Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Syrian ban on Converts


by Rabbi Dr. Zevuelen Lieberman

TRADITION, 23(2), Winter 1988 © 1988 Rabbinical Council of America

Dr. Lieberman is Rabbi of Congregation Beth Torah in Brooklyn, N.Y., one of the major synagogues of the Syrian-Sephardic Jewish community.

. [Beginning of article deleted]
A close-knit pattern of social and economic inter-relationships motivates most people to marry within the community; indeed, better than ninety percent of the families are intra-communally married. However, it is the realization that no converts whatsoever will be accepted that keeps all but the most marginally affiliated from embarking upon serious social relationships with non-Jews. In 1935, following the example of the Syrian-Sephardic Jewish community of Argentina, the Brooklyn beit din promulgated a ban on accepting any converts; this was reaffirmed by the rabbinical authorities in 1946 and 1972. These various proclamations were initiated by the community's rabbinical leaders. However, in 1984, sensing the increasing social rressures, the lay leaders initiated a public affirmation of the ban; they recognized it to be a necessary and effective tool for maintaining the'social cohesiveness of the community. The ban is based on the right of the community to promulgate takanot and prohibitions. This is codified in the Shulhan Arukh and goes back to talmudic times, when Rav found a problematic situation regarding oaths in the Babylonian community: Bik'a matsa ve'Kadar gader-"He found an open valley and built a fence."
The current situation in America regarding conversions, where­bv most gerut is done for the purpose of marriage, represents a sham , and travesty of the Jewish tradition. But the Sephardic community's approach is proof of the power of a kehilla to protect its heritage and traditions, even though it may not be reproduceable across all American Jewish communities. Our ban does not necessarily deny the legitimacy of any specific conversion; it does deny the convert and his or her Sephardic spouse (and their children) membership in the community. Of course, it does not apply to descendants of people who underwent a legitimate conversion prior to 1935 or to adopted children converted at birth.

What follows is an English translation of the Hebrew proclama­tions of 1935 and 1946, as well as the text of the 1984 proclamation.

A RABBINICAL PROCLAMATION Adar 5695 (February 1935)

We have observed the conditions prevailing in the general Jewish comrnunity, where some youth have left the haven of their faith and have assimilated with non-Jews; in certain cases they have made efforts to marry gentiles, sometimes without any effort to convert them, and other times an effort is made for conversion to our faith, .m action which is absolutely invalid and worthless in the eyes of the law of our Torah. We have therefore bestirred ourselves to build and establish an iron wall to protect our identity and religious integrity and to bolster the strong foundations of our faith and religious purity which we have maintained for many centuries going back to our country of origin, Syria.

We, the undersigned rabbis, constituting the Religious Court, together with the Executive Committee of the Magen David Congregation and the outstanding laymen of the community, do hereby decree, with the authority of our Holy Torah, 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. We further decree that no future rabbinic court of the community should have the right or authority to convert male Or female non-Jews who seek to marry into our community. We have followed the example of the community in Argentina, which main. tains a rabbinic ban on any of the marital arrangements enumerated above, an edict which has received the wholehearted and unqualified endorsement of the Chief Rabbinate in Israel. This responsa is discussed in detail in Devar Sha 'ul, Yoreh Deah, Part II to Part VI. In the event that any member of our community should ignore our ruling and marry, their issue will have to suffer the consequences. Announcements to this effect will be made advising the community not to allow any marriage with children of such converts. We are confident that the Jewish People are a holy people and they will adhere to the decision of their rabbis and will not conceive of doing otherwise.
Chief Rabbi Haim Tawil
Rabbi Jacob Kassin
Rabbi Murad Masalton
Rabbi Moshe Gindi
Rabbi Moshe Dweck Kassab


Adar 5706 (February 1946) On the 9th day of Adar I in the year 5706 corresponding to the 10th day of February, 1946, the rabbis of the community and the Committee of Magen David Congregation once again discussed the question of intermarriage and conversions. The following religious rabbinic decisions were promulgated and accepted:
I. Our community will never accept any converts, male or female, for marriage.
2. The rabbi will not perform any religious ceremonies for such couples, i.e., marriages, circumcisions, bar mitzvahs, etc. In fact, the Congregation's premises will be barred to them for use of any religious or social nature.
3. The Mesadrim of the Congregation will not accord any honors to the convert or one married to a convert, such as offering himlln an Aliyah to the Sefer Torah. In addition, the aforesaid person, male or female, will not be allowed to purchase a seat, permanently (If for the holidays, in our Congregations.
4. After death of said person, he or she is not to be buried on the cemetery of our community, known as Rodfe Zedek, regardless elf financial considerations. Seal of the Beth Din of Magen David Congregation
Chief Rabbi Jacob S. Kassin


