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A Responsum Regarding the Annulment of Conversions

Responsa in a Moment: Volume 2, Issue No. 9, June 2008

Question: At the beginning of May 2008, a panel of three dayyanim (judges) of the High Rabbinical Court of the Chief Rabbinate presided over by Rabbi Avraham Sherman published a ruling that all of the conversions performed by Rabbi Hayyim Druckman and Israel’s National Conversion Court since 1999 are retroactively annulled and that Rabbi Druckman and his fellow judges are dayyanim pesulim, disqualified judges. What were the halakhic grounds for this decision? Why would a rabbinic court in Israel which belongs to the Chief Rabbinate retroactively annul thousands of conversions performed by another rabbinic court which also belongs to the Chief Rabbinate? All brief references refer to the Bibliography below.


  1. The Case  (Sections I-III are based on Part I of the Bibliography below and on Sherman and Weiss).

This is the latest round in the “Who is a Jew?” controversy. In the past, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel maintained that Conservative and Reform converts are not Jewish (See Golinkin, “On Conversion”, for a brief summary). Now, Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) rabbis within the Chief Rabbinate are claiming that converts converted by their Religious Zionist colleagues in the Chief Rabbinate’s own conversion courts are not Jewish.

In February 2007, “Sarah”, a Danish-born convert who converted in 1992, and her husband came to Rabbi Avraham Attia in Ashdod for an uncontested divorce. He was merely supposed to perform the divorce ceremony. Instead, he asked her a question or two about her level of observance. He then wrote a ruling which they only received in March 2007. Eight of the nine pages dealt with her conversion and called Rabbi Hayyim Druckman and his fellow dayyanim who had converted her apikorsim u’poshim (heretics and sinners). He ruled that since she is not fully observant, she is not Jewish; her conversion is retroactively annulled and she therefore does not need a get.

Sarah and her lawyers appealed this to the High Rabbinical Court. Rabbi Shlomo Amar, the Sephardic Chief Rabbi and President of the High Rabbinical Court asked Rabbi Avraham Sherman, the Av Bet Din, and his two fellow judges not to rule on this issue. Nonetheless they did. They not only sided with Rabbi Attia in Ashdod, they went much further. They ruled that:

  1. A convert who does not accept all the mitzvot is not Jewish.
  2. Rabbi Hayyim Druckman and Rabbi Yosef Avior, heads of the National Conversion Authority set up in 1995 are dayyanim pesulim, are disqualified from acting as judges.
  3. They have also engaged in all sorts of fraudulent actions such as signing conversion certificates when they were not present at the conversion.
  4. Therefore, all of the conversions performed by Rabbi Hayyim Druckman and his Bet Din since 1999 are retroactively annulled.
  5. Henceforth, all marriage registrars in the State of Israel should not register any convert who does not look observant.

Meanwhile, Rabbi Yisrael Rosen, who serves as a dayyan in one of the special conversion courts, prepared a list of 167 converts who, in his opinion, are not fully observant and are therefore psuley hittun – they cannot marry in the rabbinic court system.

In mid-May, the Prime Minister’s office fired Rabbi Druckman as head of the National Conversion Authority and he has not yet been replaced.

  1. Procedural Problems

As many have pointed out, both Rabbi Attia and Rabbi Sherman’s court violated many judicial procedures:

  1. Rabbi Attia was supposed to preside over a divorce, not investigate a conversion.
  2. He tricked Sarah into telling him about her conversion without explaining why he was asking.
  3. One dayyan sitting alone annulled a conversion performed by three other dayyanim.
  4. Rabbi Shlomo Amar explicitly told Rabbi Sherman not to deal with this case and yet Rabbi Sherman and his court wrote a ruling about this case on February 10, 2008.
  5. Rabbi Shlomo Amar explicitly told Rabbi Sherman not to publish his ruling and yet Rabbi Sherman gave out copies of the ruling at a rabbinic conference in February 2008 and it was published on the internet in May 2008.
  6. The ruling did not go through the Secretariat of the Batey Din.
  7. Rabbi Sherman and his court did all the above without inviting Rabbi Druckman to defend himself. This is against Jewish law and Israeli court procedures.

