Thursday, June 26, 2008
On The Conversion Issue in Eretz Yisroel
THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN
On The Conversion Issue in Eretz Yisroel
I would like to share with you a few thoughts as we march towards a historic confrontation with Amalek…err…celebrate the wonderful chumras put on the notion of gayruss, conversion, by our brilliant and insightfully myopic Gedoilei HaDor.
As we all know, the Rabbinical courts in Eretz Yisroel have retroactively cancelled the conversions of hundreds of people who adopted Yiddishkeit over the last 20 years. This impacts not only the converts themselves, but their spouses, children, children’s’ spouses, grandchildren, etc. – literally thousands of people. Baruch Hashem! It was getting so crowded at the mikvah that I was forced to wait until 11:00 pm for my Bashert, Feigeh Breineh, to come home from the mikvah so I could put my carrot in the tzimmis, if you know what I mean.
This topic has been widely covered by the Israeli and Jewish media, has been the buzz of all the blogs, and has been featured on my favorite adult websites, alongside the “fetish of the month”.
In recent weeks, several people have asked me, “Reb Pinky, how should a Ben Toirah think about the conversion issue? Shouldn’t we embrace all people who want to adopt Ol Malchus Shamayim, or at least collect their application fees? Why wouldn’t we want to have more Jews in the world? This is a critical shailah that has trouble Chazal over the centuries, including RASHI, RAMBAN, the Maharal MiPrague, the Vilna Goyn, and Karl Marx.
The simple answer, of course, was given long ago by Reb Hai Goyn in very clear and simple terms. According to Reb Hai, quote, “The Reboinoisheloilum hates converts. What would happen if the whole world converted? We would have no Goyim to exploit…err… to educate about the loving ways of the Aimishteh.”
The RAMBAM holds farkhert, that we can accept converts, but only in a limited capacity. Says the RAMBAM, “I was walking past a Catholic Church in Cairo the other day, and they offered me a free toaster to recognize their (Messiah). The next day I was walking past a Mosque, and they offered me a free color television if I would embrace Allah. But we Jews are different! We are the Chosen People. We don’t give sign on bonuses. However, we do offer discounts in our gift shop.”
It is only the rare Rabbi who fully embraces the notion of conversion. In the previous century, Rabbi Rob Goldman of the Hebrew Union College came out with a definitive, positive statement on the issue. “The Almighty is open to all who seek Her. She is accepting of those who were born into our faith, but She particularly loves those who embraced the Hebrew faith on their own, such as my wife Bambi.”
So, it should come as no shock that the wise Rabbinic elders in Eretz Yisroel are trying to manage the inflation of Klal Yisroel’s ranks. According to Rabbi Avraham Sherman from the Ashdod Regional Rabbinical Council, “We suffer from too many Jews in our midst already who engage in practices that stand fully in contrast with the true Toirah Derech. Secular Jews who eat pork. Traditional Jews who drive on Shabbos Koidesh. Modern Orthodox Jews who actually work for a living. These so-called-Jews are ruining things for the rest of us!”
But it’s not what the Rabbinic elders want that matters of course. It is the will of Hakkadoshboruchhu. As He sits on His heavenly throne, He looks down and awaits our returning to the perfection of Har Sinai. Think about it: All of Klal Yisroel stood around the mountain and said in unison, “Na’aseh V’Nishmah”, “we will do and we will listen”. And as we know, it was not just that generation of Am Yisroel who stood there at Sinai, but the souls of every Jew. So I ask you: If your soul was not there, standing at Har Sinai, why should you be allowed to become a member of Klal Yisroel? Next thing, you’ll declare that you were at Woodstock, even though you were only born in 1982! What kind of mechutziff are you?
And even if we were to allow the occasional convert, we must enforce a strict screening process. After all – who in their right mind would want to become a Jew? Do you want to stop eating shellfish? Do you want to stop watching TV on Shabbos? Do you want to stop wearing Shatnez? Do you want to stop being mezaneh with every one you meet? Being a Jew is hard! Let’s face it: If someone wants to voluntarily become a Jew, we probably don’t want any of his DNA in our gene pool anyway. Nothing personal.
So what should a Shaygitz… err … gentile to do if he REALLY wants to convert? Here are a few suggested practical steps:
-- Machmir versus Meykel. Seek a religious authority who is Machmir. I must admit, I have not always abided by that sound piece of advice. In fact, many years ago, when I was a young man, I used to always seek out the girls who were Meykel. I would ask certain questions of the girl, and especially of my acquaintances, and if she were rumored to be Meykel, I would meet with her to try to get a quick psak, usually in the back of my father’s station wagon.
-- Education is key. Success as a member of the Bnei Yisroel involves awareness of all of our structures. It is for this reason that we all make tremendous sacrifices to educate our children. (Incidentally, I am currently working with a number of members of the Jewish community to create a school that takes advantage of available funds that will significantly supplement our steep Yeshiva Tuition bills. Specifically, we are working with the Catholic Archdiocese to leverage Church funds to heavily subsidize Jewish education. Beginning next fall, we expect to open our first boys school, “St. Moishe’s School for the Messianically Challenged”. And, if we stay on plan, the following fall we will open up our girls school, “Our Lady Queen of Shaytels”.)
-- Embrace Toirah with all your heart and all your soul and all your might. Yiddishkeit is not just a set of beliefs; it is a way of life, a lifestyle. One way to successfully embrace our lifestyle is to emulate the actions of our great elders. One should be like RASHI, who encouraged his daughters to wear Tfillin, like the Chofetz Chaim, who always traveled with a packed suitcase in constant preparation for the Moshiach, or like the Alter Skverer Ruv, who was arrested one Shabbos for fondling the Toirah instead of just kissing it.
Finally, one other aspect of the recent conversion issue requires comment: This is the notion that a Halachic decision can be retroactively revoked. Is this indeed possible?
I am reminded of a famous Braisah in which we are told that Rabbi Akiva ascended to the heavens along with Ben Azai, Ben Zoma, and Acher. This ascent, as understood by RASHI and others, was a mystical, meditative journey to sit at the foot of the throne of the Reboinoisheloilum. When, after many hours on their journey, they passed through the seventh level of heaven, they reached the gates of the Amishteh’s castle. But on the front gate was a sign which read, “No Jews Allowed”. Shocked and dismayed, they found a security guard walking the grounds. Rabbi Akiva asked him, “Excuse me, but we have travelled from Eretz Yisroel, through the seven levels of heaven. How come we are not allowed in to see Hakadoshboruchhu?”
The security guard paused for a moment, checked his clipboard, and then responded, “Oh, sorry. You are no longer welcome. Didn’t you get the memo? The Reboinoisheloilum has a New Covenant now, and they don’t accept Yids. It’s coming out in paperback soon, and it’s a great read. Now beat it before I call a cop.”
So, indeed, if the Aimishteh can change His mind on His everlasting covenant, so too can the Rabbinical Courts revoke Halachic rulings. And if you don’t like it, you minuval, you can always go and choose another religion. I hear that this month the Buddhists are giving away free I-Pods to all new members.
Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval