that I would hope to correct.

    The ban only applies to those who have converted for marriage. It does not apply to one who has converted while single, or one who converted from birth. As such, it is not a ban on converts, but only a ban on those who did so for the sake marriage to a Jew.

    I recommend reading the exact text of the edict.

    Many would say that one cannot convert for the sake of marriage anyway, and that the Takana was merely a re-statement of a well established Halacha that had fallen out of favor.

    It's sad that a Takana was needed against such an obvious thing, and even more telling that it received so much criticism over the last 70 years.

    It's ridiculous as having a problem with a ban against cheeseburgers.

  3. Found this on wikipedia article on Syrian Jews

    "Attitudes to Conversion

    In the early twentieth century the Syrian Jewish communities of New York and Buenos Aires adopted rulings designed to discourage intermarriage. The communities would not carry out conversions to Judaism, or (normally) accept as members converts from other communities, or the children of mixed marriages or marriages involving converts. In some instances, however, they have recognised conversions carried out by the Rabbis in Israel. This law heavily discouraged people from converting because in order to convert they would have to travel to Israel and back, showing great commitment toward Judaism. It should be noted that Rabbi Jacob Kassin has been known to make conversions in very specific situations.

    Hacham Uzziel, then Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, was asked to rule on the validity of this ban. He acknowledged the right of the community to refuse to carry out conversions and to regard as invalid conversions carried out by other communities in which marriage is a factor. At the same time he cautioned that persons converted out of genuine conviction and recognised by established rabbinic authorities should not be regarded as non-Jews, even if they were not allowed to join the Syrian community.

    The ban is popularly known within the Syrian community as the "edict" or "proclamation" (in Hebrew, takkanah). Every twenty years or so, the edict is reaffirmed by all leaders and rabbis of the community, often with extra clauses. A full list is as follows:

    * Buenos Aires, 1927 (R. David Setton)
    * New York, 1935 (R. Jacob Kassin)
    * New York, 1946 "Clarification"
    * New York, 1972 "Affirmation"
    * New York, 1984 "Reaffirmation"
    * New York, 2006 "Reaffirmation".

    There has been some argument as to whether the ruling amounts to a blanket ban on all converts or whether sincere converts from other communities, not motivated by marriage, may be accepted. The relevant sentence is "no male or female member of our community has the right to intermarry with non-Jews; this law covers conversions which we consider to be fictitious and valueless". In the 1946 "Clarification" a comma appears after the word "conversions", which makes it appear that all conversions are "fictitious and valueless", though this understanding is not uncontested.

    Today the Syrian community's rate of intermarriage with non-Jews is less than one percent, as compared to anything up to 50% among American Jews generally[citation needed]"

  4. There is an discussion of the edict on mailjewish


    by Rabbi Fred Dweck

    "I can surely understand the horror of the general Jewish Community to
    this stand. Especially when we see mitzvot like "Veahavta et hager" (You
    should love the convert), and what the Rambam has to say about it.
    However, there is no question that a local Bet Din is allowed to issue
    decrees to protect its constituents. In this case, however, as unsavory
    as the decree might seem to the liberal thinking public, the decree has
    done what it was meant to do. I would hope that there is not one
    observant Jew who would prefer that the ban be lifted, only to witness an
    explosion of intermarriages in the Syrian Community. 3% compared to over
    50% who of you would care to accept that?

    Sometimes it becomes necessary to do uncomfortable things in order to
    safeguard Judaism and the Torah. As Rabbi Kassin said to me, when I
    questioned him about it: "If a person has Cancer in his arm, it is
    preferable to cut off the arm rather than to let him die!!!"

    This is *NOT* the minhag of the other Sephardic Communities. Most of them
    do accept "Gerie Tzedek." (True converts)."

  5. What is 'fear of heaven'?
    By HILLEL GOLDBERG IJN Executive Editor


    Introduction: Syrian Jewish sign: 'No converts allowed'Last summer we vacationed at the "Jersey shore," traversing a string of towns along the New Jersey shoreline: Bradley Beach, Ocean Grove, Asbury Park, Deal, Long Branch.

