Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Rav Ovadia Yosef commented that conversion courts are too stringent

Jerusalem Post just reported the following. I personally find this item rather strange in that it doesn't directly mention what Rav Ovaida Yosef's view is in regards to the recent ruling concerning Rav Druckman's conversions. It is difficult to fathom the significance of this report - since what it says he said is not being disputed. Therefore the conclusions drawn are simply not justified. Any more comprehensive reports of the view of Rav Ovadia Yosef, shlita would be greatly appreciated. See Yeshiva World's comment.

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"Conversion courts are too stringent"

Preeminent Sephardi halachic authority Rabbi Ovadia Yosef said this week that conversion courts were being too inflexible and stringent with potential converts, said sources close to the rabbi.

"Accepting the yoke of the commandments is essential for conversion," Yosef reportedly told a small group of Shas MKs and functionaries. "But we must not push off converts too much. It is not right to cause them pain by rejecting them."

According to MK Haim Amsalem (Shas), who was present when Yosef made the comments, Yosef quoted from the Babylonia Talmud to prove that rabbis should be lenient and welcoming when dealing with potential converts.

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 99-100) relates that the patriarch Abraham rejected Timna who wished to become his concubine. Instead, Timna married Eliphaz, Abraham's great grandson through Eisav and gave birth to Amalek, the Jewish people's archenemy.

Yosef said that from this passage in the Talmud we must learn to be more accepting of gentiles who wish to become a part of the Jewish people.

Yosef's comments come as a group of haredi Ashkenazi rabbis have launched an attack on the Conversion Authority, the official state-sponsored body responsible for conversions, for being too lenient.

Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who is responsible for conversions, has also been severely criticized by the haredi community for giving his backing to the conversion authority.

Amar, one of Yosef's protégés, has been under pressure to adopt more stringencies with respect to the acceptance of converts. However, Yosef's more lenient stance on the issue will give Amar the rabbinic backing he needs to stand up to this pressure.

Yosef's position also underlines differences in approach between Sephardi rabbis, who tend to be more lenient in their halachic rulings in comparison to haredi Ashkenazi rabbis.

12 comments :

  1. The Jerusalem Post obviously seeks to appeal to their subscribers who merely scan the headlines but do not read the actual articles.

    Rabbi Yosef is quoting as saying:

    "Accepting the yoke of the commandments is essential for conversion,"

    How does this statement differ from what any "haredi" Rabbi has said regarding conversions?

    I also fail to understand how it can be stated that what is being described as the "haredi" position on conversions differs from the "traditional" Sephardic position on conversions.

    Sephardim have largely lived under Islamic rule throughout the ages. It is a death penalty offense in Islam for a Muslim to convert away from Islam. Under such circumstances, it is difficult to assail the sincerity of a convert who is not insane.

    Sephardic communities such as those in England, Argentina, Mexico and the US where it is NOT a death penalty offense to convert to Judaism have adopted official or unofficial Takkanot against accepting converts into their communities in order to protect their communities from insincere converts.

    Rabbi Yosef is Rabbi Amar's Posek and mentor. Rabbi Yosef has appointed Rabbi Amar as successor.

    It is simply not believable that Rabbi Amar would rule in conflict with Rabbi Yosef's wishes.

    The traditional Sephardic position that "acceptance of the yoke of the commandments is an essential part of conversion" should not come as a surprise to journalist Ashley Perry the journalist who claims to represent the "Sephardic Perspective" for the Jerusalem Post.

    http://cgis.jpost.com/Blogs/Perez/

    I do not know Mr. Perry (Perez) personally, but he states in his biography that he grew up in Spanish and Portuguese community (Bevis Marks) in London. Perry writes that his family, like my own, have been members of Bevis Marks for 350 years or 17 generations since Lord Oliver Cromwell first permitted Jews' return to England.

    If Mr. Perry truly did grow up a member of the Bevis Marks community whose Rabbi, Dayyan Dr. Abraham Levy, Chief Sephardic Rabbi of England and Dean of Jew's College, has been the spiritual leader for the past two generations, then the traditional Sephardic (and halachic) viewpoint regarding conversions should not seem as foreign to Mr. Perry as it appears it does.

    The Sephardic Community (Bevis Marks) of England and its Chief Rabbi Dayyan, Dr. Abraham Levy, Dean of Jews College, do NOT perform ANY conversions.

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  2. ""Accepting the yoke of the commandments is essential for conversion,"
    How does this statement differ from what any "haredi" Rabbi has said regarding conversions? "

    I think the crux of the disagreement among the Rabbeim is what constitutes kabbalas hamitzvos, and on what grounds a conversion can considered no good. Even R' Druckman holds that kabbalas hamitzvos is a crucial ingredient in the geirus process.

    "Rabbi Yosef is Rabbi Amar's Posek and mentor. Rabbi Yosef has appointed Rabbi Amar as successor.

    It is simply not believable that Rabbi Amar would rule in conflict with Rabbi Yosef's wishes. "

    That probably helps explain why R' Amar is stuck in the middle. He's certainly been less than enthusiastic in backing up the psak of R' Sherman.

