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1 Av 5766 - July 26, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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International Rabbinical Conference in Jerusalem Demands Stricter Conversion Guidelines

By Tzvi Sofer

The Rabbinical Conference for the Correction of Conversion closed last week in Jerusalem with a series of decisions calling for stricter guidelines requiring solid proof that conversion candidates have genuine intentions to keep Torah and mitzvos before approving their conversion.

It should be stressed that the focus of concern are the so- called Orthodox conversions which are being conducted world- wide and do not meet proper halachic standards. Reform and Conservative ceremonies are widely recognized to be worthless. Repeatedly throughout the Conference, rabbonim said that any conversion without a full and sincere kabolas mitzvos at the time of the conversion is null and void even bedi'eved. In the first plenum session HaRav Nochum Eisenstein announced that Maran HaRav Eliashiv had said the previous day at the opening session of the Conference that its central message is to uproot Special Conversion Courts throughout the world, whose sole function is to encourage conversions without insisting that they meet proper standards. Many Israeli rabbonim who attended the Conference said that in their ongoing experience, most of the converts who apply to them for certification for marriage registration do not meet minimum standards.

The closing session of the conference, sponsored by Horizons — The Jewish Pride Through Education Project, was led by Rabbi Shlomo Rosenstein, who articulated the conference members' feelings of appreciation towards the Kaplan family for funding Horizons, notably by providing millions of dollars to remedy the state of affairs in the area of conversion.

During the three days of the conference, the participating rabbonim were exposed to numerous problems that emerge in conversion, marriage registration and gittin, and had an opportunity to ask morei horo'oh halachic questions regarding specific cases.

The central session was held in the afternoon of the second day and led by Rabbi Binyomin Cohen. It began with a shiur by HaRav Boruch Dov Povarsky, one of the roshei yeshiva of Yeshivas Ponovezh, on the halochos regarding accepting converts and accepting the yoke of Torah and mitzvos. He noted that dayonim who accept non-Jews have a tremendous responsibility to insure that the conversion is performed halachically.

During the course of the session, when reports of a Katyusha attack in the North came in, HaRav Yisroel Roshatzky, the rov of Mevo'ot HaHermon, led the recitation of Tehillim.

Subsequent speakers included HaRav Shmuel Auerbach, the reading of a letter from the Gavad of Erlau, HaRav Boruch Mordechai Ezrachi, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Ateres Yisroel, HaRav Shalom Cohen, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Porat Yosef, HaRav Boruch Horowitz, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Dvar Yerushalayim, HaRav Tzvi Abramovitz, rov of Chatzor Haglilit, and the son of the Admor of Bialeh, who conveyed his father's blessings.

HaRav Yitzchok Peretz, the rov of Raanana, said certain government officials are trying to bring non-Jews into Kerem Beis Yisroel, thereby creating two peoples in Eretz Yisroel. Today 70 percent of arriving immigrants are non-Jews compared with 30 percent when he was serving as Absorption Minister, thus fake conversions must be thoroughly uprooted, he said.

HaRav Reuven Feinstein, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Staten Island and rabbinical chairman of Horizons, speaking at the final session, thanked the rabbonim for taking the time to participate in the conference. He noted that some of the rabbonim even left towns and cities under the threat of Katyusha rocket attacks in order to address the danger to Klal Yisroel posed by portzei geder trying to bring non- Jews into Am Yisroel without even demanding they accept the yoke of mitzvos before their so-called conversions.

HaRav Leib Tropper, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Kol Yaakov in Monsey, said Eternal Jewish Family, a division of Horizons, aims at smoothing the path for earnest geirim, but insists on thorough inquiries to verify they genuinely intend to keep Torah and mitzvos. He then announced the opening of a special program of classes and exams on conversion halochoh, based on the Shulchan Oruch and rulings by leading poskim on contemporary problems. Designed for rabbonim and avreichim studying for semichoh, the program insures they absorb the relevant dinim and how to apply them in various types of conversion cases.

Attorney Marvin Jacob, who is active in Horizons' activities in the US, said he is very impressed with the organization's efforts to combat assimilation and thanked Rabbi Menachem Lubinsky and his Lubicom staff for their assistance in setting up the organization and conveying messages to the American public.

HaRav Avrohom Direnfeld of Tel Aviv delivered a brochoh from the Admor of Belz and recounted a recent incident involving a non-Jewish family seeking to undergo "conversion" without any intentions of keeping Torah and mitzvos, yet nobody stood in their way.

Conference sponsor Mr. Thomas Kaplan gave the closing address, noting the factors that induced his family to start the foundation to buttress the walls of Judaism. He pledged that the family would continue to insure that conversions are not done lightly.