    Bradley Beach has the oldest Syrian Jewish synagogue in the area; Ocean Grove is a haven for Methodists; Asbury Park, a lower income area; Deal, a haven for Syrian Jews, and Long Branch, site of a charming kosher restaurant with the best frozen yogurt I've ever tasted.

    Most would regard Satmar chasidim as the most insular Jewish group. In a certain way, this description actually fits Syrian Jewry. Satmar accepts halachic converts; the Syrian Jewish community does not. If you are a Syrian Jew and you marry a convert, you are read out of the community, openly and officially. It makes no difference who performs the conversion and what the standards are. The Satmar Rebbe himself could convert someone. If a Syrian Jew marries him, he is communally excommunicated. Syrian Jews marry only born Jews.

    This was decreed by the Syrian chief rabbi, Jacob Kassin, in 1935, reaffirmed in 1946 and again in 1972. Not only the rabbis, but every leader of the community -- of schools, shuls, tzedakah funds -- signed the decree.

    If a Syrian Jew marries a convert, he or she will not be afforded membership in the community or burial in its cemetery; a male will not be called to the Torah (given an aliyah); the children will not be afforded a circumcision or a Bar Mitzvah. The decree makes explicit that the payment of no sum of money will alter this community rule. If one breaks the rule, "the issue will have to suffer the consequences," reads the decree, clearly carrying it forward to the coming generations.

    The week we visited the Jersey shore, the Torah portion of Ekev was read. Ironically, it contains the verse, "And you shall love the convert" (Deut. 10:18). Is the Syrian Jewish community violating the Torah?

    The Syrian chief rabbi justified the decree on the grounds that conversion strictly for the sake of marriage is invalid under Jewish law, and that the community is being infected and destroyed by intermarriage. The decree, apparently, was an emergency decree on the grounds that the community was subject to disintegration.

    Almost 70 years after the decree, the Syrian leadership would say (I imagine) that the emergency is even greater now than it was in 1935.

    Two things are clear. One, this decree saved the American Syrian Jewish community. There are hundreds of American Jewish communities that existed in 1935 but left no trace.

    Two, conversion is permissible under Halachah. Conversion is also widely abused. To ban conversion is not my way. But I see the Syrian point of view. In any event, the Syrian synagogues are filled with an awesome sense of fear of Heaven. Their accent, and their extraordinarily careful pronunciation of and intention behind each word during prayer, are inspiring....

  6. Thank you for the memory of Rabbi Fred Ezra Dweck HaKohen ztl who passed away 5/26/06.

    KING DAVID WAS THE FIRST TO ENACT AN EDICT BANNING CONVERTS. King Solomon went against his father King David and Samuel the Prophet by converting hundreds of Gentile women and then marrying them thinking he would make them all righteous converts.

    The story continued with the wives leading the king to his spiritual downfall. King Solomon then REINSTATED THE EDICT AGAINST ACCEPTING CONVERTS.

    Rabbi Chelbo, Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi, Rashi, and Rabbi Salomon Luria (Rashal) made statements that many have interpreted to be against accepting converts.

    The Jewish community councils of Lithuania and Moldavia issued edicts forbidding teaching Gentiles for conversion.

    Chief Rabbi of the British Empire, Rabbi Nathan Adler sent out letters in the 1870s to the Jewish communities in Australia forbidding the acceptance of converts to Judaism.

    Rabbi Manassah Ben Israel of Amsterdam negotiated a return of Jews to England with Cromwell with the agreement that the Jewish community would enact an edict against accepting converts.

    In 1834 Rabbi Akiba Eger of Posen issued a ban on accepting converts in order to preserve the Jewish communities of Prussia.

    The Ashkenazic community of Argentina joined Rabbi Shaul Sutton in the 1928 ban against accepting converts. The Jewish community of Zurich also issued a ban against conversions during the same time period.

    The Syrian community is certainly not the first nor only Jewish community to issue an edict against accepting converts in order to preserve itself.

