Monday, June 2, 2008

Eternal Jewish Family - conversion and the acceptance of mitzvos

Jerusalem Post May 29, 2008

by Jonathan Rosenblum


I was reminded of that nearly forgotten article recently by media coverage of the decision of the Rabbinical High Court of the Chief Rabbinate, affirming an earlier decision of an Ashdod beit din. The earlier decision nullified a conversion overseen 15 years earlier by Rabbi Haim Druckman. The Ashdod beit din had before it clear evidence that the woman in question had immediately after her conversion violated some of the most basic and stringent Torah commandments, and that Rabbi Druckman's beit din had made no serious effort to ascertain whether she had any intention of accepting the yoke of mitzva observance.

Needless to say, most mainstream journalists are totally lacking the ability to read, much less evaluate, the halachic sources upon which the Rabbinical High Court based its decision, and could care less about the halachic issues involved. As a consequence, they placed a decision about a halachic issue onto a template more congenial to them, and reported it like a sports match or political contest: In this corner the "tolerant" Rabbi Druckman, and in the other corner "hard-hearted" haredi judges engaged, as always, in ruthless power grabs.

Even on its own terms, the World Wrestling Federation metaphor cannot be sustained. Rabbi Avraham Sherman, author of the Rabbinical High Court decision, served for many years as an IDF rabbi, and once spent a sabbatical at Yeshiva University, the flagship institution of modern Orthodoxy.

Another one of the judges graduated the national religious hesder system. Finally, the High Court's decision was endorsed by the European Conference of Rabbis, hardly a haredi organization, which issued a statement that the conversions performed in Europe by Rabbi Druckman and other Israeli rabbis have shown a consistent ignorance of local realities - i.e., the likelihood of the candidates becoming mitzva observant.

Finally, the evidence that Rabbi Druckman signed conversion certificates falsely attesting to his presence at conversions - a practice which has already been the subject of a sharp censure from Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz - came from national religious rabbis within the Chief Rabbinate.

TUESDAY'S EDITORIAL in The Jerusalem Post claims that all sides of the Orthodox world agree that conversion requires acceptance of the "yoke of Torah, meaning an Orthodox lifestyle" - as if the issue in dispute were whether wearing a knitted kippa is sufficient or one must don a shtreimel and kapote on Shabbat. The distinction, the editorial argues, is between the national religious who "want to bring as many as possible into the Jewish fold" and the haredi world that does not.

One would never know from this account that Rabbi Sherman was stating the overwhelming consensus of halachic opinion that a mere pro forma declaration of one's commitment to full mitzva observance is inadequate, and that a beit din must assure itself, after searching inquiry, of the candidate's sincere intention to take on full mitzva observance. As the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Isaac Herzog wrote, the burden on the beit din is much heavier in contemporary times, when a convert is not necessarily joining an overwhelmingly observant Jewish community.

Rabbi Druckman apparently does not share that view. Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, perhaps Rabbi Druckman's most distinguished defender, tacitly admitted as much when he said, "When did we ever hear that someone who relies on a minority opinion against the commonly held one is considered a willing heretic?" (Rabbi Lichtenstein's father-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Ber Soloveitchik, considered it axiomatic that conversion requires a full acceptance of mitzvot.)

If anyone is being political, it is Rabbi Druckman, not Rabbi Sherman. The evidence is overwhelming that a large majority of those converted by Rabbi Druckman were never mitzvah observant. And that is not merely an unhappy coincidence. The Conversion Authority, the special conversion track created in the IDF, the joint conversion institutes, in which students are instructed by Orthodox, Conservative and Reform instructors, and which work closely with the Conversion Authority were all new frameworks created by the Israeli government for the express purpose of solving the problem of 300-500,000 non-Jewish immigrants living among us via mass conversion.

