Short Questions on Conversion

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


Question: There are hundreds of thousands of non-Jews in Israel. Shouldn’t it be a national mission to convert them in any way possible?

Answer: There is only possible way: through a consensus of the great Torah luminaries. And even they do not have the ability to alter the definition of the Jewish People.

Question: Why not accept a lenient ruling regarding conversion, even if it derives from a small minority of Rabbis? Surely we are in a state of emergency.

Answer: This is not a private matter involving one individual, but a national matter involving how we define the Jewish People, and a small minority cannot force their view on the majority, as though it has a monopoly on the definition of what the Jewish People is.

Question: With conversion, must we apply every possible leniency?

Answer: That notion has no source in the Talmud or the Halachic authorities. Quite the contrary, a person's being or not being a Jew is the gravest and most critical matter there is.

Question: In light of the proliferation of non-Jews in Israel, shouldn't our Halachic authorities be following the brave rulings we have heard from several Rabbis? 1. Converting candidates to a state of being “traditional”.  2. Converting candidates to becoming “part of the Jewish People”.  3. Mass conversions without examining every convert individually.  4. Number 2, coupled with faith in G-d and several other principles.  5. Ruling that after the fact, undertaking the yoke of Mitzvot is not a prerequisite. 6. Ruling that it is enough for the candidate to state, orally, that he undertakes Mitzvah observance, even if he does not mean it.

Answer: No, because these rulings go against Jewish law as it has come down to us. If a Rabbi has said these things either he is not one of the halachic luminaries of the generation, or his is a solitary opinion, and we do not render rulings on such matters affecting the Jewish People according to a solitary opinion.

Question: Is it possible to prepare for conversion in an institute in which Reform and Conservative Rabbis are amongst the teachers?

Answer: There is no question here. This goes against the Torah. Already in 5758 the Chief Rabbis of Israel protested against this.

Question: Is it possible to rely on a conversion institute when in practical terms, more than 90% of its converts do not keep Torah and Mitzvot?

Answer: Impossible.

Question: Why is it not possible to convert to the Jewish People without converting to the Torah?

Answer: Rabbi Saadya Gaon said, “Our Nation is a Nation only through its Torah.”

Question: I underwent a conversion course and now I keep Torah and Mitzvot strictly.

But there are only two others like me in the class. All the others put on an act about how they would be observant, but immediately after their conversions I saw them violating the Sabbath and eating non-Kosher food. I am almost certain that all this is known, as well, to the teaching staff. Under these conditions, are these candidates truly converts?

Answer: Whoever deceived is not a convert.

Question: What about a convert who openly admits that he never intended to be observant, and indeed he is not? Many are like that.

Answer: If during the conversion a candidate honestly undertook to keep Mitzvot, but later on he faltered and ceased, his conversion is valid. But if he is not now observant and during the conversion process did not intend to be observant, his conversion is invalid (Shut Achiezer 3:28.  Shut Da'at Cohain #154. Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Yitzchak Isaac Herzog: Rulings on Even Ha-Ezer #28.  Shut Yabia Omer, Vol. 10, Yoreh Deah #26).

Question: Is a convert who violates the Sabbath a real convert?

Answer: If after the conversion he kept the Sabbath, and only later on ceased, his conversion is valid. If immediately after the conversion he did not keep the Sabbath, then his conversion is not valid, but only a ruse.

Question: The legal advisor of the Rabbinical courts published a release stating that 97.2% of those who converted do not keep Torah and Mitzvot. That's terrible! What are we to make of this?

Answer: Those statistics are only about people getting divorced, and it is not certain that the same percentages will apply to other segments of the population. But it certainly is terrible and demands examination and change.

Question: Rambam writes that if a convert was not informed of the Mitzvot before his conversion, his conversion is still valid (Hilchot Isurei Biah 13:17). So does that prove that after the fact, undertaking Mitzvah observance is not a prerequisite?

Answer: Our halachic authorities have explained this Rambam as meaning that the candidate undertook Mitzvah observance without anyone explaining to him the details.  Presumably he undertakes even what he was not told about. If, however, they told him, and he rejected even one mitzvah, he is no convert. The main point is that undertaking Mitzvah observance is a prerequisite even after the fact. And even if he uttered with his lips that he undertakes mitzvah observance, and we know that it is not true, he is not a convert (Shut Igrot Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:157.  Shut Seridei Eish 2:75).

Question: If the candidate declares that he undertakes Torah and Mitzvot, is that enough, considering that halachically, unexpressed stipulations are invalid (Nedarim 28a), or must we be certain that he is not lying?

Answer: If we have a clear assessment that he is lying, his conversion is invalid, “...for it is obvious that he will violate the Torah later on, break the Sabbath and eat non-kosher food. We know clearly that he is only converting for appearances, and his heart is not sincere. Thus, when he said that he undertakes observance, it is meaningless” (Responsa Achiezer 3:26, letter 4, and also 28). The same applies if immediately after the conversion he does not keep Torah and Mitzvot.

Question: I heard that Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Ovadia Yosef permits conversion without undertaking Mitzvah observance.

Answer: That is not so. See Responsa Yabia Omer quoted above.

Question: I heard that according to Rav Kook, conversion is valid even if there was no undertaking of Mitzvah observance.

Answer: That is not so. “As long as the convert does not keep Mitzvot, and his intent at the time of conversion was also improper, that is no conversion at all” (Shut Da'at

Kohen 154).

Question: Where is it written that undertaking mitzvot is a prerequisite to conversion?

Answer: Rambam, Isurei Biah 10:13.  Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 268:3 and Shach ibid.  Taz ibid.  Shut Achiezer quoted above.  Ha-Rav Herzog quoted above.  Shut Igrot Moshe on Yoreh Deah 192 and quoted above.  Chazon Ish, Yoreh Deah 119:2.

Question: If converts converted in order to wed, are they considered real converts?

Answer: On condition that as a result they undertook steadfast observance of Torah and Mitzvot. Then they are legitimate converts. Otherwise, they are false converts.

Question: What if someone wishes to convert not to live as a religious person, but to be traditional: for example, to light Shabbat candles and to go to services, but not to keep Shabbat?

Answer: That is not sufficient. That constitutes a different definition of Torah and of

the Jewish People.

Question: If a convert undertakes Mitzvah observance but does not believe that G-d commanded those Mitzvot, instead just thinking that they enrich one’s life, is that called conversion?

Answer: No. Chazon Ish on Yoreh Deah 119:2. And see Rambam, Hilchot Melachim 8:11.

Question: To convert, does it suffice to undertake Mitzvah observance or does one also have to accept the tenets of faith?

Answer: Certainly one must also accept the tenets of faith: Faith in G-d, Torah's heavenly source, prophecy, divine providence. All thirteen main principles of faith.