If conversion to Judaism means something, it must be
performed by people who have some demonstrated sensitivity to
the line between Jew and non-Jew, and who can determine the
essence of what is shared by all Jews.
The classic statement of what it means to become a Jew was
made by Ruth (1,16-17): " . . . for where you go, I will go;
where you sleep, I will sleep; your people is my people and
your G-d is my G-d. . . ." Chazal (Yevomos 47b)
interpret this to refer to the a sampling of mitzvos: the
limits of techum Shabbos ("where you go") and morality
("where you sleep"), but the posuk is quite explicit
on requiring a commitment to our G-d.
A true convert must accept increased responsibilities in the
form of the full range of mitzvos as defined in our
literature. Yet he or she enjoys certain benefits as well, in
the form of the moral and communal commitment of other Jews
to loving support of the Jew. In the modern State of Israel,
a recognized convert (which is not always even an halachic
convert) is entitled to more than $100,000 of rights and
other financial support as an automatic immigrant.
Almost two months ago, we carried a report of a conversion
performed via the Internet on a woman in Romania who, on the
basis of that, wanted to come to Israel with her unconverted
husband and children. This woman studied for two years over
the Internet with an American Reconstructionist rabbi, who
never met her before he found three Jews who were travelling
through Romania and acted as his "shlichim and guided
the woman through the proper ceremony. . . " as he wrote us.
The Israeli Ministry of the Interior rejected the
Who is this man?
He is the rabbi of a Reconstructionist congregation, Valley
Outreach Synagogue, in a suburb of Las Vegas. (He founded a
congregation of the same name in Los Angeles but retired from
it several years ago.) The statement of purpose of the
synagogue has many references to services, spiritual and
cultural activities, but not one to G-d. It proudly proclaims
that it welcomes interfaith couples and states that it is in
fact a congregation of Jews and non-Jews.
The congregation holds very regular services -- every month
on the first Friday night of the month. Its June service was
a "Jewish service with Gospel Music . . . featuring the Choir
of the First A.M.E. Church." The rabbi is an active member of
the local interfaith organization.
This Reconstructionist rabbi obviously does not think too
much of the difference between Jew and non-Jew as far as
eligibility for membership in his own congregation and
participation in their "serious religious and communal
experience together." He is even proud to introduce elements
of Christian worship in his services.
How can such a person even claim to be able to tell the
difference between a Jew and a non-Jew, much less to
determine how one should change from one to the other? The
overlap between even this person's own life and the standards
of Ruth is nonexistent.
What could give him reason to expect that his tutelage should
allow someone to take her whole family to Israel, be accepted
as an organic part of the Jewish people, and, last and maybe
least but certainly not trivial, obligate the State to spend
hundreds of thousands of dollars on them?
In summary of itself, the synagogue maintains that it offers
"a unique point of view on Judaism" -- in itself a far from
unique claim, but one that by its own admission makes it
singularly unqualified to decide on who else is or is not
Jewish, and certainly to determine who becomes Jewish in a
way that should be recognized by the rest of the world that
has a different point of view on Judaism.
Joining the Jewish people must mean sharing something that is
common to all of us Jews.