  7. To ban converts is to ban the Torah! if you have problems with educating your children not to intermarry, them it is the failiure of those Rabbis to instil fear of Hashem and loyalty to judaism in them. The jewish people were founded by a convert, king David was a grandson of a convert,Moses meried a convert, so did Isaac and yaakov,who will tell Rabbi Akiva he is not Jewish? who will tell Shomaya and Avtalion the teacher of Hillel and Shamay that they are not jews? and who will say thet the holly convert Abraham Ben Abraham of Vilna who died in Kidush Hashem was not Jewish? in Yugoslavia was a community of converts that died in the holocaust would you tell them they were not jews? This decree is seriously flaw it tells the jews that judaism is a racial people. But is more than that! it contradicts the Torah explicitly and the laws in shulchan Aruch. in Mexico this turn judaism in to a racial religion that look more like a social club than a covenant with Hashem. The best way to fight intermariage is jewish education not banning part of the Torah. I feel sorry for genuine converts that have much to contribute to our people and have been turn away by this flawed decree. Get real! our sages said in the Talmud that we are here in exile to gather converts so we can be redeemed, you are preventing our redemtion!!!

  8. there have to be a universal bet din that does conversion acording to halacha, there has to be compasion and understanding for the prospective convert, and it should not be turned into a buisness. off course there has to be a serious conversion process but lately it has been also politisized by one Rabbi against another, that also must stop!!!
    The Sirian community has to stop going against to Torah, many refuse to wear kippa, many are not shomer shabbat, there are many divisions amoung them. But worse of all, this anti convert attitude is anti- Torah is contradicting the rabbis of ealier generations and turns judaism into a self centered social club that has forgoten the sacred mission to be a light to the nations! I'm not impressed with what you call a "syrian jewish community" most of then are not observant,what use is to be anti convert if you fail to keep judaism anyhow? intermarriage is one of the many problems that the jewish people face, we should not solve our problems by going against the Torah!!

  9. I'm shock by this remark of a syrian Rabbi:
    "If a person has Cancer in his arm, it is
    preferable to cut off the arm rather than to let him die!!!"

    Judaism has its cure in being Jewish not in going against it to protect it from itself!
    We are a nation of laws that are given to us by Hashem and Passed directly to us by our Rabbis. Having said That, I'm asking a question: Before this Rabbis made this decree, where were they? why did they fail to institute a solid jewish education in their children and prevent assimilation? you see, Satmar did not need to make a decree against converts because no satmar Chosid would marry a Gentile that is because they put solid jewish values in their children, the same with other chasidic , Litvish and other jews. But I have seen why this has happended, this "cancer" was preventable if they had put priority on jewish values instead of money making. Their Kids instead of going to yehiva they went to secular schools, they hired house keepers with little regard for the laws of yichud and tsniut, they were materialistic and obstentetious as secular jews did!!! so it was little surprise that their children would walk in with a non jew to marry!!!
    Now you blame the converts for your disloyalty to true judaism?

    It is with cancer anyhow is just a differet kind.
    They themselves allowed the cancer to happen!!!

    and also shock by this remark:

    " 3% compared to over
    50% who of you would care to accept that?"

    That is not because they love judaism!!! that is because they feel part of an exclusive social club that uses judaism as decoy!!!(they have this "elitenes"even against none syrian jews)
    Is time to tell the true, so I will!
    I was in Mexico Panama and in Flatbush to Daven,
    except for a few, I did not see that burning desire to be devoted orthodox jews, I saw a decorated synaguogue with all the decorum and pomp of ceremony but the heart was misssing I did not get the true fealling you get at an real frum shul. It was a symbolical judaism at best and it hurt me to have seen that! I was told that ashekenazy Jews (as myself) are not of "pure" blood. I really believe that converts are irritating to this syrian Jews because converts remind them that judaism is not a social racial club to presume your wealth but rather a real relationship with Hashem be born jewish or not! if you look , the sport arena that huge building with fancy looks(el deportivo in mexico)is what they call "community service".
    The sefardic jews kept Judaism alive for many generations before this decree was made, they should ask themeselves if the quality and attachment to that original and holy tradition is kept intact or they have allow it to be assimilated. atack the problem for what it is! a nesesity to re-conect with that original greatness
    Then you won't have the problems with intermariage!!!

    again! you do not cure cancer by creating another type of cancer.


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