Indeed, all of these points and more are found in a Supreme Court petition brought by Adv. Susan Weiss and the Center for Justice for Women, on June 5, 2008 (see Weiss).

III. National Implications

Approximately 300,000 out of 1,200,000 Russian immigrants who have made aliyah under the Law of Return since 1990 are not halakhically Jewish. Through great effort, the Joint Institute of Jewish Studies set up after the Ne’eman Commission in 1998 and the National Conversion Authority have converted many thousands of Russian immigrants who studied for one to three years in very serious courses. Rabbi Sherman’s ruling retroactively annuls all these conversions. Indeed, I have been informed that Haredi officials in the Ministry of Interior all already telling converts that they are not Jewish.

Furthermore, this ruling will deter all future conversions. If a conversion can be annulled years after it is performed, it means that all conversions are conditional – so why bother converting at all?

This ruling is a Hillul Hashem, a desecration of God’s name, which makes a mockery of thousands of converts and hundreds of teachers and rabbis who have worked so hard to convert them.

Indeed, these very serious issues were emphasized in the press release issued by the Rabbinical Council of America, the organization of modern Orthodox rabbis, on May 6, 2008:

Rabbinical Council of America Reacts to Ruling of Israeli

Rabbinical Appeals Court regarding Past Conversions by the Israeli Conversion Authority

Leviticus 19:33: “You (plural) shall not oppress the convert in your land.”

Commentary of the Netziv: “The plural form of the verse teaches us that a third party who sees the oppression of a
convert and does not protest is also guilty of oppression.”

The Rabbinical Council of America, having taken note of the recent ruling of the Bet Din Elyon (Rabbinic Court of
Appeals) of Israel, nullifying certain conversions performed by the State Conversion Authority led by Rabbi
Chaim Druckman, has today issued the following statement:

Having reviewed the ruling of the Bet Din Elyon in detail, and being fully mindful of the respect due the rulings of duly constituted rabbinical courts in their respective jurisdictions, the RCA finds it necessary to state for the record that in our view the ruling itself, as well as the
language and tone thereof, are entirely beyond the pale of acceptable halachic practice, violate numerous Torah laws
regarding converts and their families, create a massive desecration of God’s name, insult outstanding rabbinic
leaders and halachic scholars in Israel, and are a reprehensible cause of widespread conflict and animosity
within the Jewish people in Israel and beyond. The RCA is appalled that such a ruling has been issued by that court.

We have been assured by Israel’s Chief Rabbi Rav Shlomo Moshe Amar, who is also the President of the Rabbinical
Courts System of Israel, that in releasing this ruling, the court in question directly countermanded his instructions
and policies. He has confirmed that the ruling has no legal standing at this time. We commend Rav Amar for his positive role in this matter since its very inception in the Ashdod regional court.

We add our rabbinic voice to those of others who have called for a thorough review and repudiation of the actions
of a select few of the Bet Din Elyon, who in this ruling as in other previous instances, have sought to undermine the
Conversion Authority.

For this reason, and others, it is more important than ever that the Conversion Authority be strengthened in its important work in bringing about halachically proper conversions to our faith and to the Jewish people.

Given the very public nature of the challenge posed by the ruling in question, we call on the Chief Rabbis of Israel to reaffirm their support of the Conversion Authority and its leadership in clear and unambiguous terms at the earliest possible time. Until that will happen, each passing day will cause reprehensible anguish to halachic converts, irreparable harm to the fabric of the Jewish people, and a considerable debasement of the good name of Torah, halachah, and tradition.