    "The Sephardic Community (Bevis Marks) of England and its Chief Rabbi Dayyan, Dr. Abraham Levy, Dean of Jews College, do NOT perform ANY conversions."

    One can hardly say the same for Rav Ovadiah Yosef. He has certainly done conversions. In fact, he once insisted that the Syrian community allow one of their members to marry a woman whose conversion he oversaw.

    Jersey Girl, are you of the opinion that ideally, the Rabbanut should emulate Rav Levy and not perform any conversions in Israel at all?

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  3. Dear Tzura,

    "Jersey Girl, are you of the opinion that ideally, the Rabbanut should emulate Rav Levy and not perform any conversions in Israel at all?"

    We should ALL emulate Rav Levy!!

    Dayyan Rabbi Dr. Levy, OBE, Dean of Jews College is one of the eminent scholars of our time as well as descending from a Rabbinical Dynasty that traces its history back to the 1100's.

    Rabbi Levy was weaned on a level of scholarship that only a chosen few are able attain in an entire lifetime.

    Dayyan Levy does not perform conversions because the Rav does not feel qualified to permanently alter the course of the Jewish people for all eternity in making a Gentile into a Jew.

    The very act of converting, of making a Gentile into a Jew, makes the declaration that Hashem has somehow erred in His creation and in mistakenly creating a person who should be a Jew as a Gentile. Can ANY earthly court perfect Creation?

    Should even the greatest Rabbeim attempt to best the Creator of the Universe??

    The Sephardic communities of Brooklyn/Deal, Buenos Aires and England have sent all potential converts to Israel because the Rabbis in these communities believe that the onus of the correctness (or not) of the conversion should rest upon Gedolim who are truly blessed with the proper insight to make such an onerous decision.

    So to specifically answer your question, Conversions should be performed by Gedolim, or the Dayyanim appointed and entrusted by the Gedolim with the authority to permanently alter the course of the Jewish people for all of eternity.

    The decision to perfect Hashem's creation cannot be administered in a ten month course of study, a GED in "Jewish", if you will. The sincerity of the potential convert and his willingness to accept the yoke of Torah and throw his lot in with the Jewish people for all of eternity cannot be determined by a series of multiple choice questions on night school exams.

    Dayyanim who make onerous decisions that will impact the Jewish family forever, should never rubber-stamp them out at the industrial rate of one every 24 minutes of each working day which was the average time spent on each individual convert who came before Rav Druckman's Conversion Institute.

    Regarding Rabbi Yosef's famous encounter in Bnai Shaare Zion:

    "In fact, he once insisted that the Syrian community allow one of their members to marry a woman whose conversion he oversaw."

    I was there (in the community) and heard from a Rabbinical student of Hacham Baruch Ben Haim ztl who witnessed Rabbi Yosef's visit:

    Hacham Baruch explained to Rabbi Yosef (who had been his chavruta when both were part of the "dream team" at Porat Yosef), that the woman was the product of an intermarriage by a Syrian man, a member of the community and that Rabbi Yosef had been tricked and used by this couple. The young woman did not tell Rabbi Yosef of her family background and had only "converted" in order to intermarry with a Syrian.

    With that revelation, Rabbi Yosef INDEED became incensed, but the Rav's ire was NOT towards the Syrian community but at the couple who had tried to fool Rabbi Yosef into kashering their intermarriage (and thus her father's).

    Rabbi Yosef PRAISED the Syrian Community and its Rabbis, giving a beracha that community should continue to be successful and increase.

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  4. The details on the Rav Yosef/Syrian community is quite enlightening. Thanks.

    I must take issue, however, at the following:

    "The very act of converting, of making a Gentile into a Jew, makes the declaration that Hashem has somehow erred in His creation and in mistakenly creating a person who should be a Jew as a Gentile. Can ANY earthly court perfect Creation?"

    This is shver. Sources, please. You realize that the argument above is very similar to the Greek argument against circumcision (as in, "If your G-d is perfect, and creation is perfect, why change your body?") Also, it goes against the fact that the Torah itself allows for conversion.

    It's very different from the other argument you brought, that most rabbeim shouldn't handle the awesome responsibility of geirus. If geirus is rebellion against God, then even Gedolim shouldn't be allowed to do it!

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  5. Jersey Girl suggests that the matter of conversion should be left, on a case by case basis, to gedolei hador.

    To the contrary, according to Rambam Issurei Biah 13:17, Shulhan Aruch Y.D. 268:3, and Aruch Hashulchan, the only requirement is that the conversion be done in the present of "k'sheirim" - a term that approximately means Shomer Mitzvot men. R. Moshe Feinstein suggests that even for those who insisted on having talmidei hachamim, the requirement was for a minimum of one of the three, to ensure that the procedure was done correctly, but he himself appears to assume the more lenient position (Iggrot Moshe Y.D. 1:159).

