The Cheated Convert

The 252nd prohibition is that we are further forbidden from verbally causing emotional distress to a convert, i.e. ona’as devarim.

The source of this prohibition is G-d’s statement (exalted be He), “Do not wrong a convert.” In the words of the Mechilta: “The verse ‘Do not wrong a convert’ means doing so with your words.” This prohibition is repeated a second time, in the phrase “[When a convert comes to live in your land,] do not hurt his feelings.’ “

In the words of the Sifra: “You should not tell him, ‘Yesterday you were an idolater and now you have entered under the wings of the Divine Presence.’ “

Sefer Hamitzvot in English
“Hurtful Words to a Convert”
Negative Commandment 252
Translated by Rabbi Berel Bell
Chabad.org

The Interior Ministry has rejected an application for permanent residency by an Orthodox convert, after the Chief Rabbinate informed the ministry it did not recognize her conversion.

After the rabbinate’s decision, the ministry first rejected her aliya application. She does not want her name published.

The woman converted in 2005 under the auspices of the rabbi of one of the oldest established Orthodox synagogues in the US (located in New York). The rabbi is a well-respected Orthodox religious leader.

-by Jeremy Sharon
“Orthodox convert from US ordered to leave Israel”
12-23-2011
The Jerusalem Post

I know I’m probably interpreting this all wrong in a Rabbinic sense so I don’t doubt I’ll get some Jewish folks pushing back on my opinion, but I’m getting just a little annoyed at the state of Jewish converts who want to make Aliyah (emigrate to Israel). I’ve never understood the perspective of the Rabbinate on this matter. OK, I understand that they don’t want to grant the “right of return” to a person who may be only marginal in their Judaism and even have ulterior motives for conversion and Aliyah, but once the conversion has been examined and the convert has established some sort of track record of “being Jewish”, isn’t that enough? Beyond a certain point, isn’t the Rabbinate violating the 252nd prohibition (not that it would be seen that way from their viewpoint, of course)?

Besides, there’s another matter to consider.

The decision by the ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority to consult the Chief Rabbinate violates a June agreement between authority director Amnon Ben-Ami and Knesset Committee for Aliya, Absorption and the Diaspora chairman MK Danny Danon (Likud).

The agreement stipulated that the ministry would consult with the Jewish Agency regarding the eligibility of Orthodox converts for aliya, instead of the Chief Rabbinate.

This was due to a series of aliya applications by Orthodox converts that were rejected by the rabbinate because it did not “recognize” their conversions.

I guess violating an agreement is different than violating a law or a Torah commandment, but it doesn’t speak well of you if you agree to something and then go back on your word, even if it’s less than an iron clad law written into the penal code. Of course, it’s not like everyone in Israel has suddenly turned against this woman.

She turned to ITIM: The Jewish- Life Information Center, for help, which subsequently appealed the decision to the Interior Ministry. She has been allowed to remain in the country while the case is under consideration.

“We have reached a new low for converts,” ITIM director Rabbi Seth Farber said. “The insensitive attitude of the Interior Ministry is unconscionable and counters Jewish tradition which forbids Jews from persecuting converts.

“Converts are exceptionally vulnerable and have nowhere to turn. The Torah mentions being kind to the convert 36 times! “ITIM sued the ministry in June, and we will be forced to do so again if they won’t abide by the agreement. In the past 24 hours ITIM has reached out to Amnon Ben-Ami – who signed the agreement – and has given them the opportunity to rectify the situation without having to involve the court.”

According to a 1988 Supreme Court decision, the criteria determining the aliya eligibility of converts are that the community and rabbi through which they converted must be recognized as legitimate, and that in turn, the community and rabbi recognize the convert as a Jew and a community member in good standing.

Ironically, part of the problem is that this woman converted to Orthodox Judaism. According the the news story, unlike the Reform and Conservative movements, there is no central authority for the Orthodox, which makes it more difficult to confirm the conditions of their conversion and their eligibility for Aliyah. However, this woman’s conversion would seem to be open and above board as I previously quoted from this news report.

The woman converted in 2005 under the auspices of the rabbi of one of the oldest established Orthodox synagogues in the US (located in New York). The rabbi is a well-respected Orthodox religious leader.

Somewhere between God, Moses, the Torah, and the mess of politics and religion in the modern state of Israel (and I admit, I am far from familiar with the maze of its inner workings) lies not just one Jewish convert, but many who either have their applications to make Aliyah reversed or who have their applications completely rejected before they even have a chance to pack their bags and buy a one-way ticket on El-Al to Tel Aviv. I fully confess that this blog post is written with more emotion than information, but I see a great deal of injustice being done in the name of who…God?

Given modern Israeli politics, would even Ruth be admitted to the Land today? What happens when the Mashiach comes? Will he not be Jewish enough for the Chief Rabbinate? He’ll certainly be more Jewish than the vast majority of Christians imagine him to be.

I’ve explored the idea of converting in the past and I’ve even fantasized about living in Israel (even if I never converted, since my wife is Jewish, if she made Aliyah, I could go with her), but something is wrong in Israel today. When is a Jew good enough to be a Jew in Israel as opposed to the rest of the world? God knows, but does the Chief Rabbinate?

