It was with bittersweet sentiment that I read these powerful words from Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, the chief rabbi of Efrat. He was formerly rabbi of Lincoln Square Synagogue and led the way in outreach in the Orthodox Jewish community over twenty years ago. It is a strong statement about our responsibility to love the stranger and how the actions of the Supreme Rabbinical Court in Israel threaten to undermine this foundational principle in Judaism. That he even had to write such a piece is dismaying, and although we may not always agree with Rabbi Riskin, here we are on the exact same page.
“WHAT HAS happened to our Torah of late? An entirely different narrative is being written, the very antithesis of the love and compassion of the Scroll of Ruth. My Torah has been stolen away, hijacked, by false and misguided interpreters. My Torah is crying because of rabbinical court judges who have forgotten that the major message of the Exodus from Egypt is for us to love the stranger and the proselyte.
They have forgotten the 11 prohibitions against insensitive words and actions toward converts - and the talmudic stricture that we are not to be too overbearing or exacting toward a would-be proselyte (Yebamot 47). They have forgotten Maimonides’s ruling that even regarding a convert who merely went to the mikve (and became circumcised if male) - even if the conversion was for a personal romantic or venal reason, and even if the convert has returned to former idolatrous ways - he or she remains Jewish (albeit a Jewish renegade); her or his religious marriage remains intact, and lost objects must be restored to him or her. (Maimonides, Laws of Forbidden Relationships 13,14).
MY TORAH is crying because these judges have, in the name of Torah, disrupted and possibly destroyed hundreds if not thousands of families of converts, whose children and even children’s children were brought up and accepted as Jews - only now to learn that their forbears’ conversions have been retroactively nullified.”