Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Eternal Jewish family's anonymous and unofficial defender promises to answer my criticism

Responding in the calm, respectful and intelligent manner which has characterized all of his correspondence, the anonymous unofficial defender of Eternal Jewish Family - amicusEJF - promises to reply to my criticism of Eternal Jewish Family.

This was received yesterday - March 10, 2008
Anonymous amicusEJF said...

Dear R' Eidensohn, shlita,
Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I apologize that I cannot reply in a timely fashion since there are several other matters demanding my attention right now. I hope to do so later today.

I really don't understand why their champion has to be anonymous and unofficial. It certainly conveys the message that they have something to hide. Alternatively it implies that they view criticism as a sign that the critic is deviant or at least motivated by the dark forces and therefore they are afraid of contamination.

Much of my criticism is related to the lack of transparency of EJF's operation. Given the high power public relations people they have access to it is astounding that they are doing such a poor job of public relations. Their web site is a prime example of ineffective and misleading information. I appreciate that they took it down and have tried to fix it - but they still are missing the point of a web site. It has improved in one major issue. They took down the incredible videos which justified conversion as a step to greater psychological family health or providing a basis for the non-Jewish father to share the experience of going to shul with his daughter or reducing the tension from a disapproving mother-in-law who doesn't want a non-Jewish daughter-in-law. These videos clearly conveyed the unfortunately message that conversion is a pragmatic psychological and sociological alternative and has little to do with sincere interest in Judaism and keeping mitzvos.


  1. Hakol Spring 2005

    Horizons is moving forward with the Eternal Jewish Family and is ready to take this program to the next level (this program was launched to streamline the conversion process for the non-Jewish spouse of an intermarriage). While we increase the number of couples involved in the program, Horizons is organizing a conference to be held in June in the New York area which will bring rabbanim together from around the country and beyond. The conference will focus on ways to coordinate and organize batei dinim with the purpose of facilitating a universally accepted conversion. A cornerstone of the conference will be the introduction of a Halachic manual being prepared by the Eternal Jewish Family program which will be a valuable tool for Rabbis dealing with issues of conversion as it relates to intermarriage. More information will be forthcoming as to the details of the conference.

  2. This article was in the South Florida Jewish News:

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    Friday April 14, 2006

    Orthodox group liberalizes conversion process

    by larry luxner

    hollywood, fla. | When is an Orthodox conversion really kosher? How long should a prospective Jew have to study before being universally accepted as a convert? And how much should a rabbi charge to supervise the process?

    No one has easy answers to these questions. In fact, until recently few Orthodox rabbis even were asking them, at least not in a public forum. And most, if not all, did not accept applicants with Jewish spouses.

    Now the Orthodox community gradually is encouraging non-Jewish spouses to convert in accordance with halachah, or Jewish law.

    “We’re reaching out to intermarrieds to encourage them to apply for conversions if they are truly and sincerely dedicated” to being religious Jews, said Rabbi Leib Tropper, co-founder of the group Eternal Jewish Family, or EJF, based in Monsey, N.Y.

    Demographics may have a lot to do with the change of heart. According to Tropper, 50 percent of non-Orthodox Jews in the United States are married to non-Jews, and another 20 percent are married to spouses who have undergone Reform or Conservative conversions — which Orthodox Jews often don’t consider “kosher.”

    Last month, EJF hosted a conference in Florida called “Universally Accepted Conversions in Intermarriage.”

    The event attracted 170 leading rabbis ranging from modern Orthodox to Lubavitch, including the chief rabbis of Israel and Poland.

    “The notion circulating in the Jewish community that intermarried couples are unwelcome and that Orthodox rabbinical courts will not entertain their conversions is being quickly dispelled by the activities of this organization,” said conference chairman Marvin Jacob.

    The group has established seven rabbinical courts in the United States and is in the process of creating more. As rabbis join the EJF, they become part of the network of courts, or batei din, that perform conversions, Jacob said.

    Tropper said the group doesn’t seek to proselytize, but rather “to create universally accepted standards for becoming Jewish.”

    Rabbi Moshe Krupka, the Orthodox Union’s national executive director, agreed that standardizing conversions is a good idea.

    “Our hope is that we’re not going to utilize mediocre standards. When we as a faith community welcome a convert into our midst, our standard should be acceptance of the Torah and a Torah way of life, so that it elevates the community as a whole,” Krupka said.

