Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

6 Elul 5759 - August 18, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
A Convert Must Join All the Jewish People

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 conversion.

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.

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