Haredim would be thrilled if tens of thousands of non-Jewish Israelis made the monumental commitment to truly accept the yoke of mitzvot; we await the day when knowledge of God fills the entire world. But until then we are deeply skeptical that the miraculous individual decision to join the Jewish people through a full commitment to mitzva observance can ever be mass produced or subjected to numerical goals of the Israeli government.

TWO WEEKS ago, I spoke in Montreal for an organization called the Eternal Jewish Family, which has invested millions of dollars in working with intermarried couples where the non-Jewish partner is contemplating conversion or already in the process. I pointed out to a group of such couples that most ba'alei teshuva came from homes with a strong Jewish identity, which helped propel their decision to become fully observant. But a convert cannot draw on the desire to link more fully with his people, since he was not born Jewish.

That makes the decision of a non-Jew to fully accept the yoke of mitzvot both more awesome and rarer. National religious rabbis who claim it is possible to convert tens of thousands of immigrants without compromising on the requirement of a full commitment to mitzva observance must explain why they have produced so few ba'alei teshuva in Israel.

Undoubtedly, declaring a conversion invalid after the passage of years, as in the Ashdod case, is always a tragedy. But the blame does not belong to the bearer of the message. Orthodox rabbis have long criticized heterodox rabbis for not informing "converts" that their conversions will not be recognized by a large segment of the Jewish world, and thereby paving the way for future tragedies. And the same can be said of an Orthodox rabbi who follows a single opinion against the overwhelming weight of historical and contemporary halachic decisors.


  1. Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblum possesses a unique ability to clarify and present difficult or confusing issues within a Torah perspective.

    Rabbi Rosenblum's own background, which includes graduating from University of Chicago and Yale Law School dispels the all too common myth that those who represent Torah Judaism do so out of ignorance and are without insights and perspectives that are relevant to the "world".

    As usual Rabbi Rosenblum expresses the feelings and beliefs of the less eloquent in exemplary prose.

  2. Perhaps if Rav Shirman had left it to Rav Rosenblum to issue this ruling, much of the pain associated with it might have been averted.

  3. Rosenum never says anything original, he is a Ba'l Teshuva apologist for "his master's voice" -- somewhere along the line on his becoming a BT, he lost not just his ability to think for himself, but also lost touch with his feelings, a common fate of Ba'alei Teshuva who become cultists instead of the indepenedent thinkers that the "University of Chicago and Yale Law School" should naturally have taught them.

    May 20, 2008 2:42 | Updated May 20, 2008 15:38

    European rabbis invalidate Druckman conversions


    The Conference of European Rabbis announced this week that it would not recognize converts who were converted by rabbis in Israel, singling out Rabbi Haim Druckman, head of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate's State Conversion Authority.

    "We oppose the phenomenon of Israeli rabbis shuttling to Europe especially to perform a conversion and then shuttling back," said Rabbi Moshe Lebel, Rabbinical Director of the Conference of European Rabbis (CER) in a telephone interview from Moscow. "These rabbis are not familiar with the reality in Europe," he added.

    "I know of several cases where Druckman and other Israeli rabbis performed conversions for people who lived in communities in places like Germany and Scandinavia where it was almost impossible to adhere to a religious way of life. There was no minyan [prayer quorum], no kosher butcher, no mikveh [ritual bath]." The CER's decision comes just two weeks after a judge who sits on Israel's High Rabbinical Court, the most senior rabbinical body in the state, cast doubt on the validity of conversions performed by Druckman in Israel.

    The judge, Rabbi Avraham Sherman, accused Druckman of numerous charges, including forging court documents and accepting converts without demanding that they adhere to Orthodox Jewish practice. Sherman also accused Druckman of misusing conversions to solve the problem presented by the arrival of about 300,000 immigrants from the Former Soviet Union to Israel who are not considered Jewish according to Jewish law, but who are eligible for automatic Israeli citizenship according to secular Israeli law. Jewish leaders consider these immigrants a potential danger to the continuity of a Jewish majority in Israel. However, according to most rabbinic opinions conversion is not authentic unless the potential converts accept upon themselves an Orthodox Jewish lifestyle.