    By standardizing the conversion process, EJF hopes to lure in mixed couples that vow to practice Orthodox Judaism and keep kosher.

    “Sometimes, even if people are ready we push them off for months, if not years, to test their sincerity. People lose interest and go away,” Jacob said. But if the judges are persuaded that the applicant is sincere about observing the commandments, “we urge that the conversion should take place immediately, because that’s halachah.”

    How long a prospective convert should study is also a matter of debate.

    “What’s more important is the conviction and determination of the candidate,” Tropper said. “If someone’s very determined, it can be done in five months. In other cases, it can take up to two years.” What matters, he said, is that the candidate “knows what he’s required to know, and agrees to practice and observe it.”

    In the eight months since EJF’s establishment, he said, “we’ve done 70 conversions divided among various rabbinical courts, and we have another 130 candidates in the process of studying for conversion. We get an average of six applications per week on our Web site.”

    The group also is promoting a uniform fee for conversions so that applicants can avoid what Jacob called “shysters.” He said that a fair fee is about $300 per judge, up to a maximum $1,000 fee for all three together.

    “I’ve heard of one Orthodox rabbi who charges $7,500,” he added.

    Said Krupka, “It pains me greatly that there are Jews who don’t live up to their Jewish potential. But that should in no way lower the bar for what it takes to become a Jew, especially if we believe that Judaism is divinely ordained.”

  3. from Kol Yaakov Hakol Spring 2004

    Horizons is currently launching a new initiative, Partners for the Eternal Jewish Family. Operating under the psak of HaRav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, this program’s mission is to facilitate the conversion process of the non-Jewish spouse of an intermarriage, provided the couple is establishing a Torah- observant home. The scope of this program continues to grow as we discover the tremendous need to streamline the conversion process under this specific circumstance. Operating under the guidance and halachic rulings of HaRav Yosef Shalom Elyashev shlit”a, HaRav Dovid Feinstein shlit”a and HaRav Reuven Feinstein shlit”a, Rabbi Tropper is currently compiling the relevant halachos as well as a manual providing practical application and case studies. Fellowships are being provided to a select group of scholars from across the country, who will then delve into and master this program of study. A committee will then be formed to simplify and unify the difficult process that many sincere individuals face when seeking to convert (and thereby saving the Jewish spouse from a major prohibition). Horizons is pleased to have Yehuda Dovid Kaplan join his uncle, Thomas Kaplan as co-chairman of The Lillian Jean Kaplan Jewish Pride Through Education Project. His personal experience from practicing Evangelical Christianity to returning to Judaism will enhance Partners for the Eternal Jewish Family’s efforts to reach out to intermarried couples. Though the scope and reach of this program is being developed and expanded, current efforts to help couples now are continuing. Click here for the text of a letter from Hillel Pesach (formerly Steve) Hurlock who has first hand knowledge of this effort.

  4. Jersey Girl wrote:

    This ran in Phoenix Jewish News:

    April 20, 2007/Iyar 2 5767, Volume 59, No. 31

    Universal acceptance
    Group addresses conversion for interfaith couples
    Senior Staff Writer

    Eternal Jewish Family, an organization that helps non-Jewish partners or spouses undergo what it describes as a universally accepted conversion to Judaism, plans to hold a seminar on the subject for interfaith couples next month in the Valley.

    The seminar will take place May 13-15 at the Arizona Biltmore.

    With intermarriage rates skyrocketing, a traditional resistance to converting intermarried spouses is counterproductive, said Rabbi Leib Tropper, who heads Eternal Jewish Family.

    "It would be devastating if we ignored them," Tropper said, adding that Maimonides' teachings on the subject almost prophetically address modern issues of intermarriage and conversion.

    "According to Jewish law before Maimonides, there was a suggestion in the Talmud not to make conversions for the sake of marriage," Tropper said, "but Maimonides said it's better, without compromising the standards of conversion, to try to get the non-Jewish spouse to convert."

    But isn't converting for the sake of marriage considered a bad reason to convert?

    "It's not a problem that somebody undertakes study for conversion because they want to get married," said Rabbi David Rebibo, president of the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of Greater Phoenix. However, he added, it's hoped that through study, the non-Jewish partner will learn that the decision is about the religion they are embracing.

    "If the conversion is purely 'because I'm married' but there's no commitment to the religion, it's less of a valid reason," he added.

