by Mordecai Plaut
Chareidim and Geirim and the Jewish People
There are a number of topics about which chareidim are
criticized, even by their friends. This article is intended
to give an exposition of the chareidi position and attitudes
in several areas that seem to invite criticism that is based
largely on misunderstanding of what we believe and false
impressions of what we do (see box).
Chareidi Jewry Welcomes True Converts
Chareidi Jewry welcomes sincere converts to Judaism and has
done many things, individually and communally, to assist them
and make them welcome both before and after their
conversions. A special beis din of responsible
dayanim was set up through the personal intervention
of the gedolei haposkim five years ago, to work within
the framework of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate to have an
accessible avenue for those seeking a conversion according to
halachic guidelines accepted by choshuve botei dinim
throughout the ages. This beis din had the full
support of all the chareidi community.
Many converts, from all over the world, have joined and
become full-fledged members of the chareidi community. The
community is welcoming, supportive and accepting of true,
Altogether there is absolutely no basis for anyone to say
that the chareidi community does not have a positive and
welcoming attitude towards geirim at all levels and
Unfortunately, in some circles, "a welcoming attitude towards
converts" is a phrase used repeatedly and misleadingly as a
code word to describe rabbonim who will bend the rules of
halochoh in order to "perform conversions." Those who are not
familiar with the context take these statements at face
value, but those who have investigated know the unfortunate
There is a widespread use of misleading and confusing terms
in relation to geirim. For example, recently a
spokesman was quoted as saying that it is important to do
many conversions "even if the converts remain
chilonim." This is truly doublespeak worthy of an
Orwellian character. If a non-Jew goes through a conversion
ceremony and comes out of it nonobservant, he remains a non-
Jew. There is no meaning to his having gone through the
ceremony and it makes no difference if the rabbi
administering the ceremony is Orthodox, Conservative, Reform,
Chassidic, Litvish, German or American Indian.
However, our concern is only with Orthodox rabbonim. We pay
no attention to obviously meaningless Reform and Conservative
conversion ceremonies. Our only concern is with invalid
Orthodox conversions, which mislead others and may cause
great damage by allowing non-Jews to marry Jews.
We wish to clarify that there is no dispute among all genuine
Orthodox rabbis that kabolas mitzvos is essential for
a valid geirus, even bedi'eved. Furthermore,
the leading halachic authorities in recent generations (HaRav
Moshe Feinstein, the Steipler, HaRav S. Z. Auerbach, HaRav
Shach and ylct'a HaRav Eliashiv) declared in writing
that an insincere kabolas mitzvos is also invalid and
worthless, even bedi'eved. This latter psak is
the crux of the problems since it is not accepted by all
rabbonim, especially in practice, as we will explain
It should be noted that in hilchos geirus there is no
discretion given to dayanim for leniency or
compromise. Some things are determined by the contracts
arranged between two parties. A person's status as a Jew is
part of the eternal triangle between us, Hakodosh Boruch
Hu, and the Torah, and no one is authorized to waive any
Becoming a Jew is Joining the Am Hashem
Joining our community requires a significant commitment to
the task we have of living as an Am Hashem whose lives
are an expression of our relationship to the Creator of the
world as defined by the Torah. Converting to Judaism, as it
was always understood by Klal Yisroel, is not a
political or an ethnic act related to the Jewish people or
even to the Holy Land, but rather related to Yisroel, the
Torah and Hakodosh Boruch Hu. The convert must assert
unequivocally that he or she accepts Hashem and His Torah in
order to join Yisroel.
This is the baseline halachic position: that in order to join
the Am Hashem a person has to want to join the Am
Hashem, meaning a full commitment to Torah and mitzvos,
and nothing less. It reflects our view of ourselves and our
place in the world, and is the halachic view of conversion
requirements. Someone who is putting on a show and is just
expressing a commitment that he or she does not really feel,
cannot be said to have joined the Am Hashem, as ruled
explicitly by the great poskim of the past two
generations. Serving Hashem means with the heart and not just
with the lips, as our prophets emphasized many times.