    In addition to authorizing conversions in Israel, Druckman has also performed dozens of conversions in European communities where there was no recognized rabbinical court. In the wake of Sherman's accusations, the CER has decided to invalidate all conversions performed by Druckman or other Israeli rabbis operating like Druckman in Europe.

    "In Israel the argument can be made that non-Jews who convert continue to live in a state with a Jewish majority in which the dominant culture is more or less Jewish," said Lebel.

    "But in Europe it is of utmost importance that the potential convert belong to a strong Jewish community after his or her conversion. The convert needs the support of the community to remain religious and observant."

    In sharp contrast to the CER's stance, the Rabbinic Council of America, the largest rabbinic organization in North America, came out in defense of Druckman. It issued the following statement on its Internet site over a week ago: "The RCA finds it necessary to state for the record that in our view the (CER) ruling itself, as well as the language and tone thereof, are entirely beyond the pale of acceptable halachic practice, violate numerous Torah laws regarding converts and their families, create a massive desecration of God's name, insult outstanding rabbinic leaders and halachic scholars in Israel, and are a reprehensible cause of widespread conflict and animosity within the Jewish people in Israel and beyond. The RCA is appalled that such a ruling has been issued by that court.

    "Given the very public nature of the challenge posed by the ruling in question, we call on the Chief Rabbis of Israel to reaffirm their support of the Conversion Authority and its leadership in clear and unambiguous terms at the earliest possible time. Until that will happen, each passing day will cause reprehensible anguish to halachic converts, irreparable harm to the fabric of the Jewish people, and a considerable debasement of the good name of Torah, halacha, and tradition."

  5. Back to where, and when, it all reposrted on Dei'ah veDibur in 1999, yes, 1999!!!!:

    1 Kislev 5760 - November 10, 1999


    Big Bucks in European "Conversions"

    by B. Rabinowitz and Yated Staff

    Shocking testimony of the corrupt activity of Rabbi Yosef Avior, one of the heads of the special conversion court in Or Etzion in the south of Israel, has been presented to the beis din of the gaavad of Antwerp, HaRav Chaim Kreiswirth. The testimony states that Rabbi Avior conducted a series of "conversions" for Belgian nationals for financial gain.

    Rabbi Avior has long been active throughout Europe, operating a "conversion" industry there similar to the one he heads in Or Etzion. Recently, a delegation of European rabbonim and dayanim met with Chief Rabbi of Israel Yisroel Meir Lau and sharply decried the serious problems Rabbi Avior is causing throughout Europe through his "conversions." The rabbonim claimed that Rabbi Avior's activities stand in direct contradiction and contrast to the position of Europe's rabbonim and that he is not authorized by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate to perform such conversions. Despite these harsh realities, no initiative to halt the extensive conversion industry has been taken.

    Last week, appalling evidence of the activity was presented to the beis din in Antwerp. Witnesses relate that Rabbi Avior received the equivalent of 8000 dollars for a conversion ceremony he conducted for a resident of Brussels.

    The battle within Israel against the activities of Or Etzion's Rabbis Druckman and Avior has gained impetus due to the publicity surrounding the approval granted by director of the rabbinical courts, Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, to 38 "conversions." The "conversions" were of adopted children and the majority were performed in total defiance of official Chief Rabbinate procedure. The behavior of the Rabbinate officials and Rabbi Druckman is especially astonishing in light of the fact that after the Rabbinate had previously held up 100 adult conversion files, Rabbi Druckman explicitly promised to abide by Chief Rabbinate directives.