    Reform Rabbi Andrew Straus of Temple Emanuel of Tempe agreed, saying, "Reform Judaism says, 'No. We don't want people converting for the sake of marriage, but if Judaism speaks to their hearts, their souls and their brains, our doors are wide open.'"

    All of which begs the question of why Eternal Jewish Family is needed.

    Rebibo said that the conversion process in America was in a "free fall."

    "Reform does what they want, Conservative does what they do, and the result is that all of a sudden we have a serious crisis. Questions arise about how good the conversion is. 'Is this person Jewish?' It's not pleasant and there are no easy answers."

    Straus said his Conservative colleagues will accept conversions over which he presided, "but no Orthodox rabbi will," even if his converts meet all the halachic requirements for conversion. These include brit milah (circumcision) or tippat dam (ritual circumcision, for those who have already been medically circumcised) for males, an appearance before a beit din and immersion in a mikvah, he said.

    Straus, president of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Phoenix, said he had not heard of Eternal Jewish Family before but added that the emergence of the group marks what he called a "crack in the door" among Orthodox religious officials.

    Tropper said the Eternal Jewish Family conversions are Orthodox and halachic, according to Jewish law, and the organization works to ensure that if there are any questions about the conversion they are ironed out.

    "It began with a session with the philanthropist Thomas Kap-lan," Tropper said. "We talked about the assimilation issue and some of the problems," including conversions of a spouse being rejected out of hand and some spouses having to undergo conversion two or three times. (The Lillian Jean Kaplan Jewish Pride Through Education Project, named after the philanthropist's mother, sponsors Eternal Jewish Family).

    So in September 2005, a rabbinic conference was held in Newark, N.J., where it was decided that the first step to address the problem was to write a manual based on what's acceptable to all rabbis, Tropper said. There have been four rabbinic conferences since then to create awareness of the issues and the standards in the manual in a bid to create consensus, he said.

    There are still shades of interpretation, he said. "You'll never get 100 percent consensus, but the shades are all of the same color, not shades of purple, green and yellow."

    The problems facing people who find their conversions challenged range from whether they can send their children to a Jewish school, to Jews not wanting to marry their children, to whether they can be called to the bimah in synagogue and more, Tropper said, adding, "It can be complicated."

    When a spouse's conversion is not accepted, Rebibo said, "it's destabilizing the marriage and seriously impacting their relationships."

    Eternal Jewish Family has "performed a really considerable service to the community at large, to highlight this problem and give it the urgency that it deserves," Rebibo added.

    Tropper said that part of the problem was that individual rabbinic courts often would not provide the feedback a person would need to correctly fulfill requirements or would give only a fuzzy picture of the requirements.

    "We give people a path to learn to become observant and to do it properly," Tropper said. "We're streamlining the process."

    He said the group has involved 11 rabbinic courts (batei din) across the country and in Israel and hopes to have one in Europe soon.

    Eternal Jewish Family is based in Tallman, N.Y., and operates under the guidance and halachic rulings of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashev of Jerusalem, a contemporary leading authority on halacha, and Rabbis Dovid Feinstein and Reuven Feinstein, sons of the late Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, a pre-eminent halachic authority.

    Although there are no insignificant commandments, Tropper said, the key pillars of conversion are keeping Shabbat, observing kashrut and keeping the laws of family purity.

    The Valley was chosen as the site for the May seminar because "we have so many people come from Phoenix to have their conversions done." In addition, Eternal Jewish Family plans to open a local office in the next six months, Tropper said.

    Ken and Lucia Schnitzer of Phoenix, one of eight Valley families who have been helped by Eternal Jewish Family, praise the program.

    So much so that Lucia will speak on "Becoming Part of a Jewish Community - Firsthand Experience" at the seminar, and Ken sits on the national board of Eternal Jewish Family. They both represent the group in Phoenix and work with intermarried couples seeking conversion here.

    "If we ever make aliyah, there isn't going to be any question of my Jewishness," said Lucia. "If my daughter wants to marry a kohen, there isn't going to be any question."

