Monday, April 28, 2008

Convert the wife to save the husband? I

R. Yaakov Adas was born in Jerusalem in 1898 and died in 1963. He studied Torah with his father and with other Torah giants in Jerusalem. At a very young age he was appointed as a teacher in Yeshivat Porat Yosef in Jerusalem, and later he became head of that yeshiva. From 1935 he served as a rabbinical judge in Jerusalem, and from 1955 until his death he headed the Chief Rabbinic Court in Israel. [taken from the Bar Ilan Responsa Database]

The final halachic conclusions have been lost

Chedvas Yaakov(Y.D. #13): April 22, 1949. Question During World War II many of our brethren found refuge in Switzerland. Some of them - out of the constant fear for their lives and the daily dread of being deported – married non‑Jewish women with the assumption that this would give them to possibility of remaining in Switzerland. Nevetheless the Swiss government did not allow them to remain here in Switzerland and they are faced with two options – to leave Switzerland or to be placed in work camps which the Swiss government is in the process of setting up now for all refugees who are found in Switzerland. The fact is these people want to emigrate to Israel because they have no other place to go. They have turned to the Israeli office concerning emigration and have received the answer that their wives will not receive visas until they convert. The wives of these men have raised a great cry claiming that they truly want to convert and to accept upon themselves all the mitzvos. They insist that they will not separate from their husbands under any circumstances and they want to travel together to Israel to live there as Jews in every detail. To tell the truth the Agudas HaRabbonim is not convinced of the sincerity of these women’s declaration because these are things that every candidate for conversion says. Now the matter is placed before us in the full strength of its cruelty. If these women are not accepted as converts, these men will be forced to remain here and to go to the labor camps. They yell and demand that the rabbis give them the true reason why they are hesitating to accept their wives and they have no other choice not to be lost. Therefore it has occurred to a number of the members of the Agudas HaRabbonim in Switzerland to be lenient this time and to find some way to accept them for conversion so there won’t be so much commotion from both sides - because they also have children. They have to leave Switzerland and they have no where to go. In fact we don’t have the ability to be lenient without the consent of the rabbis of Israel. And because this matter is very urgent because every day they come and scream. Therefore we request that the response of the rabbis should come as quickly as possible and to be as specific as possible. It is sufficient that we receive the psak of the beis din of Jerusalem in order to take from us the responsibility in this matter….Thus we sign in the name of the Agudas HaRabbonim of Switzerland…Reply: This matter is extremely delicate and the question is very painful and complex as well as being of great practical concern in these days with the establishment of the state of Israel and immigration from all points of the globe bring hundreds if not thousands of intermarried couples of all types. There are non‑Jewish woman married to Jewish men and Jewish woman married to non‑Jewish men. We have been asked this question many types here in Israel as well as from outside of Israel. The truth is that we are also confused about this matter. Because on the one hand we have the example of Ezra the Scribe in the time of the Second Temple who was also faced with this painful question as we find in Ezra (9:1)…In chapter ten it records that Ezra announced that they had to send away their non‑Jewish wives and their children born to them… We don’t find in these verses that Ezra converted them and let the non‑Jewish women stay with their husbands neither the maidservants nor the children because the children of a slave has her status. We also find a similar description in the Book of Nechemia (13:23). There is also no mention there that they converted them. Thus from these Biblical sources it seems that they are not to be converted and we can not think that we have greater power than they. However there is another way of understanding what Ezra did. Ezra in fact had great authority along with the Great Assembly. The leaders of his time had the power to establish what the religion required. We in contrast do not have the power to separate these men from their non‑Jewish wives and so perhaps it is better for us to convert them as the lesser of two evils – “it is “better that they eat the flesh of dying animals that have been ritually slaughtered and not to eat the flesh of animals that are definitely unkosher.” In other words if their wives are not converted it is possible that their Jewish husbands will reject their religion and follow after that of their non‑Jewish wives. Thus this question can be viewed as life saving for the Jewish husbands because if their wives are not converted they won’t be able to separate from them and will be sent to these work camps. Who knows how much danger lies in wait for them in exile. We have found amongst the Achronim that in certain circumstances they were lenient in converting non‑Jewish women and letting them remain with their Jewish husbands with a proper Jewish marriage. [See Maharshal (E.H. 11:5) who writes that where there is a concern that they will leave Judaism they should be allowed to marry.] Therefore let me gather together the relevant sources with G‑d’s help from the Talmud and poskim…and G‑d should help me to determine the truth of the matter and that I should err in the halacha.


