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19 Kislev 5768 - November 29, 2007 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Eternal Jewish Family Conference Held In Washington

By Yisroel Friedman

Two hundred and sixty rabbonim from Eretz Yisroel and North America gathered recently in Washington, DC to attend the Eternal Jewish Family conference, whose object was to bolster awareness of the potentially tragic consequences of failing to meet the exacting halachic requirements for accepting converts, for both the individuals involved and for our nation as a whole. Plenary sessions stressing the need for stricter supervision of conversions, and shiurim dealing with various relevant halachic issues were interspersed with informal meetings of the attending rabbonim for further discussion of the problems and for heated Torah debate.

The central dais at the convention was graced by HaRav Aharon Schechter and HaRav Shmuel Kamenetsky, members of the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah of America, HaRav Boruch Mordechai Ezrachi, rosh yeshivas Ateres Yisroel, HaRav Boruch Dov Povarsky, one of the heads of Ponovezh Yeshiva, HaRav Moshe Shapiro, HaRav Shmuel Eliezer Stern, an av beis din on the beis din of HaRav S. Wosner of Bnei Brak, HaRav Simchah Hacohen Kook, rov of Rechovot, HaRav David Yosef, head of Beis Hamedrash Yechaveh Daat, HaRav Moshe Meiselman, rosh yeshivas Toras Moshe, HaRav Eliyahu Levin of Lakewood, HaRav Moshe Heinemann, rov of Baltimore, HaRav Hillel David, one of the leading rabbonim in Brooklyn, HaRav Nota Schiller, rosh yeshivas Or Somayach, and the organization's leaders, HaRav Reuven Feinstein, rosh yeshivas Staten Island, HaRav Leib Tropper and HaRav Nochumm Eisenstein, as well as Israel's Chief Rabbis Rav Shlomo Amar and Rav Yonah Metzger and Rav Mordechai Neugreschel and Knesset member Rabbi Avrohom Ravitz.

One of the main messages of the session, sent by Maran HaRav Eliashiv and announced by Rav Eisenstein, is the fact that the responsibility for verifying the validity of a conversion rests upon the one registering or performing any subsequent marriage. He must carefully inspect the conversion certificate and satisfy himself that it is valid, that the conversion was performed properly by a beis din choshuv, before he validates the marriage.

An offhand remark made in passing by Rav Eisenstein has since generated considerable controversy. Rav Eisenstein mentioned that HaRav Eliashiv told him that one who believes that the world is older than 5,768 years, as Chazal tell us, should not serve as a dayan on a beis din for conversion. Although it occupied only a few seconds of a much longer speech, that remark has caused considerable reaction. Rav Eisenstein has since personally reconfirmed the statement with HaRav Eliashiv shlita.

In between sessions, I managed to put some questions to some of the participants, in an attempt to gain a broader perspective of the organization's work and aims.

YN: Rav Tropper, give us some background. How did the whole thing start?

Eternal Jewish Family's activities are an outgrowth of the Teshuvoh movement. The Jewish world is gripped by powerful longing for Hashem's word. Many Jews are rediscovering their roots and seeking to return to an observant way of life. Outreach movements like Arachim, Or Somayach and others are succeeding to stir Jewish hearts across the continent. Often, once the Jewish spark is ignited it bursts strongly into flame. Another Jew returns wholeheartedly to his heritage and his home undergoes a spiritual transformation. Then it transpires that his of her spouse is not Jewish. Our organization came into being to help in this type of situation.

YN: So you aren't trying to solve the problem of intermarriage by conducting halachically valid conversions?

Choliloh. We are neither looking for ways to attract gentiles nor to increase the number of conversions being carried out — no way! However, when we encounter individuals who are sincerely returning to full Torah observance and it transpires that there is a problem of intermarriage — and there are not many such cases — we have been guided by our leaders and teachers, the foremost poskim, not to reject the gentile spouse. Obviously, this holds true only if it emerges positively and beyond any shadow of doubt that the converting partner undertakes to become fully observant and that the couple intends to live in complete adherence to the Torah's requirements. Then we enter the picture, to ensure that the conversion is complete and uncompromising i.e. that it is conducted by an authorized beis din! Understandably, this activity has brought us face to face with the terrible problems surrounding conversion countrywide. We decided to prevent gentile infiltration into the Jewish nation, by raising protective barriers.

YN: But Rav Eisenstein, aren't we supposed to try and push away prospective converts seeking to join the Jewish People?

Based upon the Rambam's opinion (as well as other sources) HaRav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky zt'l, ruled that prospective converts with Jewish partners should not be rejected when we are certain that there is full, wholehearted repentance and complete acceptance of mitzvos. The intention is to remove obstructions from the paths of those who wish to repent. For this reason, HaRav Eliashiv directed us not to spurn them. Of course, this only holds after a permanent beis din of distinction is convinced beyond any doubt that the couple will fully accept Torah and mitzvos. The cases that meet these requirements and progress to carrying out an halachically acceptable conversion are few in number. At the same time, elsewhere across the country the industry for halachically unacceptable conversions is working at full throttle.

YN: Are you referring to Reform conversions?

No. I'm referring to rabbis within orthodox circles who are not well-versed in what they're doing and who act contrary to halochoh.

YN: So, Rav Tropper, you make things difficult for them . . .

Difficult but in the long term, easy! When we welcome a Jew back into the orthodox fold we want him to attend the best possible beis haknesses and his children to attend the best possible yeshivos. In the exactly same way, in the handful of cases where conversion is necessary we have to ensure that it is the best conversion, the most genuine, the most halachic and uncompromising, so that besides the inherent validity of the procedure we avoid the later suffering that attends the discovery that some people do not accept the convert's conversion.


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