    * Who: Eternal Jewish Family
    * What: Universally Accepted Conversion in Interfaith Marriage seminar
    * When: May 13-15
    * Where: Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa, 2400 E. Missouri Ave., Phoenix
    * Cost: Travel and hotel costs are being defrayed through a grant by the Lillian Jean Kaplan Jewish Pride Through Education Project.
    * Contact: (845) 425-3863, info@horizons.edu or eternaljewishfamily.org

  5. From the 07/05/07 version of EJF website:


    Eternal Jewish Family

    In an effort to reach out to all Jews and break down the barriers that prevent any individual Jew from reclaiming his heritage and the Torah that was handed down directly to the Jewish people, Horizons, through the Lillian Jean Kaplan Jewish Pride through Education Project, has launched Eternal Jewish Family. Its mission, following the Halachic ruling of HaRav Moshe Feinstein zt�l (who was the foremost Halachic authority in America), is to reach out to intermarried couples who are interested in (or merely interested in exploring) establishing a Jewish home based on classic Jewish values and a universally accepted conversion.

  6. From the Jewish Press 3/12/08

    The Truth About RCA Geirus
    By: Rabbi Steven Pruzansky

    There is a sign hanging in my office that should be standard in the office of every rabbi, communal leader, worker for Klal Yisrael or activist of any sort. It reads: “For every action there is an equal and opposite criticism.” And so goes the overheated, misleading, and at times blatantly false reaction by several of my distinguished RCA colleagues to the RCA’s recent promulgation of the Geirus Policies and Standards (GPS).

    Let us sort through the myths and the facts.

    Myth: The Jewish Week headlined its report “RCA Seen as Caving in on Conversions” (to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel). That headline is a contemptible untruth. Having served from its inception on the GPS Committee that formulated the standards, I can state that the reality is the Rabbanut never once suggested an approach to conversion in America, a change in any of our standards, or the adoption of any of their standards.

    Myth: The GPS calls for the re-evaluation of all conversions done in the past by RCA rabbis. This is an especially despicable falsehood, as it serves only to make generations of converts in the Jewish community anxious about their status and acceptance in the community at large. The reality is that not one past geirus is being reviewed by the RCA or its Beth Din of America, and such was never contemplated. To even suggest otherwise is to blatantly violate the Torah’s numerous admonitions against tormenting the ger.

    Myth: The RCA is shifting “to the right” (whatever that means) and has now adopted a series of harsh and restrictive regulations that will hinder the ability of non-Jews to convert. The reality is that these standards are not new, but an expression of the majority opinion in halacha as interpreted through the ages and historically applied by the overwhelming majority of RCA rabbis involved in geirus.

    The proximate cause of the promulgation of the GPS was the sense – here and in Israel – that some rabbis, both inside and outside the RCA, were not adhering to any reasonable benchmark by which geirus has traditionally been executed. This situation had to be rectified in order to protect the integrity of geirus in America and to facilitate a convert’s acceptance in Israel should he or she choose to make aliyah.

    Myth: The Chief Rabbinate will sit in judgment of each American geirus – past, present and future. Well, there is a kernel of truth in every bushel of lies. But this point is nothing new. Certainly the Rabbanut has no standing (or interest) to review the geirus that occurs outside Israel until and unless there is some Israel nexus, such as when the convert makes aliyah. But this has always been the case.

    As a pulpit rabbi, I have provided dozens of affidavits to the Rabbanut attesting to the Jewishness of my members who were born Jews or who converted according to halacha andwho wished to make aliyah or marry in Israel. And this is justly the province and domain of the Chief Rabbinate, and its legal authority under Israeli law. In this instance, the GPS makes the process easier, as participating regional batei din in the network of the RCA, under the auspices of the Beth Din of America, are pre-certified to have their conversions accepted by the Rabbanut.

    A convert who (sadly) never contemplates aliyah or does not marry in the State of Israel will never have any contact with the Rabbanut on these matters.

    Myth: The Chief Rabbinate will not recognize any conversion performed outside the GPS framework. This is also completely false. Any rabbi – RCA or otherwise – can continue to perform conversions on his own and apply to the Rabbanut for acceptance. The considerations the Rabbanut will use are its alone, and completely within its purview. I suspect that some conversions will be accepted, and others rejected – as it has always been.

    Beyond the myths, there is a bigger picture that needs to be considered. One of the most joyous moments in the rabbinate, for me, has been presiding over the conversion process. In a single instant, a non-Jew accepts upon himself not only the laws and customs that regulate Jewish life but also the history and destiny of our covenantal people. A conversion properly conducted and performed is fraught with solemnity, consequence and elation. The process should require intense study, a steadily increasing commitment to halachic practice, and climaxing in a complete acceptance of the mitzvos while standing in the mikveh.

