Monday, January 23, 2017

Rav Moshe Feinstein: Does lack of full observance of mitzvos invalidate conversion?

It seems that there are three views in the literature. 1) Poskim who say that anyone who goes through the ceremony and declares before beis din that he will do the mitzvos, and has mila and tevila – even if subsequently he doesn’t keep anything is still a Jew. 2) There are others who say if it is obvious from the actions and statements that he never intended to be a religious Jew and was clearly insincere the conversion was never valid. 3) Finally there is a view that conversion is conditional on subsequently observing the mitzvos. If this condition is not met then the conversion is invalid.

Igros Moshe (Y.D. 1:159): However in general the idea of conversion does not please me and I refrain from being involved in the conversion process. Not only because the halacha is not to accept them initially when they convert for the sake of marriage. But also for the reason that it is almost certain as an anon sahadi (we witness ) that she will not be accepting the obligation to do mitzvos and she is only saying the words with her mouth that she is accepting them. And without actually accepting the obligation of mitzvos - even it is only one detail, it is stately explicitly in Berchoros (30) that we are not to accept them.

This is not equivalent to the case in Shabbos (68) of someone converting while they are living entirely with non-Jews and therefore don't know about Shabbos or even the prohibition of idolatry. Nevertheless he is considered a valid convert because in that case he sincerely accepts to do all that which a Jew is obligated. That is a valid acceptance of all the mitzvos of the Torah - even though he is absolutely ignorant of the actual laws involved. This in fact is true of all converts. It is not necessary to first teach them all the mitzvos before they are accepted for conversion. Bedieved the conversion is valid without informing them of anything. This is stated clearly in the Rambam and Shulchan Aruch (12). However if they don't actually accept anything they are not to be accepted since this is the essence of conversion.

In fact in the majority of cases of conversion in this country which are done for the sake of marriage, they do not accept the obligation of doing mitzvos. Even when they declar that they will keep them. It is known that they are lying because they feel that they have no obligation to be more religious then their Jewish husband who is not observant and transgresses all the laws of the Torah.  However perhaps this one will be of the minority and actually accept doing the mitzvos.

Therefore I will not say anything in this particular case to you. Because there are in fact many rabbis in New York who accepte converts like these and consequently it is not for me to say that there is any prohibition in accepting these converts.

However I don't like the whole enterprise and neither did  my father.  But I am not saying it is prohibited. Therefore you should do what you think is best depending  on how urgent you think it is.

