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Too rigid for our own good
Sir, - Jonathan Rosenblum's "Rabbis are not pooper-scoopers" (April 20) manipulated facts to conform to his position that the thousands of Russian immigrants seeking conversion - many of whom are serving in the IDF in defense of this country - are not entitled to be converted if they are not, at once, willing to commit themselves to observing Orthodox law. He demeans those attempting to find a halachic basis for solving this serious crisis in Israel by accusing them of trying to rectify an error created by those who would secularize the Jewish state.
In fact, there have been many past outstanding decisors of Jewish law who applied their innovativeness, creativity and ingenuity specifically in the matter of permitting conversions of those who were not going to fulfill all the requirements of Jewish law. They did this to alleviate problems of intermarriage, reduce the number of non-halachic conversions and protect children from losing their Jewish identity if their fathers were not converted.
Mr. Rosenblum's defense of the current Orthodox rigidity is unwarranted. Too much is at stake in Israel.
Let me conclude by citing the statement of a Torah giant, the Rishon Lezion Rabbi Uziel. His opinion may have been rejected by contemporary Orthodoxy, but it ought to be reviewed, reckoned with and accepted. He wrote: "A non-Jew who comes to convert, even if we know that he will not observe the commandments of the Torah, his immersion for the sake of conversion is already an expression of "acceptance," as long as he did not state (as a condition of his conversion) that he will not accept this or that law. And whether or not he observes the law is not a condition of the conversion even ab initio. From all that is said - it is permitted, it is even a mitzva, to accept male or female proselytes even if it is known to us that they will not fulfill all of the commandments. And we are commanded to open the doors to such converts."
That is certainly not the statement of a "pooper-scooper."
RABBI DR. STANLEY M. WAGNER
Sir, - Jonathan Rosenblum believes it would be wonderful if everyone accepted Judaism exactly as he and his rabbis define it. Yet to believe that the only solution for Judaism is a narrow-mindedness that precludes every viewpoint other than one's own is bizarre. And quite problematic. The Jews of Yemen and Ethiopia and Iran and the US and the former Soviet Union - the Jews of Israel - have not spent the last 2,000 years living in an Eastern European ghetto, nor want to pretend that they do so now.
We have a major problem in our country with conversions, and it is not going to be solved by saying: It's the haredi lifestyle, or else. Many Israelis have been subjected to an exclusionary and haughty approach by the group Rosenblum holds up as his ideal, self-appointed arbiters of the entry to Jewish acceptance.
He writes: "Israel can lay down any criteria for citizenship - e. g. service in the IDF: But it has no right to conflate citizenship with being a Jew." During this week of Remembrance and Independence Days one can't help but note those segments of our population that collectively avoid military service and, in extreme cases, scorn the ceremonies on these days.
We Jews have spent more than two millennia trying to survive in widely disparate climes and countries to be joined together, miraculously, in Israel. For a group that with difficulty and reluctance recognizes the miracle of our statehood to now attempt to define, without challenge, who is a Jew and what a normative Jewish lifestyle entails does not make sense.
Perhaps if there was more warmth and less judging, the lifestyle Mr. Rosenblum expects of all of us would be better received and understood.
STEPHEN J. KOHN