    Nevertheless, it has long been an open secret in the United States (filtered over time to rabbinic authorities in Israel) that there were some American rabbis – again, both members and non-members of the RCA – who officiated at conversions that lacked these prerequisites. Apparently there were rabbis who took substantial sums of money for conversions, turning this sublime process into a lucrative business. There were rabbis who were forced to convert non-Jews under duress, as in the (hypothetical) shul president stating: “Convert my future daughter-in-law or find another job.”

    There were rabbis who were lax in applying the appropriate halachic standards and not insisting, expecting or even contemplating that there would be kabbalas hamitzvos in any realistic way – conversions without a genuine commitment to observance of Shabbos, kashrus, taharas hamishpacha and other staples of Jewish life.

    They asked questions with a wink and received the appropriate answers by the candidates, as if they were reading from a script. (And in almost every such case the conversions were performed for the purpose of marriage. Why else would a rabbi even think of converting a non-Jew who does not wish to observe Jewish law, except for some pressing ulterior concern that itself undermines the very fabric of geirus?)

    There were rabbis who were negligent even in the technical performance of the act of geirus, including a failure to observe the immersion in the mikveh. There were rabbis who converted non-Jewish women knowing they would marry kohanim in violation of Torah law. There were some who availed themselves of every leniency and loophole, ensuring that pro forma conversions would take place that would satisfy the needs of the member in question but not necessarily the letter or spirit of the law.

    (Lest the reader think there was pervasive chaos, the “rabbis” referred to in the examples above were usually the very same small number of people.)

    The GPS Committee performed a vital public service in formulating and disseminating these standards. The formation of regional batei din across the United States – and the ban on the sponsoring or teaching rabbi from serving as a dayan for someone he himself taught or guided – ensure that the individual rabbi is shielded from undue pressure to perform a conversion that is unsatisfactory and lacking in halachic substance.

    These dozen batei din, and the more than forty rabbanim who serve on them, have the full backing of the Chief Rabbinate, ensuring that converts who are potential olim receive a royal welcome home. And, I suspect, the existence of these batei din will sharply reduce the number of non-Jews who convert solely for marriage or some other inducement. Further, the GPS deals sensitively with gerim who are contemplating marriage but wish to convert sincerely, with intermarried couples that want to re-enter the community of committed Jews, and with infertile couples who wish to adopt a non-Jewish child and confer merit upon him under the wings of the Divine Presence.

    With all due respect, I must strongly object to my colleagues’ demagoguery, which serves only to alarm true and sincere converts as well as promote these esteemed rabbis’ own private, political agenda. The GPS Committee – comprised of a geographic and hashkaficcross-section of the RCA – labored over 18 months to produce an appropriate formula that universalizes standards for geirus but that nonetheless allows for the flexibility needed in evaluating something as subjective as another person’s commitment and sincerity. It has, perhaps, the support of 97% of the RCA membership. It is fair, honorable, sensitive, just and moral.

    Its opponents, rather than talk in flowery generalities, must answer the following:

    Do you require from prospective converts a genuine commitment to observance of Shabbos, kashrus, and other fundamental areas of Jewish law? If not, please state so openly.

    Do you perform conversions in which there is willful blindness to reality in order to accommodate those whose commitment is lacking, and have you ever officiated at a conversion in which you were doubtful of the candidate’s sincere commitment to Torah and mitzvos? If so, please state so openly.

    Do you feel you are performing a public service in adding to the ranks of the Jewish people those who do not share our value system, our lifestyle or our destiny – thereby transforming good and decent non-Jews into sinning Jews? If so, please state precisely the nature of that public service, explain the reasoning behind that disservice to non-Jews as well as the justification that underlies the unbridled attack on the sincere efforts of your colleagues.

    Certainly, for every action there is an equal and opposite criticism – if only the criticism would be reasonable, measured, truthful and justified.

    With the GPS system in place, a stumbling block has been removed from the process of conversion and the process itself simplified; the honor of righteous converts has been redeemed; the privilege of joining the Jewish people given its proper credence; and, most important, the Torah has been magnified and glorified.

    Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck, New Jersey, treasurer of the Rabbinical Council of America, a member of the Geirus Policies and Standards Committee, and the rosh beit din of the Beit Din L’Giyur in Bergen County where, he reports, GPS guidelines are already in place and functioning superbly.


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