Everyone knows the story about a boat that illustrates how
the actions of an individual can affect everyone. Even though
one is drilling a hole that is entirely under his own seat,
the water that he lets in will eventually sink the entire
ship. If the structural integrity of a boat is compromised,
it will sink everyone riding in it.
The principle is clear and uncontroversial but its
application can sometimes be very problematic.
One important area is that known as "personal status"
referring to the attributes that attach directly to a person
such as marriage and religious affiliation. Modern society
tends to see matters of personal status as personal issues
that affect only the parties directly involved, arguing, for
example, that whether a person is married and to whom he or
she is married is largely a matter that affects only the
person and the spouse, and therefore many irreligious moderns
argue it should be left up to the preferences of the people
Similarly for what is often called "religious affiliation."
For many in the modern world this is thought to be a matter
of little importance to anyone but the individual in
question. Within Protestant denominations changes are very
easy, for example. One can try this today and something else
Within traditional Judaism this is not at all the way it
works — and not only because a conversion to Judaism
requires more time (which it most assuredly does).
Rather, the personal status of each and every Jew is in both
theory and practice of concern to each and every other Jew.
Assuring the integrity of the status of the Jewish people is
a task that occupied even the greatest leaders in the
generation and it has always been considered a high priority
task. It is clear that an important part of Hashem's plan for
the Jewish people is that their yichus remain pure.
Even among those who are committed to halochoh some argue
that the standards must "confront the realities" in which
they appear, and that for example, a rov in a small town
cannot or need not apply the same tests for conversion that
those in the large Jewish concentrations can apply. Even if
they can demand full adherence to the demands of halochoh,
those serving "in the trenches" cannot always require this of
This is a fallacious and self-serving argument. If the
conversions that they perform were expected to be valid only
in their isolated communities, then their argument would make
more sense. However this is of course not possible, and it is
certainly not what the prospective convert wants and not what
the embattled rabbinical authority expects either. Everyone
wants a conversion performed by one rabbi to be accepted
universally, in all Jewish communities, large or small. But
that means that it must meet some minimum standard that will
be acceptable to everyone, everywhere. If a conversion is
desired and expected to be recognized in Jewish communities
all over the world, then it must meet the standards that
those communities expect.
There are standards for performing a conversion to Judaism
that will be recognized by every Jewish community in the
world, and they are accessible to any sincere prospective
convert. What is important is to make this generally known,
to rabbinical authorities as well as to prospective
The initiative taken by the Eternal Jewish Family project in
America to provide the opportunity for a universally
recognized Jewish conversion is an attempt to meet this need.
Under the personal guidance of HaRav Reuven Feinstein, and
with constant guidance from HaRav Eliashiv and HaRav Dovid
Feinstein, it is clear that this project can meet this
Certainly it is better for the converts to go through one
conversion that will be recognized wherever they later decide
to move. It can also be beneficial for the rabbis: if they
can point to a worldwide standard, they will be under less
pressure to bend the rules where they should not.
In the current situation, rabbonim from all backgrounds
— chareidi, modern Orthodox, Lithuanian, Chassidish,
Sephardic, Ashkenazic, and whatever else there is —
have been known to perform conversions that were considered
invalid by all halachic authorities. Sometimes the motivation
is greed, but often the cause is nothing more than
The stakes are high, especially for the converts themselves.
In order to discharge our personal responsibility for the
integrity of Klal Yisroel, the initiative deserves our