Indeed, this is the second time this year when the Chief Rabbinate contradicted itself in a major issue. In the fall of 2007, the Chief Rabbinate “sold” the land of Israel in order to permit agricultural activities during the Shemitah year, but allowed every city rabbi to ignore this procedure if he so desired. This ruling was overturned by Israel’s Supreme Court (See my column about Shemitah, “Responsa in a Moment”, October 2007 at The current case is very similar. Haredi Rabbis within the Chief Rabbinate, who are now the majority, are overturning the conversions of Rabbi Druckman and the Religious Zionists who want to solve Israel’s national conversion crisis.

These two episodes indicate that the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, which was founded by Religious Zionist, is now a Haredi institution opposed to all lenient approaches within Jewish law. The Chief Rabbinate which was founded with the intent of uniting the Jewish people is now one of the main causes of division among the Jewish people.

Finally, the Haredi position has already led to an absurd situation: he who is strict regarding conversion is lenient regarding intermarriage. In the past, this was a Diaspora phenomenon, but now, with the mass aliyah from the Former Soviet Union, if we do not convert the Russian immigrants, they will marry our children and grandchildren! Indeed, this situation was already predicted by Rabbi Hayyim David Halevi, late Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv (Zohar, p. 43).

  1. Kabbalat Mitzvot – The Acceptance of the Commandments

From a halakhic point of view, Rabbi Sherman’s ruling is based primarily on one major premise: A convert must accept all of the mitzvot before converting and observe all the mitzvot after converting. If he does not, he is not Jewish and his conversion can be retroactively annulled. Furthermore, dayyanim who performed conversions without this requirement, are ipso facto disqualified from serving as dayyanim.

Rabbi Sherman states repeatedly in his ruling, that “kol haposkim”, “all decisors” have ruled that when there is no kabbalat mitzvot by the convert, the conversion does not take effect even after the fact. He proceeds to quote the opinions of rabbis such as R. Moshe Feinstein, R. Hayyim Ozer Grodzinsky, R. Moshe Sternbuch, R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, R. Avraham Isaac Kuk, R. Yitzhak Schmelkes and R. Ovadya Yosef.

Later on in the ruling (pp. 35 ff.), he repeatedly quotes a ruling of Rabbis Kanievsky, Auerbach, Shach and Elyashiv from 1984 that, since in our day many converts do not intend to observe Torah and Mitzvot when they converted, therefore, all marriage registrars are required “by halakhah” to check whether the conversion was truly according to halakhah (i.e. are they fully observant) and only after that may they be registered to marry. This ruling contradicts that of Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi Doron and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel from 1984 that all conversion certificates issued by Rabbinic Courts or by the Special Conversion Courts must be accepted by all marriage registrars. In other words, Rabbi Sherman and his colleagues who are dayyanim appointed and employed by the Chief Rabbinate of the State of Israel favor the ruling of Haredi rabbis over that of the Chief Rabbinate itself!

Finally, on 10 Iyar 5768 (May 15, 2008) a group of 16 rabbis including Rabbis Elyashiv, Steinman, Wazner and others, issued a one-page “ Giluy Da’at ” (announcement) supporting Rabbi Sherman and his Bet Din and stating “that there is no conversion without Kabbalat Mitzvot and they [the converts] are like complete gentiles in every respect”.

There is a common denominator among almost all of the rabbis quoted in Rabbi Sherman’s ruling: Other than Rabbi Kuk, who was frequently very strict in his rulings,  (Regarding Rabbi Kuk as a stringent decisor, see Mikhael Zvi Nehorai, Tarbitz 59 (5750), pp. 481-505). they are all Haredi rabbis who are, for the most part, opposed to modernity, Zionism and the State of Israel.

Their strict approach to Kabbalat Mitzvot stems from two sources:

  1. a) As Profs. Sagi and Zohar have conclusively shown (Zohar and Sagi, pp. 194-203 and Zohar, pp. 41-42), Rabbi Yitzhak Schmelkes of Lvov penned a revolutionary responsum in 1876. He ruled regarding non-Jewish women who convert in order to marry non-observant Jews: “a person who converts and accepts the yoke of the mitzvot but does not intend in his heart to observe them – God desires the heart, and he is not a convert” (Responsa Bet Yitzhak , Part 2, No. 100, parag. 9). In other words, a convert must declare that he will observe all the mitzvot (which is questionable – see below) AND he must have the full intent in his heart to do so.

