May 21: 'Post' readers weigh the conversion dispute

I think the matter goes back to the talmudic struggle between the houses of Hillel and Shammai.

letters 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
letters 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Sir, - "God only knows where this will lead" (May 16) implied that the current controversy over conversions is a fight between anti-Zionist and Religious Zionist rabbis. No doubt this plays an important part; however, I think the matter goes back to the talmudic struggle between the houses of Hillel and Shammai. Unfortunately, we today are ruled by Beit Shammai, who rather than finding ways of making things easier for everyone are intent on making Jewish life and observance more difficult. That is why they come up with new humrot - stringent rules - nearly every week. Once we were lucky enough to have rabbis of Beit Hillel, the last one being Shlomo Goren, of blessed memory, who was anathema to the haredi establishment. Unless the Religious Zionist rabbis and establishment start focusing on regaining control of the chief rabbinate, things will go from bad to worse. MENACHEM DAYAGI Tel Aviv Sir, - The present situation is a result of an unholy alliance between the haredi leadership and the secular Zionist leadership. The seculars wanted power, the haredim money for their yeshivot and jobs in the rabbinate. That happened at the expense of Religious Zionism and its followers. Haim Ramon was very clear about this when he was justice minister. Matthew Wagner wonders where this schism in the rabbinate will lead to following the attack by Rabbi Avraham Sherman of the High Rabbinical Court on Rabbi Haim Druckman and his Conversion Authority. The answer: 1. There will be a strong push to have all conversions recognized by the Supreme Court; 2. Civil marriages by the state will become official and legal in order to resolve the status of 300,000 non-Jewish Russian Israelis. MATTIAS ROTENBERG Petah Tikva Sir, - Your readers should know how a world-renowned halachic authority, Sephardi chief rabbi Benzion Uziel, dealt with a similar problem and gave a definitive ruling in the 1950s. I give an extract from his ruling on mixed marriages, where we are aware that nowadays most Jews are not strictly observant, and that converts are likely not to adhere to a strictly Orthodox way of life. "A would-be convert is informed of the basic principles of Judaism, namely, the unity of God and prohibition of idolatry, and that is what we dwell upon; whereas regarding the undertaking to observe the mitzvot, we only mention a few of the mitzvot and emphasize that 'Before your conversion you were not culpable for violating such things as eating non-kosher foods, etc...' without going into detail, indicating that we do not demand of him to observe the mitzvot. "The Beit Din does not need to know whether he will observe them. Otherwise you would close the door on all conversion, since we can never know what he will do. From this it is clear that conversion is not dependent on any future observance." Rabbi Uziel added his own farsighted understanding of the problem, which has become even more obvious with the mass immigration of Russian Jewry and the acceptance under the Law of Return of those with one Jewish grandparent. He wrote: "From the words of our sages it is clear that as long as the convert is sincere in his wish to convert, even though he may very well not be strictly observant once converted, it is still a mitzva to convert him. "Our sages went so far as to state that God exiled His people for the purpose of bringing more people into the fold. In our age, to place obstacles in the way of converts is a dereliction of our responsibility. It results in estranging Jewish men and women from the Jewish people. Those who do become estranged become the inveterate enemies of the Jewish people, as history has shown. The children of mixed marriages are of the seed of Israel, and they are in the category of lost souls. We shall be held responsible for refusing to accept their parents as converts. "Of those rabbis who place obstacles in the way of their conversion, the prophet Ezekiel said: 'You have not brought back the strayed, but you have driven them away with harsh rigor.' Regarding this situation, our sages demanded that we reckon the loss incurred by the fulfillment of a mitzva against the reward secured by its observance, and the benefit involved in a transgression against the loss it brings. "I therefore rule it is far better for us follow the Halacha as published by our rabbinic authorities so long as the beit din is convinced of the sincerity of [a candidate's] wish to convert." In the light of the foregoing, the policy of Rabbi Sherman and his beit din has no halachic standing whatsoever, and it is Rabbi Druckman who is adhering faithfully to Halacha, as laid down in the Talmud and its codes. ARYEH NEWMAN Jerusalem Getting nowhere fast Sir, - Disregarding the reality cogently described by Barry Rubin in "Self-made nakba" (May 19), Westerners, and notably Jews, advance the establishment of a Palestinian state as if the plight of the Arabs lay at the root of the Arab-Israeli conflict. At the same time, not one Arab leader has voiced support for a Jewish state. Even at the Annapolis Conference, the PA's Mahmoud Abbas refused to acknowledge a Jewish Israel. As Rubin made clear, the Arabs' position of 1948 holds today: A Palestinian state is not worth the price of relinquishing their claim for a Palestine sans Israel. ALICE EIGNER Ma'aleh Adumim 'Ultimately' left behind Sir, - Your editorial of May 16 "Hamastan must go" started off well, but faltered in its closing section. The "escalating steps" you prescribe begin with "the elimination of Hamas's key leaders and continuing with... artillery fire at the sources of rocket launches, while making every effort to minimize civilian casualties." Isn't that what we have doing for the last while? I omitted a word from the above quotation: "relentless." Are you suggesting that as a change in policy? And, if so, how does it correlate with minimizing civilian casualties? Are you suggesting relentless shelling of open areas that have been used for launching rockets? That also has been tried. Your "ultimate" step, "if necessary," is "temporarily retaking some or even all of the Strip." Do you believe that retaking some of the Strip will cause any change of mind? This benighted reader believes that, just as in Hizbullized South Lebanon, Hamas has been busy turning Gaza into a little Stalingrad. The only way we will be able to retake any of Gaza is to go all-out. As for "temporarily," I agree with those who say we will need an exit strategy before going in. And the first clause of that exit strategy has got be a reentry strategy for the next time we have to go in. The second clause should have to do with the readiness of the local population to accept peaceful coexistence. Everything about our post-withdrawal experience implies that the "ultimately" of your editorial has long been passed. SYDNEY L KASTEN Jerusalem Sir, - A point about "Urban legend" (Editorial, May 20): The US secretary of state was John Foster Dulles. His brother Alan was the head of the CIA. SHALOM BRONSTEIN Jerusalem The Beduin deserve it Sir, - Nachman Shai's "My brother, Beduin tracker" (May 15) described some of Israel's most unsung heroes. They don't have to join the IDF; all are volunteers. They walk before the Israeli troops and are the first to stop bullets. The Beduin are fearless in fights and many Israelis can learn from them. They are sometimes taken for granted, and not treated as good citizens should be. Articles like Shai's point out the need for the better treatment they greatly deserve. TOM AVRI KOVES New Zealand