Powerful Words that Shouldn’t Have Been Needed

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.”


  1. Rabbi Riskin is very learned and well-respected and I have no intention of challenging his statements.

    However, I do want to point out to JOI readers that Rabbi Riskin is NOT saying he disagrees with the overturning of a conversion of one who was never sincere in the first place (at the time of conversion). In fact, I believe he would agree that such conversions should be overturned.

    What Rabbi Riskin is noticably upset about is the prospect that many, many families of converts may be subjected to having conversions overturned b/c one rabbi was, repeatedly, not playing by the rules, and because the court may not be acting with leniency where it is possible to be lenient. I agree with him that wherever possible the conversion should not be overturned (or even looked into in cases where there is no chance for re-conversion).

    Rabbi Riskin’s plea is for leniency wherever possible within the bounds of halacha, not for an overturning or ignoring of halacha in order to avoid painful outcomes.

    Comment by marc — June 19, 2008 @ 11:20 am

  2. I also want to point out that the Israeli conversion Court is technically a division of the Prime Minister’s office, not the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, although the Chief Rabbinate is authorized to give them guidance (this was recently done by Omert to consolidate power)

    Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar has stated publicly that he does not agree witht he decision of the Court nor does he believe every conversion should be reopened where there is no reason to believe the convert was insincere at the time of conversion, especially if they are living a fully observant life currently. (Indicating he will use his influence to reach an equitable result)

    It would be honest and appropriate for the JOI to amend its post to indicate that the Court and not the Chief Rabbinate is the subject of Rabbi Riskin’s and the JOI’s ire.

    Comment by marc — June 19, 2008 @ 11:29 am

  3. Thank you for making the change.

    Comment by marc — June 20, 2008 @ 12:28 pm

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