Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Rabbi Druckman, Rabbi Sherman and the Conversion Crisis

I really did not want to blog about this. I consciously try to blog about positive things, and do my best to stay away from issues where there is a Chillul Hashem (desecration of God's name).

As is well known, the Great Rabbinic Court in Jerusalem, led by Rabbi Avraham Sherman, came out with a controversial ruling (file number 5489-64-1) severely criticizing Rabbi Chaim Druckman and his conversion court in Merkaz Shapira. This of course was followed by a large outcry from Rabbi Druckman's supporters, since Rabbi Druckman is a very highly respected rabbi and educator in the National Religious sector. What's more, the ramifications of the ruling upon those converted by Rabbi Druckman's court and their progeny are devastating. The jblogosphere and talkbacks on various news web sites also took Rabbi Sherman and the Great Rabbinic Court to task.

I wonder how many people who are criticizing the ruling of Rabbi A. Sherman and the Great Rabbinic Court in Jerusalem actually read it. I did, and it looks like a very logical and sound halachic document, supported by the many sources cited in it. Any attempt to deal with this ruling in an emotional and non-Halachic manner is doomed to fail. Halachic issues are not solved by screams, petitions and mass gatherings. Those that think otherwise are fooling only themselves.

The attempt to present the ruling as an attack by the ultra-Orthodox on the National Religious Public is at best a nice spin for the MSM, and at worst an attempt to divert the public's attention from the very real issues raised in the ruling. The truth is that the ruling is "Zionist" in a number of ways.

First of all, the "star" of the ruling is the religious-Zionist Rabbi Yisrael Rosen, head of Machon Tzomet and well known for his weekly column in the "Shabbat BeShabbato" parsha sheet. In his letters which are quoted in the Psak, he accuses Rabbi Druckman of signing conversion certificates which falsely state that he was part of the Rabbinnic court which presided over the conversion. This is not simply an administrative matter, as one blogger claimed. This is bearing false witness, something which is forbidden for every layman and certainly for a judge in a rabbinic court. Rabbi Rosen also claims that some of the conversion certificates bearing Rabbi Druckman's signature were not signed by Rabbi Druckman. He accuses Rabbi Avior (a member of Rabbi Druckman's rabbinic court) of being responsible for the forgery.

Rabbi Sherman states that the halachic ramifications of these acts of bearing false witness are that Rabbi Druckman and Rabbi Avior are halachically unfit (pasul) to be rabbinic judges. Therefore any converts that converted in their court never appeared before a fit rabbinic court, and therefore never converted! These are very harsh words with very severe ramifications. I really do wish that Rabbi Sherman and his court are mistaken here! However I cannot find any flaw in Rabbi Sherman's arguments.

Another star of the ruling is Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook zt"l(of blessed memory), the revered Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi, founder of the Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva, and perhaps the greatest rabbi of the previous century. Rabbi Sherman quotes Rabbi Kook's responsa (Da'at Cohen 154) in which RAYK states that a rabbinic court that accepts converts, when it is clear that these converts will not keep the commandments, is itself in violation of the commandment "do not put a stumbling block before the blind". If we hold that the halachically binding, i.e. that this gentile has really become a Jew, then the rabbinic court is guilty of putting a stumbling block in front of the convert in that many acts that were permitted for him as a gentile (desecrating the Sabbath, eating shrimp, etc.) are now forbidden to him as a Jew. Therefore, every time that he violates these prohibitions he incurs Divine punishment, and the rabbis that converted him are responsible for this. On the other hand, if we hold that the conversion was not halachically binding, the gentile is still a gentile but the Jewish community thinks that he is a Jew. This situation can cause all kinds of halachic problems. For instance a "female convert" marries a Jew, and they have a son. They get divorced, and then he marries a Jewess. He dies without any children from his second wife. In this case, if he has any brothers they have to do "yibum/halitza" to his second wife. However, the community mistakenly thinks that his first wife's conversion was valid, and since he had a son from her they let his second wife marry again without "yibum/halitza"!

(One of the points of contention is that Rabbi Druckman's rabbinic court is allegedly accepting converts even when it is clear that the potential converts have no intention of keeping the commandments. This is in clear of violation of Rabbi Kook's opinion, as well as the opinion of most rabbinic authorities, and this is another reason to invalidate Rabbi Druckman's rabbinic court and its conversions. It would be interesting if empirical evidence is available comparing the results of Rabbi Druckman's conversions to the conversions of other rabbinic courts.)

Here's another "Zionist moment" in Rabbi Sherman's ruling. Among the Torah prohibitions that Rabbi Druckman is accused of is the following:

גניבת דעת של רשויות השלטון במדינה, שיש לה נפקות והשלכה על עניני סטטוס החל במרשם התושבים, וכן במתן זכיות ממוניות ואזרחות שהמדינה מזכה בעלי תעודות אלו, וכלה בקביעת מעמד אישי, ובזה יש אסור דאורייתא מטעם דינא דמלכותא דינא.

"Deceiving governmental authorities of the state (of Israel), and this has ramifications with regards to status starting with the population registry, and similarly in giving monetary and civil rights that the state awards the owners of these (conversion) certificates, and ending with the determination of personal status, and in this there is the Torah prohibition of "the law of the land is the law".

Do I hear the strains of "Hatikva" playing in the background?

In my humble opinion, the questions raised with regards to Rabbi Druckman and his rabbinic court have to be dealt with. A million petitions and mass gatherings won't make the problems go away. While we are certainly commanded to honor Torah scholars, this cannot hinder the search for the truth.