Working together with the Vaad HaRabbonim Haolami LeInyonei
Giyur founded by HaRav Chaim Kreiswirth zt"l, Yated
has stood for well over a decade at the forefront, exposing
those who do not meet these standards. To our great dismay,
in this context we have had to write about Orthodox rabbonim
of all affiliations, including some with full chareidi
credentials, and with every kind of kippa imaginable.
With the guidance of our rabbinical board we have written
about all of them, based on our assessment of the damage done
and our ability to limit it. We never criticize or stigmatize
communities, and only talk about individuals when it is
Some people think that a newspaper has ulterior motives for
writing about the faults of others. Some think that there is
a kind of pleasure in writing about the failings of others.
Some think that this material sells more newspapers. This is
all nonsense. There is no pleasure in the writing, and the
responses to criticism are almost always very unpleasant. And
the bottom line is that many more people cancel their
subscriptions because of such articles than buy them. The
truth is that we do it because it is the duty of a Torah
newspaper to stand up for the truths of the Torah, and those
who work for it must be prepared to take the heat when
necessary. Other publications, put out even by Torah Jews but
run for parnossoh, avoid all controversy because it is
definitely bad for business and hard on the nerves.
The gedolei haposkim said that Yated was not
established as a commercial enterprise, but in order to
inform the public of what they should know.
The Presence of Non-Jews in Israel is a Fact
Something that is raised repeatedly by many people is the
"problem" posed by the massive immigration of non- Jewish
Russians to Israel and the need for a "solution" to this
"problem." We do not see things this way. The presence of
hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish Russians is a fact. Any
problems that they cause should be dealt with on a case-by-
case basis. And in no case is it is "solution" to do masses
of invalid conversions. The overwhelming majority of the
immigrants are quite happy to remain non-Jewish, and even the
minority that might be persuaded to "convert" - - if it is
easy enough -- are certainly not willing to undertake Torah
and mitzvos. What is gained by issuing someone a certificate
saying that he or she is a Jew if he or she has not accepted
mitzvos? If it were so easy, we could just print up the
certificates and hand them out. But it is not so simple.
The government that brought in almost half a million non-Jews
(against which the chareidi community protested from the
start) is the one responsible for taking care of their social
needs. There is no reason to look to the rabbinate to dig
them out of the mud. The gedolei haposkim also have
proposals to deal with the de facto situation that was
created by others that do not involve invalid geirus,
but this is not the forum to discuss them.
This is also not the proper forum to review the history of
Rabbi Druckman's and Rabbi Avior's conversion activities. We
must stress again that they may be otherwise fine rabbonim.
Our criticism is only of their geirus activities and
their failings in this area have been thoroughly documented
in case after case for more than a decade. Some of their
actions have been in explicit violation of the guidelines of
the Chief Rabbinate.
Their approach is to take everything that a prospective
convert says at face value. Their entire acceptance of a
prospect is based on him or her passing an oral test and on
the "general impression" the beis din receives of the
This approach is obviously very open to abuse, and it has
been abused in practice. We have documentary evidence that
the vast majority of their converts did not even keep the
first Shabbos after their conversion, in addition to not
keeping other elementary mitzvos.
When an attempt was made to show them this clear evidence
that there was never any original sincere acceptance of
mitzvos, these rabbonim refused even to discuss the matter.
They maintain that once someone has accepted mitzvos before
them, the conversion cannot be reversed. The overwhelming
consensus of leading poskim is otherwise and holds
that the conversion need not be reversed because it never
took place. They need not be expelled from the Am
Hashem because they never joined it.
Full documentation of their activities and their shortcomings
was given in various articles published in Yated over
the years and is available in the files of the Vaad
HaRabbonim Haolami LeInyonei Giyur in Jerusalem. Anyone is
welcome to see the evidence.
We Do Not Believe in Isolationism
We will not presume to speak for the Mafdal who are said to
believe in inclusive participation in the community, but we
certainly do not believe in "isolation and segregation as a
matter of principle" and especially not as a matter of
practice. Degel Hatorah has joined many governments, though
never any government dominated by Meretz. (Degel Hatorah was
even more critical of Shas for joining that government than
of Mafdal for joining Shinui.) Degel Hatorah people are
currently mayors of six cities.