Igros Moshe (Yoreh Deah 1:160): Concerning a conversion which was done by a Conservative rabbi which did not have the proper acceptance of mitzva and the immersion in the mikve was not in the presence of a beis din but rather was observed by two women. It is obvious that this conversion has no halachic significance because the acceptance of mitzvos is a necessary condition for conversion. Even if she accepted all the mitzvos of the Torah except for one it is invalid as is stated in Bechoros (30b). Furthermore the acceptance of the obligation to keep mitzvos has to be done before three judges and failure to do so invalidates the conversion even bedieved as is stated in Shach (Y.D. 268:9). Therefore there is a basis to question the validity of the conversion – even though there are Orthodox rabbis who also accept converts [who end up not observing mitzvos]. Despite the fact that “we are witnesses” (anan sahadi) that the majority of converts do not genuinely accept the mitzvos as is proved by the way they conduct themselves after conversion. In addition she is not going to be more observant then her Jewish husband for whom she converted. She sees that he violates Shabbos as well as many other Torah prohibitions. However there is a basis for saying that a convert who doesn't observe mitzvos is nonetheless a valid convert bedieved since she said before the beis din that she accepted the obligation to observe the Torah mitzvos and it happens that sometimes such a convert truly accepts the mitzvos even though they don’t keep them afterwards. Therefore perhaps she should be considered as such a ger who does not observe the laws of the Torah after conversion. This despite the fact that it is clear to us because of her subsequent non‑observance that at the moment of conversion she did not accept the mitzvos in her heart but only said that she was accepting them. Even though I personally don’t find it reasonable for the sake of the rare individual to remove the “we are witnesses” (anan sahadi) of her subsequent behavior and to pay attention to the possibility that she was sincere in her thoughts at the time of conversion. However perhaps this is the reasoning of these Orthodox rabbis and there is some basis for their view. There is also a strong justification to assert that she is a valid ger from the fact that her husband – for whose sake she converted – does not observe Shabbos as well as many other prohibitions so that she assumed that there is not really such an obligation to observe mitzvos to be a Jew. Therefore she is like a non‑Jew who converted amongst non‑Jews which Shabbos (68a) states is a valid ger even though he still worships idols. The reason that he is a valid ger is because he has accepted upon himself to be like all the other Jews and this is considered a valid acceptance of mitzvos even though he knows nothing about the mitzvos. That is because knowledge of mitzvos is not critical to become a ger. It is only when he knows about the mitzvos and refuses to keep them that the conversion is not valid. We know this from the fact that he has no obligation to learn the entire Torah before he converts – he is only instructed in some of the mitzvos. Therefore even though the beis din told her that she must keep Shabbos, she thought that this was just merely desirable and that even if she didn’t keep Shabbos and other mitzvos she mistakenly thought that she was a good Jew. Therefore she mistakenly thought she had accepted all the mitzvos that a Jew is required in order to convert – even though this caused her not to fulfill the mitzvos. This is a possible justification to consider her to be a valid giryorus – even though she doesn’t keep all the mitzvos. It is a weak justification for those Orthodox rabbis who accept such converts so as not to view them inferior to laymen. [Despite this possible justification for a non‑observant ger to be a valid ger] nevertheless the mitzvos have to be accepted before a beis din. It is likely that the Conservative rabbis don’t do this because they don’t know the laws of conversion. In addition they are not careful to follow the law even when they know it. Consequently their conversions lack the proper acceptance of mitzvos – even of the most minimal type – which is critical for a valid conversion. In addition the Conservative beis din is invalid because they reject many fundamental principles of Judaism and transgress a number of prohibitions. Look at Choshen Mishpat (7:9) and Piskei Teshuva there in the name of R’ Akiva Eiger – that even transgressing a rabbinic law disqualifies a person from being a judge and this doesn't require an announcement. In addition it is almost a certainty that they transgress many Torah prohibitions even though witnesses have not been accepted to testify to this but it is “like we are witnesses” (anan sahadi) that anyone who is called with the debased description of Conservative is presumed to violate many prohibitions and to deny many of the fundamentals of religion. I have already explained in one teshuva that someone who is presumed to be a heretic is invalid – even without formal testimony from witnesses. This is true even for leniences. I don’t have the time to go into greater detail concerning this matter. Therefore it is quite obvious that a conversion done by a Conservative rabbi has no significance.

