Apr 17, 2012

Rav Sherman Defines His Role In the Conversion Debates

The debate over the issue of conversions in Israel has been quiet recently, which makes these recent argumentative statements made on that issue even more interesting.

Rav Sherman was the dayan who famously overturned a conversion that had been authorized by Rav Druckman. This decision led to a firestorm, with each side criticizing and accusing the other of nefarious intentions.

Rav Sherman, speaking at a conference about Israel's relationship with the nations, and specifically about the refugee problems, touched on the conversion issue. He said, "I represent the approach of the gedolim and poskim of the generation. After the famous psak din of Rav Druckman, it seems as if it had become a dilemma  of the approach to the reality of the State of Israel, the national reality, and the national problem with the arrival of the new immigrants from the Soviet Union...  this mistake I say openly is that I represent the stringent, the extremist, the haredi approach. I represent the approach of the poskei ha'dor through the generations. The process of conversion needs to be on that effects of spiritual change, internal in the heart of the person. A change of faith. If he is living on the background of denial, of communism, or on the background of the European culture, then the concept of faith is even contemptible in the eyes of that non-Jew... Immediately after they approved the conversion of thousands of soldiers, in the framework of the Netiv project in the IDF, the poskei ha'dor said clearly that those young people had no intention of accepting upon themselves the Torah and had no intention to accept Judaism."

In response, both Rav Rontski, the former chief rabbi of the IDF, and Rav Iram, the rav of Elazar and a member of the beis din for conversions, both commented.

Rav Rontski said, "Rav Sherman brings sources for canceling conversions from cases in the Diaspora, and one must differentiate between those and between cases in the State of Israel. A large community that immigrated to Israel has now grown up in Israel and wants to be Jewish. They want to come, they get drafted into the army, they don't know exactly what "jews" is,  and this must be explained to them. I say with personally knowing many tens of conversions that they really want to be Jews..."

Rav Iram said, "whomever thinks that he is living in the shtetl or in South America.. in my opinion does not understand the reality. Whomever thinks "ingathering of the exiles" is something prepared exactly as how he wants it to be has never learned the midrashim about the exodus from Egypt. We are talking about the nation that survived the sword. We are talking about our brothers, our cousins. The family names are the names of all of us. The discussion of being lenient on the conversions is not a discussion between haredim and zionists. It is relevant to two foundations upon which the judge of conversion is graded. How much he cares about intermarriage in the nation of Israel. The second point being if the judge is capable of feeling the stirrings of the soul of the convert standing before him..."
(source: Ladaat)

This has become like a throwdown, take no prisoners, wrestling match.

While I can accept the arguments back and forth about what aspects should be included and taken into consideration when considering a potential convert, the argument about cases in the Diaspora being irrelevant to Israel does not seem to cut it. That alone, without a specific explanation of why such a differentiation is justified, is demeaning to the debate.
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  1. The gemara is pretty clear about the fact the rulings in the Diaspora can be overturned by an Israeli beit din, but not the otherway around. That seems to be the most well supported argument against Rav Sherman.

  2. I tend to agree with you about the lack of merit in the arguement about "diaspora" vs "EY" beis din. (What the Gemara is discussing is davka for those times, not for any beis din in EY to have the ability to overturn anything from chu"l)

    That being said, I seem to recall reading something on this blog (maybe somewhere else) about some modern rabbi who feels that we need to have a more "geulah" minded approach, and not a "galut" minded approach. While this is clearly not the accepted opinion by any of the major poskim (in any "camp") I guess its not as much of a one man show as I thought. Were up to 2.

    In any event, the question seems to be is wanting to "be jewish (and serve in the army - though I am not sure what that has to do with anything)" enough, or does there need to a proper kabalas torah u'mitzvos? This is the basis of Rav Sherman. Is there room to disagree with him or not? Dont come to me with "diaspora" business. Dont come to me with "you have to deal with this problem" - true. But you cant make a mockery out of geirus

  3. The pernicious effects of exile on our halachic perception and application is well recorded throughout the generations. Not just in the time of the g'mara, and not just all-of-a-sudden recently. It is discussed in the g'mara, rishonim, and aharonim. Illuminaries such as the Ba"h, Rav Kook, Rav Herzog, and Rav Goren wrote about it in various instances. It is a real question of the metaphilosophy and application of halacha; not just particular topics or instances. And because the inertia clearly is in favor of the exilic influence, any movement in another direction is going to be resisted by that inertia (in the guise of 'poskei hador' and the general populace) and change or correction will be very slow and difficult. But it is slowly happening anyway, and will continue to do so.


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