    An extensive article in Ha'aretz under the heading, "Coffee Break Beis Din" makes it absolutely clear that the dominant figure in the special court in Or Etzion is Rabbi Yosef Avior. It states: "In recent years, he has become the official and only address for conversion candidates who have been rejected by other frameworks. This court has been the prime address for parents who adopt minors abroad. Even the minors who at first turned to the Conservative movement court at Kibbutz Hanaton [and who were the subjects of the appeal to the High Court to recognize Conservative conversions] were in the end converted in Druckman's court."

    Rabbi Avior is quoted in the article as saying: "Our basic hypothesis is that we have not come to convert the parents. They are bona fide Jews, and it is not our job to make them more Jewish or to influence them to do teshuva. We only have to guarantee that the adopted child we have converted lives in an environment where a basic Jewish lifestyle is maintained. As far as we are concerned, even a Tali school [secular schools with enrichment programs in Judaism] is sufficient."

    Prominent rabbonim and dayanim told our reporter that there is no doubt that if Chief Rabbinate procedures were truly followed, the phenomenon of spurious, quick conversions would significantly decrease. However, Rabbi Avior's own admission indicates that, at least as far as he is concerned, guidelines are one thing and deeds another. Rabbis Druckman and Avior are continuing to do as they please in the special beis din in Or Etzion, despite their repeated commitments to follow the guidelines of the Chief Rabbinate.

    Rabbonim sharply decried the inefficacy of the Chief Rabbinate against Rabbi Avior's court and similar courts, which are directly responsible for the penetration of massive numbers of non-Jews into the Jewish Nation. "We find it difficult to even conceive of the continuation of a situation in which courts function in defiance of the directives of the Chief Rabbinate, while at the same time, Rabbinate officials approve these conversions. It is time to stop fooling the public and to call an immediate halt to the activity of the special court in Or Etzion."

    Yated Ne'eman asked Rabbi Avior for his reaction, but he did not reply to our questions. He also spoke sharply against Yated Ne'eman, saying: "Do you expect me to react to you after all that Yated writes about me?"

    Based on the testimony given in the Antwerp beis din last week and also on information from the files of the Vaad HaRabbonim Haolami LeInyonei Giyur headed by HaRav Chaim Kreiswirth the following picture of the European operation can be put together:

    Rabbis Druckman and Avior started their conversion activities in Europe about five years ago. In the beginning, Rabbi Druckman travel to Europe several times using his credentials as an av beis din and a senior member of the NRP political party to make connections and contacts to put together a conversion operation in Europe.

    In a later stage, Rabbi Druckman stopped traveling to Europe and the major part of the operation was transferred to Rabbi Avior, a colleague of his on the Or Etzion conversion court, to administer.

    In the beginning the conversions were conducted in Europe. However, when the Vaad discovered that Rabbi Avior was conducting conversions in Zurich, the Vaad -- in cooperation with leading European rabbis and especially the chairman of the Conference of European Rabbis the Lord Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits who passed away last week -- was able to stop the actual conversions from taking place in Europe, even though here and there Rabbi Avior still conducted some ceremonies in Europe.

    Because of these ongoing efforts of the Vaad in cooperation with leading European rabbis, Rabbi Avior had to reorganize his activities which became more discreet. After the initial interview of the conversion candidates in Europe, they are brought to Israel where the actual "conversion" ceremony takes place.

    These conversions are not registered with the Israeli Chief Rabbinate or with the Israeli Department of Religions and are even conducted in complete defiance of written instructions of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate which do not allow any conversions of foreign residents in Israel.

    Rabbi Avior's European conversion industry is completely private and it collects handsome fees.

    It should also be mentioned that these conversions are not recognized by any prominent beis din in Europe. They are usually done only to kasher an intermarriage but in reality the innocent Jewish family members are only fooled into thinking that the marriage will be acceptable with this type of "conversion."

    With the new disclosure that Rabbi Avior takes a large fee for his "services" it is hoped that the Israeli Chief Rabbinate will finally put an end to this private business.

    The Antwerp Beis Din is continuing its investigation of the situation.