WHEREAS. throughout the history of our community, our rabbis and lay leaders have always recognized the threat of conversions and the danger of intermarriage and assimilation; and have issued warnings and proclamations concerning these evils in February 1935, February 1946 and in May 1972. NOW. THEREFORE, we assembled rabbis and Presidents of the congregations and organizations of the Syrian and Near Eastern Jewish communities of Greater New York and New Jersey do now and hereby reaffirm these proclamations, and pledge ourselves to uphold, enforce and promulgate these regulations. We further declare that Shabbat Shuvah of each year be designated as a day to urge our people to rededicate themselves to these principles. IN WITNESS WHEREOF, we have caused this document to he prepared and have affixed our signatures thereto, at a special convocation held on this third day of Sivan 5744 corresponding to the 3rd day of June. 1984.

Dr. Jacob S. Kassin Chief Rabbi

The proclamation was signed by the rabbis and presidents of every synagogue. yeshivah. and social organization of the Sephardic Jcwish communities of New York and New Jersey.


  1. This was posted to VIN back in October:

    "My great grandfather, Haim Tawil, was the chief Syrian Rabbi at the time the edict was signed in 1935. He was the main signator. .....

    In the ashkenaz world men often marry non-jews and convert them. The non-jewish woman converts in order to marry the man. Then ashkenaz Jewish women have no one to marry. In the Syrian world, this rarely happens. This was nipped in the bud in 1935."

    I have been looking for a copy of a letter written by Rabbi Haim Tawil in 1938 which explains that the Takana was enacted to protect Jewish women. I saw it again recently, I just have to remember where.

  2. this is a link to a previous posting

  3. Princely Wisdom: The Life and Teachings of Rabbi Jacob S. Kassin,
    by Yeshivat Hevrat Ahavat Shalom

    I forgot to mention the Syrian community in Panama, it was not intentional. The Panama community is a beautiful, successful and thriving Jewish community under the leadership of Grand Rabbi Sion Levy.

  4. This ban is something which is frequently misunderstood.

    For example, one could read the text and assume that the Syrians accept no converts at all.

    This is not true. In fact, a grandchild of one of the authors of the Takana married a Ger Tzedek and has been fully accepted.

    The actual ban is on people who could possibly be converting for marriage. In the case where a person was adopted and converted, the person has been accepted by the community without question because the motive of the conversion was clearly not marriage.

    Similarly, if someone previously converted on their own, and then years later met a member of the community and wanted to marry, there was not a problem because again the motive for the conversion was not in question.

    The Syrian community warmly welcomes all Converts who are actually Converts.

    The Takana is only against conversions that they "consider to be fictitious and valueless." There are many conversions that they do not consider "fictitious and valueless." Conversions that are supervised by incompetent judges and/or have been performed to permit intermarriage are the ones they are referring to in this ban.

    Looking at real intermarriage rates (by "real" I mean to also count people who have converted to prevent intermarriage) it would seem that the fears of the Rabbis in 1935 were justified. Communities without this Takana have been devastated.

    On the one hand, it would be good to enact a global ban against marrying false-converts and against conversion for intermarriage.....but then I realized that this is already part of the Halacha.

    Perhaps all we need to do is enforce it.

  5. To anonymous of May 1, 2008 9:16 PM

    You are nowing doing some spin on behalf of the Syrian community. Nice try but no cigar.

    As Dr. Eidensohn and Jersey Girl would say, could you back it up with reliable proof and OFFICIAL doccumentation signed by a few prominent Syrian rabbis that they agree with what you say?

    What you claim here is not found anywhere in their Takana and just sounds like you are trying to do damage control on behalf of an essentially anti-Halachik Takana because as far as anyone knows, even the most Charedi of Torah true Jews are still accepting true geirei tzedek from any part of thge world (from any race, nationality or former religion) who can prove that they were megayerd by a valid Bais Din.

    And answer would be most appreciated and helpful and very enlightening. Thank you.

  6. 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

  7. My colleagues were searching for a form earlier this week and came across a website that has a searchable database . If others are wanting it too , here's

  8. Syrians are afraid that converts might try to influence their children to be honest in business.


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