במקום שיש חילול ה' אין חולקים כבוד לרב

I turn my eyes to the Chief Rabbinate. Only they have the ability and authority to solve these problems. May we merit seeing the solution of this crisis, for the benefit of the converts, the Torah scholars, and the entire nation of Israel.


Chana @ Lemon Lime Moon said...

Thanks, this put it into balanced perspective.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

R' Sherman issued this ruling in direct opposition to R' Amar who instructed him and the other dayanim NOT to rule on this issue.

Despite the "soundness" of the psak, I question the motivation of it -- because it was issued explicitly against the order of the Rishon LZion, who rightfully wanted the issue to be thoroughly examined, including the full ramifications of retroactively invalidating hundreds of conversions.

Cosmic X said...


Thanks. For further reading see this.


For sure the fact that the Beit Din went against Rav Amar's instructions has a "Ta'am Lifgam". In any case the issues must be dealt with.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Ta'am Lifgam? The RCA thought the following of the psak:

"Having reviewed the ruling of the Bet Din Elyon in detail, and being fully mindful of the respect due the rulings of duly constituted rabbinical courts in their respective jurisdictions, the RCA finds it necessary to state for the record that in our view the ruling itself, as well as the language and tone thereof, are entirely beyond the pale of acceptable halachic practice, violate numerous Torah laws regarding converts and their families, create a massive desecration of God's name, insult outstanding rabbinic leaders and halachic scholars in Israel, and are a reprehensible cause of widespread conflict and animosity within the Jewish people in Israel and beyond. The RCA is appalled that such a ruling has been issued by that court.

We have been assured by Israel's Chief Rabbi Rav Shlomo Moshe Amar, who is also the President of the Rabbinical Courts System of Israel, that in releasing this ruling the court in question directly countermanded his instructions and policies. He has confirmed that the ruling has no legal standing at this time. We commend Rav Amar for his positive role in this matter since its very inception in the Ashdod regional court."

As I wrote in my post, there are ways to issue piskei halacha, and Shavuot teaches us about how to relate to the convert. The RCA is extremely clear on what they thought of the psak, the way it was written, and the consequences.

Cosmic X said...


Let's say that Rabbi Sherman and his court erred in issuing the psak.

But now that the alleged problems with the Beit Din in Merkaz Shapira have been made public, we cannot ignore them because we think that they should not have been publicized, or that we think that the Beit Din has ulterior motives.

With regards to the RCA statement, that's exactly what I'm talking about when I say that "Halachic issues are not solved by screams, petitions and mass gatherings."

I'm far from being a Talmid Chacham, so I'd really appreciate it if the Torah scholars from the RCA or others that oppose the ruling will answer it with a true halachic arguments backed up with sources.

There is a Chillul Hashem here, but according to Rabbi Rosen, it started with the forging of conversion certificates by Rabbi Druckman and Rabbi Avior.

May the Chief rabbinate have the wisdom to get us out of this mess.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

May the Chief rabbinate have the wisdom to get us out of this mess.


Let's say that Rabbi Sherman and his court erred in issuing the psak.

The RCA unquivocally states that R' Sherman's psak, the way it was worded, and the entire way this whole situation was run is a tremendous chilul Hashem.

My post was specifically about the way one treats a convert. The Beit Din's treatment of these converts trangresses serious d'oraita sins -- which leads me to seriously challenge their motives in the first place.

From a purely halachic standpoint, the beit din's invalidation is itself a huge transgression, a chilul Hashem.

What the beit din alleges was done incorrectly is just as much hysteric and allgedly without merit. הפוסל – במומו פוסל

Here's to hoping R' Amar will be able to solve this mess.

Batya said...

This affects innocent, sincere people who made a point to convert according to Halacha. They, and their decendants, are the most important in this issue. I remember learning that one isn not supposed to look for halachik problems. When I check lettuce for bugs, I use simple reading glasses, not a strong magnifying glass.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Cosmicx: As to the veracity of R. Avraham Sherman's allegations, please the the following:

Cosmic X said...


I don't get it. There is nothing in those posts that touch on the veracity of Rabbi Sherman's allegations.

I believe that Rabbi Doctor Woolf is in error when he writes "One of the main arguments put forward by R. Avraham Sherman against R. Druckman's conversions is that R. Druckman signed on conversions at which he was not present. This was a technical matter since it is not disputed that three dayanim were present at each of those conversions." Read the psak and my post to see why. I am sure that Rabbi Doctor Woolf can learn circles around me and I don't understand how he missed the problem of bearing false witness and how this affects the kashrut of the Beit Din and therefore of the conversions performed.

As far as the divorce case the post article says "The spokeswoman also said that Sherman had no connection to the said lawyer in Strasburg-Cohen's report and that all the witnesses were heard following the court's normal procedure." If it turns out that Rabbi Sherman did act improperly this should certainly be dealt with.

In the meantime this case has nothing to do with the veracity of Sherman's psak.

Unknown said...


Cosmic X said...


I am not a rabbi and I certainly cannot adjudicate this dispute. I have not and will not express an opinion with regards to validity of the conversions. I am trying to say that there is a problem here and it has to be solved in a halachic way and not through manifests, rallies, etc.

yitz said...

Thanks Cosmic, for trying to be a bit more objective & trying to disover the Truth of the matter. For more interesting reading along these lines, I would suggest looking into R. Yitzchak Adlerstin's take, with 100 comments thereon:

Cosmic X said...

Thanks Yitz.

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