Conversion in Our Day

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Beshalach 5773 – translated by R. Blumberg]


Question: How should we conduct ourselves as far as conversions? Hundreds of thousands of people come to live in Israel who are non-Jews. That is a serious problem!

Answer: We should conduct ourselves with conversion today in the same way we have down through the generations. We have always had difficulties in this realm, but we have withstood them. The Torah is eternal, and Jewish law does not change. We must not adapt Jewish law to reality. Rather, we must struggle to adapt the reality to Jewish law, especially as far as conversion, which is no small detail in the Torah, but a major tenet, since it determines who is a Jew.

A major precondition to conversion is accepting the foundations of faith, and undertaking Jewish practice (Yevamot 47a.  Bechorot 30b.  Rambam, Hilchot Issurei Biah 14 and 12:17. Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 268:3). We must believe and fulfill!

Obviously, we know in advance that nobody is perfect. Everyone commits sins at one time or another, but to convert to Judaism, one must accept Jewish law. One must want it and he must be in love with it. One must want to be a "righteous convert", and to be included in the category of "righteous converts" who receive a blessing in the 13th Blessing of the Shemoneh Esreh.

Without undertaking Mitzvot, there can be no conversion. True, there are responsa of the great halachic luminaries of Israel that state that sometimes, after the fact, in cases where an individual does not fulfill all of the Mitzvot following his conversion, his conversion remains valid, and there are many opinions about this, and many details (for example Responsa Achiezer 3:26). Yet all that is after the fact. All that involves isolated cases that are out of the ordinary.

When it comes to how things have to be ideally, one cannot bring in hundreds of thousands of converts wholesale. That would mean the destruction of the Jewish people. Of such it says, “Converts are as hard for Israel as psoriasis” (Yevamot 47b). In other words, they are an external entity that clings to our nation. The Rabbis likewise said, “Evil after evil shall befall those who accept converts" (ibid. 109b), i.e., when they revert to their non-Jewish practices in a time of crisis (Gittin 45b). And this is all the more applicable when we know in advance that they will not be observing the Mitzvot. We already know what happened to the mixed multitude that came up out of Egypt with us (Shemot 12:38).

Thanks to our having been steadfast down through the generations, under all conditions, the Jewish people exists now. There are even many DNA studies that prove that we remained ourselves, and that there were no mass conversions. Conversion is a matter for an individual who truly wishes with all his heart to join the Jewish People. Examples of this include Rut, whose enormous efforts are recorded by Scripture as well as Na’ama and Moshe’s wife Tziporah.

As is well-known, we are not missionaries. We do not go around converting all the righteous people of the nations. When we convert somebody who is not going to be fulfilling Mitzvot, we are doing him no favor. Beforehand, he was exempt from Mitzvot and he had a heavenly portion. Now, he is a Jew who is obligated in Mitzvot, and if he does not fulfill them, he has no heavenly portion, as Maran Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-CohIn Kook writes in his responsa Da’at Kohen.

Indeed, Rav Kook emphasizes there the need for undertaking the Mitzvot. He adds that it is not clear whether in our day it is at all possible to convert except as emissaries of the early Sages who had “Semichah” ordination going back to the first man who bestowed it, Moshe, such that we are just “doing the bidding” of those Sages. And who says that we have the authority to convert without Mitzvah acceptance?

To convert the masses without mitzvah acceptance is out of the question. It is true that Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Uziel said that we must draw near someone whose father is Jewish but his mother is a non-Jew, and we must ignore the fact that he's not going to be fulfilling all of the Mitzvot (Responsa Piskei Uziel “Bish’elot Hazman” 65). He did not say, however, that acceptance of the Mitzvot can be done away with.

Certainly we need acceptance of faith and acceptance of Mitzvot. It is true that we have a difficult problem in our country, and it is true that there is a lot of pressure, but Torah rulings are not made under pressure, but according to the divine truth, according to the word of G-d.

Whoever learns our history will see that we have had many problems, and thank G-d, we overcame them. Now, as well, we shall overcome them.

Secular Jews shall not be the ones to determine who is a Jew, and neither shall traditional Jews, Reform Jews or Conservative Jews, and neither will “the state of all its citizens”. Only G-d will decide.

Conversion means "becoming like all the other Jews of good standing" (Rambam, Hilchot Mechusarei Kaparah 1:2).