  1. Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv sat on the Beit Din HaGadol with Rav Yaakov Adas during this time period and might perhaps elucidate on Rav Adas' halachic conclusions.

    Although this precedes the abovementioned by a decade, at the time that the Edict against Conversion for Intermarriage was signed in Argentina (1938), the Takana carried the approbation of the Chief Rabbinical Judges of Jerusalem (Dibur Shaul- Rabbi Shaul Sutton as quoted by Rabbi David Sutton) Rabbi Ezra Hamway, Rabbi Haim Tawil and Rabbi Ezra Shayo.

    Rabbi Ben-Zion Hai Uziel writes (Piskey Uziel 61 - Project Hashut) that he did not see the book Diber Shaul where Rabbi Sutton discussed his decree. As part of that discussion it was expressly stated that it is forbidden to teach Torah to the children of converts.

    Rabbi Uziel also said that the Takanah should be left in place forbidding the acceptance of converts unless they converted in Jerusalem and that, indeed, any honest converts should be sent to Jerusalem where their case will be heard.

    Perhaps the specific records of the Beit Din HaGadol in Jerusalem might contain more information with regard to the number of conversions completed for non Jews civilly married to Jews.

  2. This is a very interesting thread. Clearly there were extreme circumstances at hand which the Rabbis took under consideration.

    Thankfully, no Jews today face those same conditions and terrible choices.

  3. When I mentioned this post to my husband, he reminded me to "consider the historical context". (Can I blame it on matzah for a few more days?).

    At the time of the creation of the State of Israel, only a Jew k'halacha could become an oleh.

    In the case of the intermarried Jewish man or woman, seeking refuge in Israel might mean leaving behind a husband, wife or non Jewish children (who would be considered Jewish by non Jewish governments) to suffer the consequences of anti Semitism even though they are not Jewish k'halacha.

    Under the original Law of Return, the Gedolim had to face a heart wrenching and impossible decision to either a) find a way to convert the Gentile spouse and/or children to Judaism so that they could come to Israel or b) to potentially issue a death sentence to Jews who had intermarried and their family members.

    Fortunately this unbearable enigma was removed with the 1970 Amendment to the Law of Return which separates the rights of Israeli citizenship from halachic Jewish status:

    4A. (a) The rights of a Jew under this Law and the rights of an oleh under the Nationality Law, 5712-1952***, as well as the rights of an oleh under any other enactment, are also vested in a child and a grandchild of a Jew, the spouse of a Jew, the spouse of a child of a Jew and the spouse of a grandchild of a Jew, except for a person who has been a Jew and has voluntarily changed his religion.

    (b) It shall be immaterial whether or not a Jew by whose right a right under subsection (a) is claimed is still alive and whether or not he has immigrated to Israel.

    (c) The restrictions and conditions prescribed in respect of a Jew or an oleh by or under this Law or by the enactments referred to in subsection (a) shall also apply to a person who claims a right under subsection (a).


    4B. For the purposes of this Law, "Jew" means a person who was born of a Jewish mother or has become converted to Judaism and who is not a member of another religion."

    3A. (a) A person shall not be registered as a Jew by ethnic affiliation or religion if a notification under this Law or another entry in the Registry or a public document indicates that he is not a Jew, so long as the said notification, entry or document has not been controverted to the satisfaction of the Chief Registration Officer or so long as declaratory judgment of a competent court or tribunal has not otherwise determined.


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