But participation in the Israeli government is far from the
only way to engage the larger community. We have the broadest
and most effective outreach activities, such as Lev L'Achim,
Acheinu, Shuvu, Arachim, the Shas school system and others.
Proud chareidim are behind the most beautiful chesed
organizations that serve the entire Israeli community, such
as Yad Sarah, ZAKA, Yad Eliezer, Ezer Mizion, and many, many
others worth mentioning. Chareidi money that supports these
organizations and many others like them goes to benefit the
entire Jewish community, including the National Religious
community (there is a Yad Sarah branch in Alon Shvut, for
It is really astonishing to hear us characterized as
isolationist. We do not mean for a minute to suggest that we
cannot do more, but we certainly think of ourselves as deeply
engaged with the broader community as even the above brief
and incomplete list shows clearly.
We also recommend the quotation given from Reb Elimelech of
Lizhensk, as well as the works of the Chofetz Chaim on
loshon hora, which are so very important for anyone
who writes in public -- and for everyone else as well.
Because it is not as well known, we would like to add some
remarks from Rabbi Shamshon Rafael Hirsch (Collected
Writings Volume VI, p. 176): "Is not peace also a sacred
value to the conscience of the Orthodox Jew? . . . There are
indeed circumstances under which I may, and indeed must, give
up everything that is mine for the sake of preserving peace.
. . . But I cannot restrain myself with what is not mine but
G-d's, the Divinely uttered truth, the integrity of my life.
My peace with G-d, my peace with my conscience cannot be for
sale. I must not sacrifice these values even for the sake of
preserving peace with men. . . . "Love truth and peace"
(Zecharya 8:19). Truth comes first and peace only
afterwards. Only once you have assured for yourself the truth
of G-d and you have obtained clarity about the truth of your
own way of life may you seek peace with your fellow men."
The chareidi community has recently been criticized in the
local Agudah publication in Toronto, entitled
Perspectives for its approach to geirim by a
well- respected writer, Mr. Kurt Rothschild of Toronto,
chairman of the World Mizrachi Organization, whose letter was
later translated and published in Hatsofe -- the
newspaper of the Mizrachi movement in Israel.
Perspectives had printed two articles that originally
appeared in the Yated of Eretz Yisroel: "Jewish Agency
Plans to Launch Accelerated Conversion Program in Eastern
Europe" by Betzalel Kahn, which appeared in our Vayikra
edition, and the other is, "Sharon Plans to Speed
Conversion Process by Transferring Interior Ministry
Portfolio" by Betzalel Kahn, which appeared a week earlier in
the Pekudei edition.
Although the article here stands on its own as a presentation
of the attitudes and principles of the chareidim, it can be
read as a reply to the letter since most of the criticism
appearing there seems to be based on misunderstandings that
are clarified in this article.
Mr. Rothschild wrote that his remarks center on three issues:
"The conversion process in Israel for non- Jewish immigrants,
the decision by Mafdal to join the current Sharon coalition,
and support for non-Chareidi Torah and chesed
" . . . A much greater effort should have been made by
Israel's rabbinic leadership to encourage and befriend these
[non-Jewish] immigrants. This was not done; nor was
sufficient thought given to the "time bomb" this immigration
constitutes. . .
"Yet, when others have sought to be more accommodating - -
within the realm of Halacha -- they have been denounced. .
". . . It is clear that within the broad spectrum of
Orthodoxy, there are basic disagreements between the National
Religious camp who believe in inclusive participation of the
Orthodox camp in the affairs of the State and of the
community, whenever possible, whereas much of the chareidi
community in large measure believe in isolation and
segregation as a matter of principle."
Mr. Rothschild acknowledges in the course of his letter that
he is "not qualified to engage in a Halachic discussion."
Unfortunately, such honest humility is not always shown and
it is praiseworthy. Thus it surprised us when further on he
asserts that the others who "have sought to be more
accommodating" do so "within the realm of Halacha"? The
halachic validity of their approach is precisely the point in
dispute (and not the style of the kippot they
We have a question: If Mafdal is so open to the community, we
wonder if they will also print this response in
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