This approach has no precedent in 1800 years of halakhic discussions about conversion. Indeed, Rabbi Schmelkes was aware that his ruling contradicts the well-known halakhic principal that “ devarim shebalev einam devarim” (things of the heart are not things). It is also clear from a baraita (Shevuot 29a and 39a) that we do not take into account the inner kavanah (intent) of a person who takes an oath. The subject there is that Moshe said that the Children of Israel must observe the mitzvot because they swore to do so even if even in their hearts they did not intend to observe the mitzvot . Indeed, Rabbi Hayyim Ozer Grodzinsky, one of the leading Haredi rabbis before the Shoah (Ahiezer, Part 3, No. 26, parag. 5) said that Rabbi Schmelkes’s answer to this problem is “is no proof at all”, even though he agreed with Rabbi Schmelkes’s strict position on the basis of logic.

  1. b) The second source for the Haredi position is a passage in Bekhorot 30b quoted by Rabbi Schmelkes and many of the Haredi rabbis mentioned above:

Our Sages taught: …if an idol worshipper came to accept (lekabel) the Torah except for one thing, we do not accept him. R. Yossi b”r Yehudah says: even if the exception be one of the minutiae of the Scribes (i.e. the Sages).

Many modern rabbis thought that the Tanna Kamma (the first anonymous Sage quoted) is saying that a convert who accepts 612 mitzvot out of 613, we do not accept him and R. Yossi b”r Yehudah is saying that even if he accepts all the biblical mitzvot except for a specific interpretation of the Sages, we do not accept him. A more likely interpretation suggested by Rabbis Hayyim Ozer Grodzinsky and Ben Zion Meir Hai Ouziel is that if he says I will accept the entire Torah but he adds a condition that one specific mitzvah is not binding on him and he is allowed to do it – then we do not accept him (see Zohar and Sagi, p. 90, note 11).

In any case, all of the major medieval codes of Jewish law (such as Maimonides, the Tur and the Shulhan Arukh) ignored this passage! It was revived by 19 th -20 th century rabbis who wanted to reject most converts.

Thus, for example, Rabbi Kuk (Da’at Kohen, No. 154) wrote a famous responsum in 1928 supporting the decision of a Bet Din in Argentina to ban all conversions and to tell all potential converts that they must travel to Israel (sic!) in order to be converted (On the ban against all conversions in Argentine, see Rabbi Moshe Zemer in Judaism 37/1 (Winter 1988), pp. 84-96).After quoting the passage from Bekhorot quoted above, Rabbi Kuk writes in parentheses:

(Truth be told, it is surprising that the poskim [decisors] omitted this halakhah entirely. In any case, “the mishnah does not budge” and no-one disagrees with it, at least with the tanna kamma, that if the convert refuses to accept one Torah law, we do not accept him.

Similarly, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein repeatedly states in his responsa that a convert must accept all of the mitzvot:

… a convert who did not accept the mitzvot… it is simple and clear that he is not a convert at all even after the fact… (Igrot Moshe, Yoreh Deah, Part I, No. 157)

… and without accepting mitzvot, even one detail, behold it is written in Bekhorot 30 that we do not accept him… but I will not say anything to [you] because there are many rabbis in New York who accept these types of converts, and therefore I cannot say about this forbidden, but I am not comfortable with this… (ibid. No. 159)

… about the conversion done by Conservative rabbis, which did not include proper kabbalat mitzvot … for behold kabbalat mitzvot is a sine qua non for conversion and even if he accepted all the laws of the Torah except for one law, it is me’akev [indispensable] as it says in Bekhorot 30. (ibid. No. 160)

So we see that the Haredi position in modern times is based on the entirely new approach of Rabbi Yitzhak Schmelkes and on the strict opinion found in Bekhorot which was never accepted as normative halakhah throughout the Middle Ages. It is a modern humra [stringency] whose purpose is to exclude most potential converts from the Jewish people.

