On Orthodox Jewish conversion, I think that something’s getting lost in this back-and-forth public discourse since the Freundel debacle went public. I don’t really hear Rabbi Pruzansky being on point with his personal statements or resignations. He keeps referring to Halachic elements of the process for conversion, as if that’s what most of the people complaining are actually talking about. It’s a bit ironic that he is talking about public mischaracterizations when that’s more what converts seemed to be worried about themselves – that too many laymen in the community and Rabbis in the community are misjudging the intent of the converts well after the fact and are ignoring the distress that uncertainty and emotional roiling constant questioning and second guessing is causing for us.
But more importantly, there is a need to be strict about conversion. It’s not a personal matter. Conversion is a communal experience. We’re expanding the community. We’re reinforcing the commitment to Torah with someone completely new and trying to add that as an integrated element of someone’s everyday life. Life with Israel as a people is inseparable from one’s personal life. We’re throwing out lot in with the Jewish people, which means throwing our lot in with the common constitution of the Jewish people: the Torah. In all my arguments against the Israeli Rabbinate and the Rabbinical Council of America, I have had nothing in mind other than the fostering of a culture of Torah and reinforcing the integration of new Jews into the people.
I feel a bit of extra responsibility, perhaps because of my personality or my experience, but mostly because I chose to follow this issue more closely and become more familiar with the Halachah on essential matters of conversion. I anticipated in 2006, well before I finally dunked on Mar Cheshvan 13, 5768, that this might be an ongoing issue. I don’t think that this trait, which is so clearly expressed by a number of recent converts in their writings the last few weeks, is being appreciated by the same people who administered our respective journeys. When we call for these different Rabbinical organizations to relax or to protest something, we are concerned about principles like לא תונו את הגר, לא תלחצנו, ואהבת רעך כמוך. We’re not whining.
Perhaps we see some sort of manifestation of what one commentator interprets of the often repeated Talmudic comment גרים קשים לישראל כספחת. He states that sincere converts’ meticulousness can make native-born Jews feel inadequate or insecure in their own faith and practice. He suggests that some converts might make demands of the community that the community might not demand of itself, based on the standard of the Torah’s rules that the community may unfortunately be sometimes lax on.
Any request to change convention isn’t targeted at the Halachah, but the attitude. A misunderstanding that’s come from reports about Barry Freundel’s conversions is that people think the process itself is the most common problem. That’s not what the private groups on Facebook for Jewish converts are talking about. It’s about the post-mikveh world. It’s not targeted at letting down the safeguards for the community and demands of the candidate, but at the post-conversion attitude that many of my brethren feel isn’t matching the 36-time repeated mitzvah to love and not verbally chase after the ger once he or she has joined the community.
We converted Orthodox for a reason. We passed muster for a reason. We are sincere. We understand the perspective to protect the community with strict standards for new entrants. We know that the standards even 100 years ago were stricter than what the gemara in Yevamot 47 lays out, or the basic letter of the law outlined by the Rambam in Hilchot Issurei Bi’ah chapters 14-15 and the Shulchan Aruch in Yoreh Deah chapters 268-269. We get all that. But if we do question any conventions from even 10 or 20 years ago, it comes out of concern for the same Torah from another perspective. We want strict standards on all elements of Jewish law respective to converts: entrance and integration.