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Shabbat Parashat Shemot 5777

Parashat Hashavua: These Are the Names of Israel How Does One Enter the List?

Harav Yosef Carmel

We have dealt with helping Jews being accepted and encouraging the conversion of those with patriarchal Jewish lineage. Now we will deal with the question of how to approach the challenges of conversion.

No broad elements of the religious community in Israel treat conversion as a highest priority endeavor, with groups viewing other things as higher on the national agenda. To change this, the political leadership of the State of Israel and Torah leadership need to embark on a program that turns the spiritual absorption of olim, especially those from the Former Soviet Union who require conversion, into a major national project. Passiveness with the illusion that matters will work out by themselves, runs the real risk of assimilation within the Jewish State.

Nowadays, a conversion applicant is sent to a year-long course (ulpan giyur) and, if lucky, receives an “adopting family” to accompany him into the world of Judaism. The course teaches the candidate many specific halachic issues about which he will be asked before conversion There is no halachic source for such tests, and, interestingly, there are halachic discussions whether it is permitted to teach Torah to a candidate before conversion (the opinion that it is permitted is accepted (see Bemareh Habazak I:75)). If he does not pass the test, he is not converted.

After the completion of the conversion process, there is no follow-up encouragement to lead a full Jewish life. There is also no enforcement of his practice of the Torah he accepted. State resources are “freed up” to deal with new candidates and fund the conversion courts. (Attempted enforcement and use of authority, especially in such a sensitive area, is questionable). This is one of the reasons that a large segment of converts do not continue to fulfill mitzvot.

The failings in mitzva fulfillment bring on two reactions. The religious community feels tricked by the candidate and loses interest in further conversions. Potential conversion candidates start to look at the process as a farce, lessening the motivation of serious candidates to start the process. Worst of all, a small minority of dayanim try to retroactively cancel conversions, which is against halacha (in 99% of the cases) and is totally inhumane (certainly after the convert has children).

We propose changing the focus of our efforts from preparing the convert to follow-up after conversion. Before the conversion, we should stick to the Rambam (Issurei Biah 14:2) and Shulchan Aruch (YD 268:2): “We inform them the basics of the religion – the oneness of Hashem and the prohibition of idol worship (which most candidates embrace), discussing this at length. We inform them about some of the easier and some of the severe mitzvot, and we do not deal with these at length (!!!). We tell about the sins of failing to do leket, shikcha and peiah (stressing helping others), and maaser sheni (investment in spiritual matters), and we tell them of the punishments of mitzvot. We do not speak much or in great detail, lest it cause him to be bothered and turn away from the good path to a bad one. We draw people near only with matters that are soft and pleasing.”

After the exciting moment of accepting mitzvot, one should continue the national and communal “hug” and try to ensure that one who asserted he is accepting mitzvot will succeed in doing so.

We need the involvement of communal rabbis, heads of yeshivot, kollelim, mechinot, and medrashot together with their students and members of communities. The whole process should be done with great patience, love, and pleasantness. If the religious community will get involved seriously, chances of success will increase and more candidates will step forward.

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