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  6. To Larry Lennoff-

    Re:Rambam Issurei Biah 13:17-

    From:

    Maimonides and the Convert: A Juridical and Philosophical Embrace of the Outsider
    JAMES A. DIAMOND a1
    a1 University of Waterloo

    "One can find no more intricate a weave of law and philosophy than that crafted by the twelfth century Jewish jurist and philosopher, Moses Maimonides, in response to an existential query by Ovadyah, a Muslim convert to Judaism. Ovadyah's conversion raised particular concerns within the realm of institutionalized prayer and the rabbinically standardized texts that were its mainstay. The liturgy that had evolved was replete with ethnocentric expressions that rendered it highly resistant to the entry of outsiders anxious to become full-fledged members of the club. How can the convert utter the phrase “God of our fathers” when his biological ancestry belies its pronouncement? What right does he have to lay claim to a divine election, “who chose us,” which was motivated by a preference for one “nation” over others? Can he appeal to a God who is particularized as a national liberator, “who took us out of Egypt,” when enslavement and exodus were confined to a specific locale and time within a national historical consciousness? And finally, God's intrusion into history on Israel's behalf “who performed miracles for our fathers,” is a shared collective memory about which the convert cannot reminisce. This was no mere halakhic question as to whether he could legitimately adopt these communal liturgical expressions. Ovadyah was also posing a deep existential suspicion that he would never be able to consider himself an authentic insider of the religious community he had joined, in all likelihood, at great personal risk."


    The societal conditions of Medieval Moorish Spain in the time of the Rambam are hardly relevant to either the US or the State of Israel today.

    Converting away from Islam has always been a death penalty offense in Muslim countries. There is a built in measure of sincerity in any potential convert to Judaism when it is a death penalty offense, once it is established that he is not crazy.

    Have you wondered why we have witnessed tens of thousands of people who wish to convert from Christianity to Judaism in the past two decades but almost none from any of the world's other religions??

    It is up to the Gedolim to decide how conversions are to be handled in each generation.

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  7. Jersey girl.

    What is your definition of "Gedolim"?

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  8. Gedolim are Rabbis who are broadly recognized as qualifier decisors of halacha. Ie. Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Moshe Sternbuch, The Steipler Gaon, Chazon Ish, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, The Acheizer, Rav Elyashiv, Rabbi Amar.

    Gedolim should decide for example what constitutes kabolat mitzvot in geirus.

    The RCA has agreed to adopt the standards of the Israeli Rabbinute as have The European and Montreal Rabbinutes. It would seem clear that the prevailing opinion has become that Gedolim should decide the standards for Geirus and that these standards should be uniformly enacted by Batei Din throughout the world.

    To Tzura:

    I wanted to clarify:

    When I wrote above:

    "The very act of converting, of making a Gentile into a Jew, makes the declaration that Hashem has somehow erred in His creation and in mistakenly creating a person who should be a Jew as a Gentile. Can ANY earthly court perfect Creation?"

    It was a continuation of the statement:

    "Dayyan Levy does not perform conversions because the Rav does not feel qualified to permanently alter the course of the Jewish people for all eternity in making a Gentile into a Jew."

    This is the reason stated by Rabbi Levy when asked why the Sephardic community in England does not perform conversions, but rather sends potential converts to Israel.

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  9. "Gedolim are Rabbis who are broadly recognized as qualifier decisors of halacha. Ie. Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Moshe Sternbuch, The Steipler Gaon, Chazon Ish, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, The Acheizer, Rav Elyashiv, Rabbi Amar"

    Right, that's what I thought. IOW only Haredi gedholim are gedholim.

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  10. "The Sephardic Community (Bevis Marks) of England and its Chief Rabbi Dayyan, Dr. Abraham Levy, Dean of Jews College, do NOT perform ANY conversions." Jersey Girl - without wanting to seem rude, that is utter rubbish. There are a few issues with your comment - Rabbi Dr Levy is not a Dayan, I know him personally, and I am also very involved in the Spanish and Portuguese community in London, and they definitely perform conversions, indeed I know some of the products of those conversions. I'd be fascinated to know where you got your information from, however.

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  11. Dayyan Rabbi Dr. Abraham Levy, OBE is the Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Great Britain and also Head of the Sephardic Beit Din of London.

    The website of the London Beit Din clearly states:

    "The central authority of the London Beth Din is such that by convention neither the Kedassia, Manchester, nor Sephardi Batei Din carry out Geirut in the UK"

    http://www.theus.org.uk/the_united_synagogue/the_london_beth_din/about_us/

    My family have been members of Bevis Marks since the 1600s; where our genealogy is archived from before the Expulsion.

    I am also quite well acquainted with the Levy family.

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  12. Interesting claim that the Av Beit Din of the Sephardic Beit Din of London is not a Dayyan!!!

    I also have a copy of Rabbi Levy's CV handy, which includes, aside from being Chief Sephardic Rabbi, Head of Jews College (Rabbinical Seminary), Governor of Carmel College, Head of the Jewish Museum and Founder of the Sephardi Centre.

    Rabbi Levy is also Honorary Head of the Sephardic Day School system in England, Naima Jewish Prep, Knight Commander of the Order of Civil Merit of Spain and Knighted by Queen Elizabeth as well.

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