    So now we know why Rabbi Eisenstein (hired and given the mandate for his Bais Din Legiur by Rav Kreisworth ob"m) has been waiting for the time to get even with Rav Druckman and this has now finally happened.

    What happens next, with all the anger and confusion, is anyone's guess, but probably the Religious Zionist and Modern Orthodox rabbis both in Israel and America will once and for all make the decision to set up their own Batei Din that are independent of Haredi power and over which Haredi rabbonim will have no say, leading to a huge split in the weak unity of Orthodox Judaism.

  6. The problem is that the bet din invalidated all of Rabbi Druckman's conversions without discussing each case individually, collective punishment

  7. Dear Eli,

    C"V- I am not equating people with leaves of lettuce or rice, but what is the halacha when one finds more than three buggy leaves, or more than three bugs in the batch (ie of grain)???

    Rabbi Druckman's conversions have to be considered all "bad" until each one can be examined and found to be "good" according to the halacha which is our only appropriate measure of "good" and "bad".

    The pain and suffering to human beings in this case is not the fault of the Rabbeim who found the dreadful problems, it is the fault of the Rabbi who overlooked the most obvious.

    Your ire is misdirected when you blame the Rabbis who have discovered the problems rather than the Rabbi who CAUSED them.

    RaP - can you disagree with Rabbi Rosenblum's opinions on this topic point by point instead of simply following the old lawyer's trick of "when you don't have anything tangible to present yell and scream a lot and denigrate the character traits of the opposition"?

  8. Recipients and Publicity said...

    "Rosenum never says anything original, he is a Ba'l Teshuva apologist for 'his master's voice'"

    Do you resort to ad hominem attacks because you are unable to respond to the substance of what he said or just unwilling.

    The fact is that R. Rosenblum is a proponent of Torah Im Derech Eretz which shows a willingness to swim against the Chareidi mainstream.

  9. Anonymous of June 3, 2008 7:27 PM says: "The fact is that R. Rosenblum is a proponent of Torah Im Derech Eretz which shows a willingness to swim against the Chareidi mainstream."

    Umm, no, he is most definitely NOT a proponent of Torah Im Derech Eretz. Sheesh. Where did you get that from? Most American BTs have college degress but they are far from advocating or living by Rav Hirsch's Torah Im Derech Eretz ideology. They usually spend their post-teshuva lives in guilt about having gone to college and don't allow their own kids to go if they can help it, unlike the YU Modern Orthodox crowd that does.

    AFAIK, Rosenblum is a classical baal teshuva in the yeshivish world, hired by the Agudah of America to head up their project Am Echad to promote the Agudah view. If these are not the facts, please correct them.

    It is not "ad hominem" to say that he never says anything original.

    He writes well, like many intelligent well-read lawyers who were trained to write legal briefs for whatever the need of their clients cases may be. Rosenblum is neither an original thinker nor writer. He is essentially a glorified journalist who speaks and writes the Aguda party line. Any Madison Avenue monkey could do that for the right price.

  10. "It is not "ad hominem" to say that he never says anything original. "

    Um, that is by definition ad hominem. Your "response" was against the person, not the substance of the argument. Whether or not he originated the argument has zero relevance to the correctness of the argument.

    "Umm, no, he is most definitely NOT a proponent of Torah Im Derech Eretz. Sheesh. Where did you get that from?"

    "My own leanings are towards TIDE, and if I had been free to design my own sons’ curriculum would probably have added a far larger component of secular studies." Emphasis added.

    "AFAIK, Rosenblum is a classical baal teshuva in the yeshivish world, hired by the Agudah of America to head up their project Am Echad to promote the Agudah view. If these are not the facts, please correct them."

    It seems to me you "facts" aren't even close. Rabbi Shafran works for the Agudah/Am Echad. R. Rosenblum lives in Israel which would not make him an ideal candidate for the US organization Am Echad. He is the director of Jewish Media Resources, which he founded, and a columnist.


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