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Conversions - The Words of Maran zt”l

Magen David
Magen David

Question: My son wishes to marry a young woman who underwent a conversion in a country outside of Israel. He agreed for us to investigate whether or not she is truly Jewish. What should we be looking into? Answer: The Gemara (Yevamot 46a) states: “A gentile who comes to convert is not considered a convert until he undergoes a circumcision and immerses in the Mikveh.” This is based on the procedure that our ancestors underwent when they wished to cross over from their prior status of being Noahides (non-Jews) to be sanctified with the Mitzvot at Mount Sinai, in that they underwent circumcisions and immersions. A woman’s conversion is performed through immersion alone. The conversion must be performed before three valid judges who form a Bet Din, as the Torah states (Bamidbar 15), “One law shall be for you and the convert,” and law cannot be meted out with less than three valid judges. The Conversion Process When a prospective convert comes before the Bet Din, they tell him: “What made you decide to convert? Do you not know that the Jewish nation wallows in exile and suffering?” If he replies that he is aware and nevertheless wishes to join the Jewish nation, he is accepted immediately. He is taught the fundamentals of our religion, i.e., the Mitzvah of Hashem’s oneness and the prohibition to serve other deities. He is then taught some severe Mitzvot and some lighter ones. He is likewise notified about the punishments for the Mitzvot, for instance, that until now, if he had eaten forbidden fats, he would not be liable for Karet and if he desecrated Shabbat, he would not be liable for death by stoning. After converting though, he would be liable for the above. He is also notified of the rewards for the Mitzvot, and they tell him that by performing Mitzvot, he merits a share in the World to Come. He is told that the World to Come is reserved for the righteous, meaning the Jewish nation. The fact that the Jewish nation suffers so much in this world is actually good for them, for they cannot receive as much good in this world as the other nations of the world, lest they become arrogant, stray from the righteous path, and lose their reward in the World to Come. Hashem does not bring about too many calamities upon them so they are not destroyed; rather, the rest of the nations of the world will cease to exist and they will remain forever. They continue to speak to him about such matters and if they see that he is prepared to accept upon himself to fulfill the Torah and its commandments, they accept him immediately. He is then circumcised and given time to heal completely and then immersed in the Mikveh in a valid manner, without Chatzitzot. (The Bet Din speaks more to the convert about the acceptance of the Mitzvot, however, we shall not delve into that here) When a prospective convert comes before the Bet Din, the Bet Din investigates whether there are ulterior motives fueling his will to convert, such as for a financial reason, for a certain position, or because of fear of retribution. If he is a man, we check to see if he wishes to convert in order to marry a Jewish woman and vice versa for a woman. Only when no ulterior motives are found, and it is clear that the individual wishes to convert solely out of pure faith and the will to lovingly perform the Mitzvot of the Torah do we convert them. What to Investigate? Regarding the above question, the first thing to look for is where the conversion was performed and if it was performed by a reputable Orthodox Bet Din (since a Reform conversion is Halachically invalid). Were the judges on the panel fit to serve in that capacity? Was there a competent Torah scholar overseeing the process? Was there an acceptance of the Mitzvot and was the convert honest about it? If the commitment to perform the Mitzvot was only lip-service and not genuine, it is worthless. For instance, if the prospective convert states beforehand that he has no intention to perform the Mitzvot and after the conversion process, he immediately reverts to his old ways, such as with Shabbat desecration and the like, such a conversion is completely invalid (see Responsa Yabia Omer, Volume 11, Yoreh De’ah, Chapter 28). Thus, one must look into all of these details. If any doubt arises regarding any of these details or if the Bet Din who performed the conversion is not recognized, one should consult with a recognized Bet Din in Israel or abroad to analyze the matter further and rule accordingly.

An Interesting Incident Once, approximately fifteen years ago, there was a woman who claimed to have converted in Morocco and gave birth to a daughter. When this family moved from Morocco to France, the Ashkenazi Bet Din of Paris was concerned that the conversion in Morocco was done inadequately, and they, therefore, decided to have this woman and her daughter undergo the conversion process again in Paris. About twenty years later, this daughter met a young man, a Kohen. There is a well-known Halacha that a Kohen may not marry a convert. However, if the woman is not a convert herself, rather, she was born to parents who were converts, she is not considered a convert and she may marry a Kohen. As such, this young woman pleaded her case before the Chief Rabbi of France at the time, Hagaon Harav Yosef Sitruk zt”l, and claimed that she should be permitted to marry this young man, for her mother had already converted in Morocco, before her birth. Nevertheless, Rabbi Sitruk was concerned that the Bet Din of Paris had found some issues with the conversion in Morocco and therefore require the mother and daughter to undergo conversion again in Paris, in which case, the young woman herself would be considered a convert and not just the daughter of a convert. When the woman realized that Rabbi Sitruk would not authorize her marriage to the Kohen as quickly as she thought, she threatened that if he would not authorize their marriage, they would have a Reform rabbi officiate their wedding. Rabbi Sitruk sent this question to the Bet Din in Israel and asked them that they issue a decision regarding how to proceed. They replied that since they did not know or hear of any credible issue with the conversion in Morocco, they need not be concerned with the opinion of the Ashkenazi Bet Din in Paris and the young woman may marry the Kohen. Nonetheless, Rav Sitruk, who possessed a keen sixth sense, asked us to present this question to Maran zt”l for direction on this matter. Maran zt”l was sitting at his desk and studying when we posed this question to him. Maran zt”l inquired who was the rabbi who headed the Bet Din in Morocco. We replied with his name. Suddenly, Maran zt”l sat up and exclaimed loudly, “That rabbi was found to be unreliable in our Bet Din. I have received numerous testimonies about how he performs conversions quickly and haphazardly, causing many grave Halachic issues. Therefore, none of his conversions are valid and all of his actions are null and void. This woman is not permitted to marry a Kohen.” We were shocked by Maran zt”l’s reaction, for he was known for his power to rule leniently; only rarely did Maran zt”l rule so stringently. This is especially true since there was already a lenient verdict issued by a reputable Bet Din in Israel. After we presented Maran zt”l with the verdict of the Bet Din, he replied, “When I was still the president of the rabbinical high court of Israel, I sent a message to all of the Batei Din in Israel to invalidate all of the conversions performed by this rabbi, however, it seems that as the years went on, this directive was forgotten. Therefore, there is no way to permit this. We need not pay attention to the woman’s threat that she will get married through a Reform rabbi, for no threat in the world will ever change our Torah!” Rav Sitruk received the ruling of Maran zt”l and executed it accordingly. May Hashem grant us the merit of becoming sanctified with His holiness, Amen.


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