Thursday, June 19, 2008

Conversion According To Hillel

In this week's issue of BeSheva Rabbi Eliezer Melamed once again writes about conversion. As usual the article is informative and interesting. Here is my translation of things that I found interesting in particular. As usual the words in square brackets are additions for the sake of clarity:
Which judges should sit in the [conversion] courts, should they be realistic and suspicious like the students of Shamai the Elder, according to the demand of the rabbis of the Lithuanian [Eastern European ultra-Orthodox non-Hasidic] public; or innocent and credit giving like the students of Hillel the Elder, according to the position of many rabbis of the National Religious public? The answer to this is found in the summary of the section of the Talmud that deals with the issue. The rabbis said (Shabbat 31A) Later on the three [converts that Shammai did not want to convert and afterwards were converted by Hillel] met. They said, "Shammai's impatience almost drove us out [of the World to Come], Hillel's humility brought us under the wings of the Divine Presence."

And even though Shammai had very serious claims, since according to his estimation they [the prospective converts] did not intend to keep mitzvot, and [in this estimation] he probably had what to rely upon, since many times judges that went in the way of the House of Hillel received converts that in the end returned to their deviation [i.e. did not keep the mitzvot]. And in spite of this the words of the Gemara teach us to conduct ourselves according to Hillel's opinion.

...It is good that rabbis that tend to kindness and believing people sit in the conversion court, that they we be more readily convinced that the intention of the convert is to fulfill the mitzvot, and many times it turns out that were more correct than those that tend to be suspicious. And after the court was convinced that the convert intends to keep the mitzvot, they are obliged to convert him, and after he converted - he is like a Jew in every way.

Surely it is reasonable to determine, that a court, when it becomes clear that after five years most of its converts are not keeping the Sabbath, should desist from converting. Indeed the converts that it converted are Jews in every way, but since it turned out that these righteous judges tend to believe the converts too much, it is correct that they should retire from the conversion court. However as long as this has not been proven, it is good that they should continue to judge and convert the offspring of Jews and their spouses - according to their best judgment. It was not for nothing that the Holy One blessed be He created [the trait of] innocence, since sometimes only with it [innocence] it is possible to cope with difficult problems.
Rabbi Melamed promises something that many of us have been waiting for:
Indeed I planned to analyze the roots of the painful affair [i.e. the conversion crisis], however in the wake of many questions I had to expand upon the halachic foundations [of conversion], and with Heaven's help the next time I will try to write words of truth about the public scandal concerning conversion.

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