Tuesday, November 20, 2007
The current conversion conference conflict opened up an old can of worms with numerous ramifications. These in turn may have long lasting repercussions, some possibly of unforeseeable magnitude.
There are real problems here, which most seem to ignore, either because they were carried away, or perhaps they’re only focusing on petty bickering. Suffice to say most people didn’t see farther than their noses, which isn’t too far, even if they’re Jews.
So let’s capitulate, let’s clear the air please;
There is a very serious problem of intermarriage. There is also a very serious problem of severe breaches in giyur procedures within orthodoxy.
EJF was founded to solve, or at least soothe these problems. But it turned out (or was so planned from the beginning) that money for nothing and chicks* for free make you forget your principles pretty quickly. So EJF is actively pursuing intermarried couples, employs leniencies, targets the children of intermarried couples, and tries to monopolize the business. There is also a great problem with centralizing halocha.
But the main focus of controversy was on an entirely different matter. Apparently rabis Eisenstein and Tropper officially declared, in the names of R’ Elyashiv and R Kanievski, that the conversion of one who believes the world is older than 5768 years is void. Similarly, one who holds this belief is a cofer (heretic), unfit for dayonus and as per consequence even past conversions performed by him are retroactively void.
Naturally, the Modern Orthodox were outraged, and rightly so. But they forgot all about the real problems and while they were busy screaming about being delegitimized, rabbi Tropper cashed another check, and EJF is still riding high.
Although hard to believe they are true, the statements were made, and will have to be dealt with. Is it a moment of truth for Modern Orthodoxy? Time will tell.
As a side note, I’d suggest that as a worst-case scenario, (i.e. the comments were actually made exactly so and they are true) even the most stringent hard-liner position, i.e. that Evolution is unequivocally heresy, shouldn’t retroactively void conversions. Even if one actually holds one heretic belief, if he keeps Torah and mitsvot he may not be entirely dismissed. This is especially in regards with Orthodox people holding evolutionary ideas (I almost put an L in there…), since they believe this conforms to halocha. In the worst case this shouldn’t be considered more than shogeg in one ‘un-kosher’ belief’.
As a matter of fact, in ’92 a group of RCA rabbis proposed to change the approach to intermarried couples, (labelled "the roundtable proposition") as an answer to the alarming rate of intermarriage. The RCA’s leading rabbis immediately released and unequivocal rejection of the proposal and reinforced the traditional approach.
Despite this, there are many rabbis, who, on a private basis (i.e. they have or serve on independent courts) employ very lax, and I’d say even heterodox practices. People with ultra-liberal agendas are liberal enough to enact laws of their own, at the community’s expense and detriment. (Note that Noah Feldman has more integrity than such people. He could have easily resorted to a giyur Maiden Japan and avoid all the fuss. No one would have ever accused him of throwing tantrums…) There is also a lot of corruption – dayonus can be quite a profitable business.
The real tragedy is that those gerim will be rejected in many Orthodox communities. The communities that will accept them will only alienate themselves from general Orthodoxy. And I fear that some are actually interested in this. There are at least two virulently anti-orthodox sites that vehemently oppose EJF specifically because it jeopardizes such rogue courts and rabbis. They, as well as the insulted MO people who resorted to personal smears against Tropper actually play into his hands. Now he’ll have proof that it’s Modern Orthodoxy’s extreme left wing together with some unsavory characters who are trying to smear and vilify him.
Instead of resorting to absolutely useless attacks, we should focus on the real problems, as well as stopping the commercialization of Judaism.
This is a huge silver lining to EJF’s black cloud, because come hell or high water, now everyone’s noses will be rubbed in their own dirty little secrets, lest EJF achieves its goal. But by now a few egos too much have been hurt, and the struggle won't be easy. In other words, by wanting to be bigger and better than everyone else, rabbi Tropper actually forced all to face reality.
And the episode may have an even more siginficant facet to it. Perhaps now those who really care may actually face up and sit together to discuss solutions and ways to ensure proper procedures.
Is there at least a glimpse of a chance, if not at reconciliation, at least a bit of tightening and mending the relations between the factions? Let’s hope so.
*Rubashkin glatt, of course.
© Joseph Izrael 2007