The normative position is found rather in another much more famous passage in the Talmud – Yevamot 47a-b:

Our Rabbis taught: If at the present time a man desires to become a proselyte, he is to be addressed as follows: “What reason have you for desiring to become a proselyte? Do you not know that Israel at the present time are persecuted and oppressed, despised, harassed and overcome by afflictions”? If he replies “I know and yet am unworthy” he is accepted forthwith, and is given instruction in some of the minor and some of the major commandments. He is informed of the sin [of the neglect of the commandments of] Gleanings, the Forgotten Sheaf, the Corner and the Poor Man’s Tithe (These mitzvot are found in Leviticus 19:9 and 23:22; Deut. 24:19 and 14:29).

He is also told of the punishment for the transgression of the commandments. Further, he is addressed thus: “Be it known to you that before you came to this condition, if you have eaten suet you would not have been punishable with karet [divine visitation], if you had profaned the Sabbath you would not have been punishable with stoning; but now were you to eat suet you would be punished with karet; were you to profane the Sabbath you would be punished with stoning”. And as he is informed of the punishment for the transgression of the commandments, so he is informed of the reward granted for their fulfillment. He is told, “Be it known to you that the World to Come was made only for the righteous and that Israel at the present time are unable to bear either too much prosperity, or too much suffering”. He is not, however, to be persuaded or dissuaded too much.

Im kibel [if he accepted/consented], he is circumcised forthwith… As soon as he is healed, arrangements are made for his immediate immersion [in a mikveh], when two learned men must stand by his side and instruct him in some of the minor commandments and in some of the major ones. When he comes up after his immersion, he is deemed to be an Israelite in all respects.

In a case of a woman proselyte, women make her sit in the water up to her neck, while two learned men stand outside and instruct her in some of the minor commandments and some of the major ones.

This Baraita, from the second century or earlier, was quoted or paraphrased by Maimonides (Issurey Biah 14:1-6), the Tur (Yoreh Deah 268) and the Shulhan Arukh (Yoreh Deah 268:2) and those rulings have been analyzed in turn by many authorities (see Zohar and Sagi, pp. 101-105, 141-144, 155-169).

The key phrase in this baraita is “im kibel” – if he accepted/consented.  This obviously does not refer to acceptance of or consent to all the mitzvot as per the Haredi rabbis in modern times because he doesn’t even know most of the mitzvot. Three times we are told to instruct him or her in some of the minor and some of the major mitzvot ; the convert cannot accept what he hasn’t even learned! So what does it mean?

Rabbi Moshe ben Nahman, Nahmanides (Spain and Israel, 1200-1270; in his Hiddushim to Yevamot 45b quoted by Zohar and Sagi pp. 137-138, 181) says that it means that he accepted upon himself in the Bet Din to be circumcised and to immerse. Rabbi Meir Posner (d. 1807; Responsa Bet Meir, No. 12; Zohar and Sagi, p. 181) gave a similar explanation.

Rabbi Ben Zion Meir Hai Ouziel (1880-1953) who was the first Sephardic Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel, explained as follows (Piskey Uziel , No. 65, p. 385; cf. Zohar and Sagi, p. 186 and Kalmanofsky, p. 37):

It is clear from here [i.e. from Yevamot 47a-b] that we do not demand of him to observe the mitzvot and it is also not necessary that the Bet Din know that he will observe them, for if not, no converts will be accepted in Israel, for who will guarantee that this gentile will be loyal to all the mitzvot in the Torah! Rather, they instruct him in some of the mitzvot so that if he wants he should go away and so that he can not say later “if I had known I would not have converted”. And this is before the fact, but after the fact – if they did not instruct him, it is not indispensable (Shakh to Yoreh Deah , subpar. 3)…

From all this the Torah emerges that it is permissible and a mitzvah to accept converts even though we know that they will not observe all the mitzvot because in the end they will observe them. And we are commanded to give them an opening like this, and if they don’t observe the mitzvot, we are absolved [of any guilt].

