Friday, May 2, 2008

Syrian ban is not against sincere gerim

Jersey Girl wrote:

RaP- Here is a letter written by Rabbi Moshe Shammah:

Oct. 15, 2007
Letters to the Editor, Magazine
The New York Times
620 Eighth Ave.
New York, NY 10018

To the Editor,

Jakie Kassin is the son and grandson of rabbis and a dynamic do-gooder, but he is neither a rabbi nor a scholar of Judaic studies. The statements attributed to him in “The SY Empire” (Zev Chafets, Oct. 14, 2007) are a gross distortion of Judaism as well as of the 1935 Edict promulgated in the Syrian Jewish community of Brooklyn. That Edict was enacted to discourage community members from intermarrying with non-Jews. It acknowledged the reality of the time that conversions were being employed insincerely and superficially. Accordingly, conversion for marriage to a member of the community was automatically rejected.

However, it is important in this regard to clarify the policy of the community rabbinate and particularly that of the long-time former chief rabbi of the community, Jacob S. Kassin (the originator of the Edict), and his son, the present chief rabbi, Saul J. Kassin. I quote from an official formulation of the Sephardic Rabbinical Council of several years ago that reflects their position: “1. A conversion not associated with marriage that was performed by a recognized Orthodox court – such as for adoption of infants or in the case of an individual sincerely choosing to be Jewish – is accepted in our community. 2. If an individual not born to a member of our community had converted to Judaism under the aegis of an Orthodox court, and was observant of Jewish Law, married a Jew/Jewess who was not and had not been a member of our community, their children are permitted to marry into our community.” Based on these standards a goodly number of converts have been accepted into the community. Genetic characteristics play no role whatsoever.

No rabbi considers sincere and proper conversions “fictitious and valueless.” (The comma in the English translation cited in the article that gives that impression was the result of a mistranslation by a layman, a matter I made clear to Mr. Chafets when we spoke.)

In addition, the quote claiming that even other Jews are disqualified from marrying into the community “if someone in their line was married by a Reform or Conservative rabbi” is a totally false portrayal of community rabbinical policy. Many Ashkenazim whose parents were married by such rabbis have married into our community.


Moshe Shamah
Rabbi, Sephardic Synagogue
511 Ave. R
Brooklyn, NY 11223
Jersey Girl wrote:

RaP - When you say:

"Are you questioning the right of kosher properly constituted Baitei Din of qualified Dayanim mumchim to accept geirim bazman hazeh?"

Why do you persist at asking this?

The Takana states:

"that 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."

The Takana bans conversions that kasher intermarriage which are fictitious and valueless.

Why do you continually INSIST that this covers ALL gerim when this is clearly not the case?

Do you have personal experience in a case of a Ger Tzedek from a qualified Beis Din who was NOT accepted in the Syrian community?

I DO personally know of Gerim and their children and grandchildren who are fully accepted in the Syrian community.

Here is a story from Rabbi Moshe Shammah posted back in 1994. I do know of this woman and also know that her children married in the community and her grandchildren attend the schools:

The decree focuses on those who convert for the purpose of marrying a Jew or Jewess. A non-Jew who is clearly motivated by marriage but who sincerely and properly converts, should normally be accepted halakhically. However, the Syrian rabbis realized they were being fooled by insincere candidates, etc. and established the 1935 decree not to accept those who were converting in conjunction with a prospective or past marriage. The decree was not addressed to those who converted just for the love of Judaism.

This was vividly brought home to me about 25 years ago by Rabbi Jacob S.Kassin, HKBH send him speedy recovery, the long-time chief rabbi of the Brooklyn Syrian community and one of the 1935 takana signatories. A community member who was also a member of an Ashkenazi yeshiva married a righteous convert. The marriage was performed by a leading Ashkenazi rosh hayeshiva. The Shabbat morning after the wedding he davened in our shul. The mesader aliyot (gabbay) rushed to Shaare Zion where Rabbi Kassin davened and asked him what to do. Rabbi Kassin said he's familiar with the case and it doesn't fall into the takana as the bride is a righteous convert who previously converted independently of marriage considerations and we should give the gentleman an aliya. Although the mesader was reliable I wanted to confirm this and several days later personally asked Rabbi Kassin. He got a bit excited and declared, "The takana is not for this woman - she's a refugee who came to Judaism."

I really hope that you will stop slandering the Syrian community by saying that the Syrian community does not accept Gerei Tzeddek. It is simply NOT true.

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