THE JERUSALEM conversion office of the Chief Rabbinate.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
A handwritten letter by Rabbi Meir Mazuz, a leading Sephardi haredi (ultra-Orthodox) figure and the spiritual patron of MK Eli Yishai and his Yahad party, has revealed the rabbi to have a lenient position on conversion to Judaism.
Such a controversial stance could cause friction within the Yahad party and its alliance with the hardline Otzma Yehudi faction.
The publication of the letter by the Kipa news website comes after Mazuz already denied he held a lenient position on conversion, when an approbation he wrote for a work on Jewish law written by Rabbi Haim Amsallem, endorsing Amsallem’s lenient position, was publicized several weeks ago.
In Mazuz’s handwritten letter on headed notepaper of the Kiseh Rahamim yeshiva which he heads, the rabbi sets out his stance on the issue of whether or not a convert needs to accept all the commandments of the Torah and keep them, to be accepted as a genuine convert.
“For our many sins in which the majority of the people only keep the traditions partially due to the length of [our] exile and the troubles which we endured, since [the convert] has been circumcised and immersed [in a mikve, or ritual bath] and the convert has accepted upon himself the yoke of the commandments in a general manner, this is enough,” wrote the rabbi, meaning that such a person could be considered a true convert.
Circumcision and ritual immersion are two of the major requirements for a male convert according to Jewish law, along with an acceptance of the commandments laid out in the Torah.
In the handwritten letter, Mazuz even underlined the words “in a general manner.”
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He continued to say that only if the convert said explicitly that he accepts all the commandments except for one specific detail would he not be accepted as a convert regarding the concern that converts accept the commandments.
“But if he did not say this, and it seems that he desires and is making an effort to convert, then internal thoughts are not considered and we accept him” Mazuz wrote.
In response to the revelation about the approbation written for Amsallem’s book, Mazuz had specifically written that “a valid conversion is only through a sincere acceptance of all the commandments in order to fulfill them.”
The issue of conversion is an extremely contentious topic in religious politics at present, due to a law passed in November by the government, which broadens access to conversion by allowing municipal chief rabbis to establish their own conversion courts.
Proponents of the law would like to see greater numbers of the 330,000 non-Jewish Israeli citizens from the former Soviet Union convert, so as to reduce inter-faith marriages in Israel.
Advocates of the new conversion law have encouraged rabbis who adopt the approach outlined by Mazuz that a convert only need accept the commandments in general, to establish their own conversion courts to increase conversions from the immigrant community.
Chief Rabbis Yitzhak Yosef and David Lau are however, resolutely opposed to the law, as is the haredi political leadership along with many hardline national-religious rabbis and their political representatives.
Among those are Rabbi Dov Lior, one of the most influential of the hardline national- religious rabbis, who has backed the Yahad party and has publicly condemned the conversion law, even blaming the abduction and murder last summer of Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-ad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah on the new law.
Should Yahad pass the electoral threshold, the issue of the conversion law could divide opinion within the party if Mazuz stands by his written position.
Lenient viewpoints on conversion are controversial in the haredi world since it is an extremely sensitive topic with many haredi rabbis adopting strict interpretations of Jewish law regrading converts, out of fear of that if conversions are not performed properly they could be lead to inter-faith marriages if the convert is erroneously accepted.
If Mazuz is labeled as lenient on conversion it could delegitimize his standing in the haredi world, posing a political problem for Yahad in its search for votes among the haredim.
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