A similar approach was stated by Rabbi Moshe Hacohen of Djerba, who made aliyah and served as a dayyan in Tiberias (1900-1966). He was asked (V’heshiv Moshe, Yoreh Deah , No. 50; cf. Zohar and Sagi, p. 188) if his Bet Din could convert a professional soccer player who would definitely drive on Shabbat to get to the matches and thereby transgress biblical commandments. He explained:

Kabbalat Hamitzvot does not mean that he is required to accept all the mitzvot to observe them , but to accept all the mitzvot of the Torah and, if he transgresses, he accepts upon himself to be punished by the punishments he deserves. [He then quotes the baraita in Yevamot.] Therefore, we do not care if at the hour that he accepts the mitzvot he has decided to transgress a specific mitzvah and to receive the punishment. This is not considered a deficiency in kabbalat mitzvot.

Thus, these two prominent Sefardic rabbis say that kabbalat mitzvot in Yevamot means to accept the rewards and punishments and not to accept every mitzvah since they haven’t even been taught most of the mitzvot. Indeed, the Talmud itself asks in Yevamot 47b immediately after the baraita: Why do we try to dissuade him and why do we instruct him in some of the minor and some of the major mitzvot ? “So that if he wants to go away, he will go away.” This was also emphasized by Rabbi Moshe of Coucy (d. 1236) in his Sefer Mitzvot Gadol (Negative Commandments, No. 116 quoted by Rabbi Tuvia Friedman, p. 65 = p. 38 and Zohar and Sagi p. 117): Why do instruct him regarding the punishments for transgression? “So that he will not say later: ‘Had I known I would not have converted’”.

Three other rabbis – Rabbi Meir Pozner (d. 1807), R. Raphael Ben Shimon (Chief Rabbi of Cairo, d. 1929) and Rabbi Kuk himself (Da’at Kohen, No. 153 – in a contradictory responsum to the one quoted above!) – say the opposite of Rabbi Yitzhak Schmelkes quoted above. They state that kabbalat mitzvot in Yevamot means a declaration of intent to convert and we do not investigate what the convert is thinking in his heart.

Other prominent Orthodox rabbis have also taken a very lenient approach towards kabbalat mitzvot. They include Rabbi Shlomo Kluger (d. 1869; Tuv Ta’am Vada’at , third edition, part 2, No. 111; Zohar and Sagi pp. 168-169); Rabbi Yosef Mashash (1892-1974; Morocco and Haifa; Otzar Hamikhtavim , No. 765 and Mayyim Hayyim , Part 2, No. 108; Zohar and Sagi, p. 67);  Rabbi Isser Yehudah Unterman, Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Israel (1886-1976; Noam 14 quoted by Rabbi Tuvia Friedman, p. 66 = p. 39 and also in Torah Shebeal Peh 13 [1971], p. 14 quoted by Rabbi Kalmanofsky, p. 38).

Finally, other Modern Orthodox rabbis have given other definitions of kabbalat mitzvot.

Rabbi Eliezer Berkowitz (Germany, Chicago, Jerusalem, 1908-1992; Not in Heaven, pp. 110-111) explained on the basis of Kiddushin 70a that kabbalat mitvot means the acceptance of faith in the one God of Israel and of the commandments of circumcision and immersion in a mikveh . “In fact, every conversion is similar to that administered by Hillel [Shabbat 31a]. An introduction is provided to what is meant by being a Jew. The ‘rest’ – and that is the greatest part of being a Jew, and is probably limitless – is ‘explanation’. Go and learn and find out”.