Following God isn’t easy for anyone. Certainly making the commitment to convert to Judaism and making Aliyah, committing to living in the Land (which is not always a comfortable place to live) isn’t easy. In fact, it’s fraught with challenges, setbacks, and disappointments as well as the immeasurable rewards for every Jew, convert or not. But to borrow from some of the best that Judaism has to offer, I present this quote from Rabbi Tzvi Freeman (who, for all I know, might agree that the convert mentioned in this story should not be allowed to make Aliyah), who almost always provides me with encouragement by citing the teachings of the Rebbe.

Ultimately, Darkness will meet her end. Our choice lies only in the form of her demise:

If we meet nothing but success at every stage of our mission, Darkness will helplessly surrender, delivering to our hand all the sparks of G‑dliness that she has so jealously held.

When we fail, however, we have taken upon ourselves to wrestle Darkness face-to-face to her utter annihilation. She will not surrender, but no trace will be left of her. She herself will be transformed to light.

And there is no greater light than Darkness herself transformed to light.

Like I said at the beginning of this “extra meditation”, I expect some push back from folks who disagree with my rant and that’s OK. I don’t pretend to understand everything about Israeli politics or the whole process of Jewish conversion and Aliyah. It just seems to me from my generic Goy point of view, that the woman who is the focus of this news article is being treated unfairly. I know the news media isn’t always the best and most accurate source of information (ironically), but it’s all I have to go on.

The comments box is open. Feel free to use it.

10 thoughts on “The Cheated Convert”

  1. I’ve read a lot about this, and it seems it’s becoming increasingly difficult for a non-Jew to convert and make aliyah. More doors are closing all the time. There is a prohibitively short list of ; conversion is controlled by the ultra-Orthodox Sephardi Shas party. And no matter how faithfully you’ve played the game, someone in Orthodoxy will still question it. Not to mention converts are more distrusted in Orthodoxy than anyone, more than baal teshuvah, because they might be secret missionaries or at least “corrupt” the community with their old goyish ways. Good luck finding a Frum From Birther to marry if you’re a convert. So yes, Judaism has become remote from the 252nd prohibition.

  2. I’ve read a lot about this, and it seems it’s becoming increasingly difficult for a non-Jew to convert and make aliyah. More doors are closing all the time. There is a prohibitively short list of Orthodox rabbis in America whose conversions are valid in the eyes of the Israeli chief rabbinate; conversion is controlled by the ultra-Orthodox Sephardi Shas party. And no matter how faithfully the convert has followed the laws, the conversion will never be good enough for somebody in Orthodoxy. Not to mention converts are more distrusted in Orthodoxy than anyone, more than baal teshuvah, because they might be secret missionaries or at least “corrupt” the community with their old goyish ways. Many Jewish families refuse to let their children marry converts, even though halakha insists that no distinction be made. So yes, Judaism has become remote from the 252nd prohibition.

  3. Emagine the difficulties Ruth the moavitess would have trying to acquire the right to make Aliya and attain Israeli citizenship. Here are the questions she would have faced today:

    Please show us your conversion certificate. What rabbinical court issued it? what Jewish community does it represent? No Bet Din? So who converted you? Where did you study and what? Was the program a year long and did it consist of at least 360 Hrs.? No course at all? you said something about “your people, my people, your God, my God” and that was it? What is this, a joke? Did you remain in the Moave Jewish community for a year afterward? No? You say you had a Jewish husband-OK- but but he’s dead so that does not give you rights. No, mothers-in-law don’t count. Look, it is pretty obvious that you are simply one of those foreign workers looking for a job in agriculture that pays better than what you could earn in Moave. That’s exactly what we’re afraid of/ Back to Moave with you.

    So much for David and the Messiah!

  4. Dan,

    Funny! You have some comedic genius in you if you came up with that.

    Orthodox conversion as done today has many problems, but I don’t think the solution is to nix conversions completely. Times have changed vastly since Ruth. Today there are countless people who claim some kind of “spiritual Jewish” identity (this has many forms), and overturning the ancient halakha and simply accepting them as Jewish would be a disaster. Some reasonable standards of conversion (maybe not the overzealous ones of th Chareidi Israeli rabbinate) are necessary. A man in Ruth’s day would have still been ritually circumcised, at the very least.

  5. My younger brother, Aaron, who moved to Israel, denied Yeshua, and converted to Orthodox Judaism, also has had problems with the chief rabbinate; he converted through a Jerusalem rabbi who isn’t on the rabbinate’s approved list. End result being, the state of Israel doesn’t recognize his conversion.

  6. Thanks for your replies, everyone. I’m a little surprised that I didn’t get some “pushback” on my blog post, but probably that’s because anyone inclined to do so wouldn’t read my blog, or at least admit to it.

    I find it tragic that there are people who have such a heart and soul for Judaism that they want nothing but to live as a Jew and to live in the Land, and yet are denied these things, not because they have ill motives or are not fully dedicated to living as a Jew, but because of what I can only imagine are extremely exclusivist prejudices and politics. I can’t see things from the Rabbinate’s perspective, but I find myself wondering if they can see converts from God’s point of view.

  7. Well, James, God’s point of view does not have conversion, or ritual conversion in it. If we stop thinking in terms of Jew/Gentile and start thinking of covenant membership as God ordained it, it all starts falling into place.

  8. Dan, if by that you mean that Jews and Gentile Christians have an identical covenant status, then you already know I disagree with you. I don’t believe that a Christian is just a Jew without a Bris.

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