Igros Moshe(Y.D. 3:106): A candidate for conversion who does not want to accept a certain mitzva is he a ger bedieved?… Concerning the subject of conversion, the vast majority of them want to convert because of marriage and therefore should inherently not be accepted. However if they were accepted anyway - they are in fact valid gerim. This reservation about accepting converts for the sake of marriage is true even if they accept all the mitzvos since they did not decide to convert for the sake of Heaven. Therefore it is obvious that there is suspicion that despite the fact they stated before the beis din that they are accepting to do the mitzvos – that they are not telling the truth and they need to be examined further. This in fact is the intent of the Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 268:12): When it is known that they converted for ulterior motivation, they should be treated with suspicion until that their righteous is established. That is because since they converted for ulterior motivation, they should be suspected that even though they have verbally accepted the mitzvos but not in their heart. Since there is clear reason to suspect their lack of sincerity, it is not considered a merely a possible mental reservation which has no halachic significance (devarim sheb’lev). See Tosfos (Gittin 32a) and Tosfos (Kiddushin 49b)…Therefore they are to be viewed as doubtful gerim until their righteousness is establish and then they are viewed as definite gerim. Most of the time and perhaps all of the time when a Jew wants a non‑Jew, that the Jew himself is not observant. Therefore it is not logical that the non‑Jew who is converting for the sake of a Jew will be more observant. It is as if we are witnesses that the non‑Jew is not definitely accepting the mitzvos. Therefore it requires a great deal of deliberation in the acceptance of gerim. Unfortunately due to our many sins the situation has degenerated in many places that they accept these type of gerim – even G‑d fearing rabbis – because of the pressure of congregants on them. Therefore it is very critical to fix and create protective measures to stop this great breakdown of the system. It is certain because of these problems that the rabbis of Holland made a decree that gerim would not be accepted unless all of the rabbis agreed. This type of decree is a legitimate approach to protect the Torah and mitzvos against that which can not be permitted as is stated in Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 228:28). Concerning the present case where the candidate for conversion wants to accept all the laws of the Torah but does not want to accept wearing modest clothing. She wants to wear the clothing that are worn – due to our many sins – by the average woman of this degenerate generation. The question is whether to accept her as a valid ger and if the answer is negative - what is her status if she is accepted anyway? This requires careful thought. Bechoros (30b) states that a non‑Jew who comes to accept the entire Torah except for one thing is not to be accepted. R’ Yose says that he isn’t accepted even if rejects one detail of a rabbinic halacha. The question is whether this gemora is only concerning initially whether to accept the candidate as seems from the language of the gemora or that even if he accepted – he is not a valid ger? It is certain that gerim are accepted even though they don’t know most of the laws of the Torah - because we instruct them only in some of the mitzvos. It is certain that we don’t even teach them most of the laws of Shabbos. Furthermore we find an even more extreme situation in that even if the ger doesn’t know any mitzvos he is still a valid ger. This is stated in Shabbos (68b) that a ger who converts amongst non‑Jews is liable for one chatas for all the violations on every Shabbos and prohibited blood and fat and idolatry. Thus we see that even if he isn’t instructed in a single mitzva or even the foundations of religious belief he is still a valid ger. That is because the case in the gemora concerns a person who has accepted upon himself to do all that a Jew is required to do – and that is sufficient for valid conversion. We are not concerned with the possibility that if he knew this particular mitzva he would not accept it. That is because even if it were so it is only a mental reservation which has no halachic significance. Thus informing a candidate for conversion of the nature of mitzvos is only something that is desirable, but has no halachic consequence if not done. Therefore we must say that the language of the Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 268:3) “all matters of conversion have to be in the presence of 3 fit to judge whether it is to instruct him about mitzvos or for his acceptance of mitzvos” – is not to be understood literally. That is because the point of the Shulchan Aruch is that the acceptance of mitzvos has to be in the presence of 3 but instructing him about mitzvos is not required for the validity of the conversion. The reason the Shulchan Aruch mentions instructing him in mitzvos is because that is what the beis din does concerning some of the mitzvos when he accepts the obligation to do mitzvos. That is in fact the language of the Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 268:12) “and even if he is not informed of the reward and punishment of mitzvos he is still a valid ger.” This wording of the Shulchan Aruch here is also not precise because even if the candidate is not instructed at all concerning any mitzvos – as long as he accepts the obligation to do all the mitzvos that Jews are required to do – he is still a valid ger. It is only because it is typically not forgotten to instruct him in some mitzvos that the Shulchan Aruch mentions that they forgot to instruct him regarding the reward and punishment of mitzvos – because it is possible to forget this occasionally. However if they do tell him a particular mitzva or he knows about it himself since he sees Jews observing it and he says that he doesn’t accept it – that is the case that Bechoros (30b) says that he is not accepted as a ger. Therefore it is possible that in this case even if he was accepted as a ger – despite his rejection of a particular mitzva – bedieved he would still not be a valid ger. However Bechoros (30b) says that he is not to be accepted - which seems to be that he is only not accepted initially if he rejects any mitzva.Furthermore it would seem from the statement of R’ Yose in Bechoros (30b) that even if rejects a single detail of a rabbinic law he is not accepted – it would seem that since he has accepted every Torah mitzva including not to deviate from the rabbinic teachings – but at least he would be a ger according to the Torah. That is because it doesn’t make sense that the Sages would uproot the Torah level conversion - which is relevant to the validity of marriage and other matters – and to create a leniency and that this would not be mentioned openly in the gemora. Therefore we can conclude that even according to R’ Yose he is only saying not to accept them initially but if they were accepted – even if they had rejected a rabbinic law – they are still valid gerim. Furthermore they would be obligated to keep even the mitzva that they had rejected. That is because this that they did not accept it has no halachic significance to exempt them because they are make a condition against that which is written in the Torah – and therefore the condition is nullified... Therefore this woman who doesn’t want to accept to wear only modest clothing should definitely not be accepted initially. However whether she should be accepted bedieved depends on this doubt and it would seem more likely that bedieved if she was accepted that she would be a valid convert. Furthermore concerning whether to accept her initially – any conversion which is because of marriage even if she accepted the entire Torah – she should not be accepted. If so it is certainly is a major justification for the requirement that all the rabbis of Holland agree to accept her conversion – even if she accepted all the Torah laws. Nevertheless it is good that all the rabbis did not agree to accept her because of her refusal to wear modest clothing. That is because accepting her with two issues against her is much more serious than if she only had one. However there is another consideration since because of our many sins we find that Jewish women also are not careful about wearing only modest clothing – even those who are Torah observant. Therefore a non‑Jewish woman who comes to convert might think that modest clothing in only an act of piety that the rabbis are trying to impose on her more than is actually required – because she knows women who are observant and yet wear immodest clothing. And even if the rabbis tell her that it is actually prohibited and not just an act of piety – she doesn’t believe them. If so perhaps she should be viewed as converting without knowing the laws of the Torah and would be considered a valid ger according to Shabbos (68b)? This seems logical – even though I don’t have a proof for this presently. Nevertheless with all things considered it is better not to accept her because she should not be accepted anyway since the conversion is for the sake of marriage. Therefore even though people are lenient to accept converts for the sake of marriage it is not correct to be lenient in additional factors. Consequently the decree is correct and she should not be accepted.
Igros Moshe (Even ha-Ezer 4:78): Concerning a woman who was married by a Conservative rabbi - in Houston who is known to openly violate Shabbos - to a man who was born in San Salvador to a non‑Jewish woman. The Conservative rabbi there claimed that he converted her together with two local men who were open Shabbos violators because he said that no one observes Shabbos in El Salvador. It is clear that the conversion is of no significance so that even if this couple were married by an Orthodox rabbi according to the halacha it still would have no significance because he is a full non‑Jew for whom kiddushin has no halachic significance. Furthermore even if he were converted by a Torah observant beis din – since he has not observed Torah mitzvos even for a moment he has not accepted the obligation of mitzvos - this is not considered conversion. However if he was a valid ger or was a Jew from birth, the marriage by a Conservative rabbi – who is presumed to deny the foundation principles of Judaism even though we don’t actually know the person and surely here where it is known for certain that he openly violates Shabbos –has no halachic significance. Consequently we have two clear factors why the marriage has no significance and therefore she is permitted to marry another man – but not a cohen since she has had sexual relations with a non‑Jew which disqualifiers her from marrying a cohen.

1 comment :

  1. In the same article that you took the above from, it also contrasts this with Rav Elyashiv's earlier position:

    "On the other hand, R. Elyashiv takes another approach in his comment regarding R. Shlomo Goren’s famous “Brother and Sister Ruling” (Chief Rabbinate 5733), in which R. Goren alleviated the status of mamzer from two siblings. Their mother married a man while halakhically she was still married to another man, who was a convert. R. Goren claimed that since the fi rst husband did not adhere to the rulings of the Sages, his conversion was invalid. R. Elyashiv remarked that since today Jewish customs are different than what they once were, criteria for conversion should also be different: “Today there is reason to revisit the Jewish customs which determine the criteria for conversion, since this has changed. If we see that a convert acts like the Jews among whom he resides, attending synagogue on Shabbat and Yom Tov, buying kosher meat, avoiding work on Shabbat, etc. – this is sufficient to presume he is a convert, even if he transgresses one detail from the words of the Sages.” This opinion leads to stringency in certain cases, but also demonstrates that the issue is not clear-cut."


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