Expressions of anguish continued this week in response to the attempt on the part of the Chief Rabbinate to legitimize thousands of non-Jews who converted while serving in the Israeli Army, even when it was clear that they had no intention of keeping the mitzvos.
In an editorial, the Hebrew Yated Ne'eman wrote:
"The attempt to legitimize the false conversion industry, which operates on a large scale in the IDF, is a very serious step toward granting support to a system of issuing fictitious `conversion certificates' and that has become a mockery and a disgrace for all to see.
"This issue is very dear to us, for bringing in non-Jews in the guise of Jews causes grave harm to the purity of descent, erodes Kerem Beis Yisroel, and boosts assimilation. The world of Torah and halacha will not rest until the scandal of false conversions comes to a halt and until conversions are done only according to halacha as passed down to us through the generations, including proper acceptance of mitzvas and before a fixed, reputable beis din qualified to deal with these serious matters, and not before various individuals who cause a breach.
"We cannot be silent and overlook the breach taking place before our very eyes. It goes without saying that there are very real concerns that within a relatively short period of time we will face a situation in which the fictitious registration will cause innocent, traditional Jews who are unaware of the contrived conversions and false marriage registration to unknowingly build families with non-Jews, not realizing that in so doing they join the process of unseen assimilation that has been taking place because certain government officials have severed themselves from the existential foundations of Am Yisroel, and based on a reckless approach of overlooking these "conversions," which have become an established system of deceit and causes bitter mockery, making halacha into a laughing stock."
This is not the first time government "conversions" by special botei din set up by the State of Israel has come on the agenda.
In 5744 (1984) gedolei Yisroel issued a letter saying converts should not be accepted unless one is convinced they have undertaken the yoke of Torah and mitzvas. One year previously Maran HaRav Yosef Sholom Eliashiv shlita also issued a clear ruling on the matter.
In early Adar 5743 he received a letter asking as follows: "I know of many cases in which a conversion process was conducted in Eretz Hakodesh by an Orthodox rabbi where there was no intention to undertake the yoke of Torah and mitzvas. Though it was clear that the declarations before the rabbi performing the conversion that they would keep and do and carry out [the mitzvas] was merely lip service, does the marriage registry rabbi have an obligation to inquire and ascertain whether the convert seeking permission to marry a Jew intended to commit to Torah and mitzvas?"
In response to the inquiry, HaRav Eliashiv wrote, "It goes without saying that there is no such thing as a convert without acceptance of the yoke of Torah and mitzvas. If he has no intention whatsoever to truly convert and take refuge under the wings [of the Shechinoh], keeping Shabbos and upholding His covenant, rather his only impetus is to attain material aims and indulge his desire, this is not conversion in any manner. (See Responsa Beis Yitzchok, 100, which says that without genuine acceptance he is not considered a convert, for in this case we do not say that one's inner thoughts are immaterial.) Since it seems that there are many converts of this type, the rabbi who oversees the marriage registry has an obligation to inquire and investigate before issuing them a marriage permit, in order to prevent non-Jews from mixing with holy seed. May Hashem enable us to realize the verse, `and [I] will take away all your alloy And I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counselors as at the beginning; afterward thou shalt be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city' (Yeshaya 1:25)."
Igros Moshe (Yoreh Dei'ah 1, 157) also presents a clear halacha in this matter. HaRav Moshe Feinstein writes that a convert who does not undertake mitzvas "clearly is not a convert at all, not even after the fact...And he is not a convert in any respect, whether a leniency or a stringency results, for acceptance of mitzvas is mandatory. Even if he says he accepts mitzvas, if we witness that he has not accepted [them] genuinely, it is meaningless... And generally speaking, I cannot fathom why it is that the rabbis err in this. Even according to their view, what benefit do they bring to Klal Yisroel by accepting converts of this sort? Certainly this is not desirable for HaKadosh Boruch Hu or for Am Yisroel to have converts of this type in the Jewish people, and the halacha is straightforward that this is not a convert at all."
HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt"l expanded on this point in a ruling published in his book, Minchas Shlomo, where he writes that rabbis who perform such conversions based on their distorted approach transgress the prohibition of placing a stumbling-block before the blind, for according to their view that the conversion is valid he causes them to transgress, as a Jew, prohibitions that are permitted to non-Jews.
"All who assist in this type of conversion, even if they mistakenly think that they are truly converts, according to these [rabbis'] approach those who perform the conversion transgress the prohibition of lifnei iver, for everything that is done against Hashem's will is called stumbling-blocks," writes HaRav Auerbach. "As such, when a convert of this sort desecrates Shabbos and eats non-kosher meat, before he converted there was no transgression or stumbling-block, whereas now, when he continues to follow this path, all of his actions are transformed into obstacles and stumbling-blocks. Since all this comes about only as a result of the conversion, all those who perform conversions and foster them carry the weight of causing others to sin and transgress the prohibition of not placing a stumbling-block before the blind."