The speeches were followed by a heated symposium in which rabbonim, avos botei din, dayonim and marriage registrars posed questions to Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who listened attentively, took notes and offered comments, though he did not answer any of the questions directly.

Citing instances in which couples sought to register for marriage or receive recognition as converts, they made various suggestions to remedy the situation, including the setup of a committee to investigate the kashrus of converts who converted during the height of the Conversion Administration's activities before Rav Amar became Chief Rabbi.

The Chief Rabbi heard and took notes on 18 questions, promising to reply after clarifying the matters. Later he discussed his efforts to rectify problems in the area of conversion and the authority vested in the botei din, saying that since the dismantling of the Religious Affairs Ministry and the transfer of authority to the Justice Ministry, the Chief Rabbinate has had to work hard to solve the numerous problems that have arisen.

HaRav Shlomo Ben Shimon conveyed the support of Beis Din Hagodol and offered blessings of siyata deShmaya to the participants. HaRav Dov Lior, the rov of Kiryat Arba, also thanked the activists who brought the issue to the public's attention, saying they would undoubtedly merit success in all their endeavors.

Vaad HaRabbonim Haolami LeInyonei Giyur (founded by HaRav Chaim Kreiswirth zt"l) Chairman HaRav Nachum Eisenstein, who has been warning for years about the dire state of conversion in Eretz Yisroel, said the conference brought optimism and hope that, be'ezras Hashem, the blight of false conversions in Eretz Yisroel and around the world could be overcome. He suggested that he might be undergoing a "conversion" from pessimism to optimism about the prospects for upholding proper conversion standards.

HaRav Shmuel Eliezer Stern, a member of the Presidential Board of the conference and the author of Geirus Kehalochoh, called for prayers the good intentions of the conference organizers and participants would ameliorate the situation and bring to fruition the prophecy, "Ve'oshivoh shoftayich kevorishonoh, veyoatzayich kevatechiloh, acharei chein yikorei loch ir hatzedek kiryoh ne'emonoh" (Yeshayohu 1:26; "And I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning; afterwards you will be called the City of Righteousness, a faithful city.")

Throughout the conference the dayonim in attendance said the conversion issue should be restored to prominent, established regional botei din and the special conversion courts should be uprooted entirely.

The conference decisions were read aloud by HaRav Simchoh Hacohen Kook, the chief rabbi of Rechovot (see sidebar).

The rabbinical board that was involved in organizing the Conference, expressed its determination to continue with its efforts to implement the decisions of the Conference. They also expressed their appreciation to the Israeli English Yated for being on the forefront of reporting on the conversion issues fully and properly in the spirit of what is written in this week's parsha: Lo soguru mipnei ish.

Decisions Announced at End of Rabbinical Conference

* The conference participants offer a prayer for the success of Am Yisroel in the campaign imposed upon it from the north and the south, send condolences to the bereaved families that lost loved ones in the murderous attacks and pray the captives will return to their families soon. We offer our support and encouragement to those on the various fronts, who will merit siyata deShmaya in defeating our enemies who have risen up against us.

* The Jerusalem conference supports dayonim in every location who convert converts in accordance with das Moshe veYisroel and in accordance with halochoh accepted from generation to generation without any deviation. Conversion is wholly contingent on accepting all of the Torah and its mitzvos. Any conversion inconsistent with the demands of halochoh, in which the candidate lacks acceptance of the Torah and genuinely wants to go under the wing of the Shechinoh, has no validity.

* The conference blesses the geirei hatzedek, whom we are commanded to love, as is written, "Ve'ohavtem es hageir" (Devorim 10:19). They have left behind worldly pleasures of their own volition and joined the inheritance of Hashem's servants.

* Conversion must be performed within the framework of prominent, established botei din in Eretz Hakodesh and in every other location, and not in other frameworks.

* The conference would like to notify the rabbonim and marriage registrars of the decisions of gedolei hador of 5744 (1984), which stated that the rabbonim and marriage registrars have an obligation to verify that any conversion brought before them included the acceptance of Torah laws. In any case of doubt [the marriage applicants] should be referred back to the regional beis din to determine whether there is a need for another conversion. Converts who are uncertain whether they underwent a proper conversion are welcome to turn to the botei din to clarify their status.

* Intermarried couples will be handled by the botei din in accordance with halochoh, to offer encouragement to converts who converted properly and to assist them in ruchniyus and gashmiyus, to advise and direct them. To provide them help and accompaniment at the beis knesses and to host them at the homes of families that will serve as a source of support.

* The conference is publicizing these fundamental decisions reached unanimously at the Rabbinical Conference held in Jerusalem to the entire Jewish world — Ki miTzion tetzei Torah.


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