Rabbi Marc Angel, Rabbi of the Spanish-Portuguese synagogue in New York City, wrote in 1983 (pp. 37-38):

In fact, there is no Talmudic legal source that would indicate unequivocally that acceptance of all commandments is a prerequisite for conversion… Where it can be determined that the non-Jew is seriously dedicated to sharing our destiny, carrying our burdens, participating in our communal life, there is good basis for conversion.

Thus we see that the entire “house of cards” built by Rabbi Sherman and his fellow dayyanim rests on just one card: that all poskim agree that all converts must accept all mitzvot. Therefore, in their opinion, any rabbi who disagrees is not fit to judge and any convert who did not accept all the mitzvot is not Jewish.

Indeed, this is the position of most Ashkenazic Haredi rabbis since the year 1876. But it is not normative Jewish law. Normative Jewish law for 1800 years has followed Yevamot that a convert accepts the halakhic system and its rewards and punishments, not all of the mitzvot which he has yet to learn. To say that a rabbi who rules differently is unfit to judge is the equivalent to saying that a person who waits 3 hours instead of 6 hours between meat and milk does not keep kosher. Different halakhic rulings are based on different sources and different poskim and they are equally legitimate (See what I wrote in Responsa of the Vaad Halakhah 6 (5755-5758), p. 72 = Ma’amad Ha’ishah Bahalakhah , Jerusalem, 2001, pp. 66-67).

I hope and pray that the Supreme Court of Israel will overturn this mistaken and destructive ruling.

I hope and pray that the State of Israel will start to appoint modern Orthodox and non-Orthodox rabbis as dayyanim (On the essential attributes of a dayyan , see Golinkin, “The Appointment of Judges”). If not, a time will come in the not-so-distant future when the Chief Rabbinate will have to be abolished because it will have cut itself off from most of the Jewish people.

Finally, I hope and pray that the State of Israel will make every effort to welcome converts for “a convert is more beloved by God than the multitudes who stood at Mount Sinai” (Midrash Tanhuma, Lekh Lekha 6) and “a convert who comes to convert, one reaches out a hand in order to bring him under the wings of Heaven” (Vayikra Rabbah 2:9, ed. Margaliot, p. 49) (For many rabbinic statements in praise of converts and conversion, see Rabbi Tuvia Friedman, pp. 60-62 = 32-34 and Kunin, pp. 97-101).

David Golinkin
27 Sivan 5768


  1. I) News Articles about the Current Crisis (in chronological order)

Yair Ettinger, Ha’aretz, May 4, 2008

Neta Sela, Ynet, May 6, 2008

M”K Prof. Menahem Ben-Sasson, Ha’aretz, May 9, 2008

Kobi Nahshoni, Ynet, May 15, 2008

Neta Sela, Ynet, May 26, 2008

Rivkah Luvitch, Ynet English, May 27, 2008

Neta Sela, Ynet, May 28, 2008 (2 stories)

Rabbi Yuval Sherlo, Ynet, May 28, 2008

Yair Sheleg, Ha’aretz English, May 28, 2008

Rabbi Dov Edelstein, Ha’aretz, May 29, 2008

Jonathan Rosenblum, The Jerusalem Post Up Front magazine, May 30, 2008, p. 8

Matthew Wagner, The Jerusalem Post, June 6, 2008, p. 5

Kobi Nahshoni, Ynet, June 11, 2008

Matthew Wagner, The Jerusalem Post, June 13, 2008, p. 8

Matthew Wagner, The Jerusalem Post, June 20, 2008, p. 4

Evelyn Gordon, The Jerusalem Post Up Front magazine, June 20, 2008, p. 9

  1. II) Studies and Responsa

Rabbi Marc Angel, “A Fresh Look at Conversion”, Midstream 29/8 (October 1983), pp. 35-38

Rabbi Marc Angel, Choosing to Be Jewish: The Orthodox Road to Conversion, Hoboken, 2005

Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits, Not in Heaven: The Nature and Function of Halakhah, New York , 1983, pp. 106-112

Shaye J. D. Cohen, The Beginnings of Jewishness, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, 1999, Chapter 7

Eretz Aheret, No. 17 (July-August 2003) (a symposium)

Rabbi Tuvia Friedman, “ Teshuvah B’inyan Giyur Kehalakhah”, Responsa of the Vaad Halakhah of the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel 3 (5748-5749), pp. 59-68 = David Golinkin, ed., Be’er Tuvia, Jerusalem, 1991, pp. 31-40 = under Va’ad Halakhah, Volume 3

Rabbi David Golinkin, “Conflicting Approaches to Conversion in the United States in the Twentieth Century”, Conservative Judaism 54/1 (Fall 2001), pp. 81-95

Rabbi David Golinkin, “On Conversion, Intermarriage and ‘Who is a Jew?’ ”, Insight Israel: The View from Schechter, Jerusalem, 2003, pp. 80-84 = , Insight Israel, February 2001

Rabbi David Golinkin, “The Appointment of Judges, Their Attributes … in Jewish Law”, Jewish Law Watch , No. 7 (July 2003) (Hebrew and English = w

Rabbis Walter Jacob and Moshe Zemer, Conversion to Judaism in Jewish Law: Essays and Responsa, Tel Aviv and Pittsburgh, 1994

Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky, “Spiritual Citizenship: Reflections on Hilkhot Giyur”, Conservative Judaism 60/1-2 (Fall-Winter 2007-2008), pp. 26-61, esp. pp. 34-38

Rabbi David and Dr. Seth Kunin, “Proselytes a Scab or a Blessing? Rabbinic Attitudes to Converts”, The Journal of Progressive Judaism 5 (1995), pp. 96-112

Rabbi Maurice Lamm, Becoming a Jew, New York, 1991, esp. pp. 209-212

Rabbi Steven Saltzman, “May a Conversion Obtained Through Deceit Be Annulled?” (including reactions), in David Fine, ed., Responsa 1980-1990, New York, 2005, pp. 442-464

Rabbis Avraham Sherman, Hagai Eiserer and Avraham Sheinfeld, Psak Din [Regarding the Annulment of Conversions], 4 Adar I 5768, February 10, 2008, 53 pp.,

RCA Press Release – Rabbinical Council of America Reacts to Ruling of Israeli Rabbinical Appeals Court, May 6, 2008,

Adv. Susan Weiss et al., Petition to the Supreme Court of Israel, June 5, 2008, 25 pp.; English summary, May 28, 2008 at; news story: Dan Izenberg, The Jerusalem Post, June 6, 2008, p. 5

Zvi Zohar, Eretz Aheret 17 (July-August 2003), pp. 38-43 (this is a synopsis of Zohar and Sagi)

Zvi Zohar and Avi Sagi, Giyur V’zehut Yehudit, Jerusalem, 1995

All four volumes of Rabbi Prof. David Golinkin’s Responsa In A Moment – Halakhic Responses to Contemporary Issues as well as other books by the author are available for purchase from the Schocken-JTS Press Bookstore.

Prof. David Golinkin is President of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem . Feel free to reprint this article in its entirety. If you wish to abbreviate it, please contact Rabbi Golinkin The opinions expressed here are the author’s and in no way reflect an official policy of the Schechter Institute.

David Golinkin is President of The Schechter Institutes, Inc. and President Emeritus of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies. For twenty years he served as Chair of the Va’ad Halakhah (Law Committee) of the Rabbinical Assembly which gives halakhic guidance to the Masorti Movement in Israel. He is the founder and director of the Institute of Applied Halakhah at Schechter and also directs the Center for Women in Jewish Law. Rabbi Professor Golinkin made aliyah in 1972, earning a BA in Jewish History and two teaching certificates from The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He received an MA in Rabbinics and a PhD in Talmud from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America where he was also ordained as Rabbi. For a complete bio click here.

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