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6 Tishrei 5770 - September 24, 2009 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Widespread Protest Against Shas MK's Calls for Conversion Leniencies for Soldiers Continues

By Yechiel Sever

The rabbinical and halochoh establishment is up in arms following nonsensical, heretical remarks by MK Rabbi Chaim Amsellem of Shas, who insists that conversion terms should be eased for FSU immigrants who serve in the IDF. Despite a firm outcry by prominent halacha figures, he continues to voice his opinion widely, especially to the secular media, which is fawning over his "brave and daring halachic ruling."

Rabbonim and dayonim have expressed surprise over the silence on the part of fellow Shas MKs, though the Vaad HaRabbonim LeInyonei Giyur, founded by the late HaRav Chaim Kreiswirth, has stated: "Amsellem's remarks are worse than what we would expect to hear from a Conservative rabbi. According to all leading poskim, accepting mitzvah observance is a necessary precondition for accepting a convert."

In a recent interview, the program host lavishly praised Rabbi Amsellem for his lenient, "valiant" approach. "Are you proposing to ease their conversion, or to accept as converted soldiers whose mothers are not Jewish and whose [maternal] grandmothers are not Jewish, but who have a Jewish grandfather or father and according to halacha they are not Jewish? Does the fact they serve in the army justify their conversion, giving them conversion `points?'" the host asked.

"Definitely!" Amsellem replied. "I follow my own truth," he continued, "I'm writing a comprehensive study on this issue. I wrote a psak halacha and I'm going to take my truth and see it through to the finish."

In response, the program host himself said, "How could you have written such a psak halacha when halacha states otherwise?" But Amsellem claimed there is room to show soldiers open and lenient consideration.

He attempted to anchor his remarks in writings by Sephardic gedolei hadoros, but when asked about rulings by contemporary Sephardic rabbonim who hold otherwise, he said, "I certainly hope many rabbis join me."

During the interview Amsellem went on to place himself in the same category as halachic giants: "I certainly would not compare myself to the Rambam, cholila — who am I? — but when the Rambam made his remarks everybody disputed him, whereas nowadays nobody has heard of his disputants and everybody follows his teachings."

According to a dayan, "Looking for a replacement for conversion without accepting the yoke of mitzvas does great harm to the foundations of the religion and established halacha. We regret to see a low-ranking official have the presumption to present himself as a posek; apparently he is seeking to advance himself in the rabbinate. `Shu'alim ketanim mechablim kromim' [Shir Hashirim 2:5]. This relates to the verse in Devorim [29:17-19] about one whose `heart turns away' from Hashem and who says to himself, `I shall have peace, though I follow the stubbornness of my heart.' He acts as if he wants to make peace among different segments of Am Yisroel, whereas his real goal is to achieve personal ends. But the verse then goes on to say, `Hashem will not want to forgive him...' chas vesholom."

A statement by Vaad HaRabbonim reads: "His declaration that military service is in lieu of accepting the mitzvas cannot serve as a media stunt to advance his personal interests. As a public figure and a `rabbi,' publishing his remarks could cause significant damage, because there are government officials who have no understanding of halachic conversion and who will make use of his remarks to battle against the rabbinical establishment in order to perform conversions that are invalid according to halacha and it will then lead to breaches in Kerem Beis Yisroel. Yet Amsellem continues with his false remarks, which mislead the general public and undermine the foundations of halacha."


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