Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Monster that Orthodox Conversion Has Become

You've already heard that conversion is like falling in love. But you may not know that getting an orthodox conversion can sometimes be like an abusive relationship.

In a cosmic sign that I can't escape this topic this week, Frum Satire posted yesterday "Stop Screwing with the Converts Already!"

The world Jewish community and Jewish politics have caused a "frummer than you" approach to conversion where the meaner, harder, and more demoralizing BD is considered to be giving a "superior" conversion that no one will question. In essence, if you're willing to suffer actual emotional abuse, you REALLY must have been sincere! A conversion can be plenty strict and "unquestionable" without breaking you like military boot camp. Conversion is painful enough without adding to our burden.

I want to emphasize that not all American batei din are like what I'm about to describe. However, it is the unquestionable trend, and new policies are popping up in the established batei din while more and more independent batei din "go out of business," so to speak.

Leaving specifics aside, this post will address the general issues: a) how/why have conversions changed, b) why are conversions more susceptible to rabbinic politics, and c) how are these changes affecting conversion candidates?

So let's talk about what it's like to convert orthodox in America today.

First, you should know that things changed about 5 years ago. In Israel in 2006, there was a mass de-conversion thanks to the discrediting of a prior head rabbi of conversions in the Israeli Rabbinate. News articles estimated that approximately 10,000 people were de-converted thanks to the discrediting of this rabbi. This made the rest of the world scramble to "standardize" their orthodox conversions to avoid such a thing in the future. If that doesn't sound like a big deal to you, please realize that all of those people, living their lives like anyone else, were suddenly declared "Not Jewish" because of rabbinic politics and a bad apple convert. Suddenly, they were intermarried, and many of their children to also be declared "Not Jewish." There's been very little discussion of how this issue was "fixed," but word on the street is that a gerus l'chumrah could "retroactively" restore their Jewish status. (As a side note, that means those born-Jewish female children who were suddenly "Not Jewish" also won't be eligible to marry kohanim.)

Three years ago, the Rabbinical Council of America (the RCA) approved a set of "Geirus Policies and Procedures" after negotiations with the Israeli Rabbinate. The Rabbinate apparently agreed to create a list of "presumptively approved for Jewish status for Rabbinte standards" batei din (BDs) and that the RCA could establish regional BDs to carry out conversions that would be accepted in Israel as being under the umbrella of the RCA. Today, there are 12 of these BDs in the US and Montreal. Some independent orthodox batei din (generally "liberal" modern orthodox and very strict chareidi/chassidishe) still function, but increasingly, everyone is being pushed through the RCA process. Some of these independent BDs are on the Approval List. (The list can change at any time and is not officially published by the Rabbinate. This has been compiled by an independent Israeli group.)

There is a severe lack of current statistics, so we're left with anecdotal evidence. I suspect that a majority, if not a super majority, of new conversion candidates are going to the RCA-approved BDs. Quite honestly, it's the smart thing to do as the halachic and Israeli rulings stand today. However, we all know that the tides of change come quickly when converts are involved, and those changes are always retroactive. (For example, see Converts and Aliyah.)

Soon...a conversion may require a vow against television and "unfiltered internet." (Just about everyone already requires that converts "of childbearing years" vow to send all children to yeshiva day school for 13 years, which limits new converts to living in approximately a dozen US cities. These young converts aren't allowed to even begin the conversion process until they've moved to an "acceptable" community.) I laughed when I first thought about the TV and internet comment, but then I met a someone with an (at the time) indefinitely delayed conversion whose community members told him the kedusha (holiness) of his home just wasn't high enough for a conversion because of those two things. Yes, this is really happening.

Why is the conversion process especially vulnerable to rabbinic politics? It’s much easier to let Jewish politics play out in the conversion arena. Converts-in-progress don’t have the standing or the resources to challenge corrupt, cruel, and/or ridiculous conversion regulations and rabbis. Who are they going to complain to when they're still learning the Jewish community? Who is going to be willing to stand up for someone who isn't part of Klal Yisrael yet? It’s singling out the weakest members of our communities to practice power politics. Even worse, there is practically no one willing to risk their rabbinic neck to stand up for these people. (Though there are wonderful, notable exceptions! But let's be honest: they may be risking their jobs and standing in the community.) If we conversion candidates challenge questionable/overly-stringent policies, people unfamiliar with today's orthodox conversion process think that we’re a) not dedicated enough to becoming Jewish, b) just don’t understand the halacha, and/or c) are whiney.

Remember the mitzvah to not oppress or abuse the convert or remind him/her of a non-Jewish past? Doesn't apply until the person is a "convert." (Of course, there are several interpretations of this mitzvah, but the bottom line is that none of those mitzvot appear to apply to the conversion candidate.) In fact, until the candidate comes out of that mikvah, that candidate is a gentile and there is no heightened standard of behavior as is generally required towards other Jews.

Before conversion, we’re essentially 3/5 of a Jewish person. With all the Jewish rights and power that idea conveys. (Not to make light of the historical reference. We really just aren't "worth" as much pre-mikvah as we are post-mikvah. Stories abound of borderline-cruel rabbis who suddenly become buddy-buddy as soon as the convert pops out of the mikvah!) A lot of people in the conversion world think that they’re “doing us a favor” by meeting with us/putting up with us, and therefore, we should be grateful for whatever bread crumbs of kindness we receive. And as noted near the beginning, the more they treat us like dirt on their shoe, the more the greater Jewish community is willing to accept that conversion. We are rewarding those with the worst behavior.

How are converts reacting to the increasingly hurtful American conversion process?

The converts/candidates I've spoken with in the last week (and before that) are overwhelmingly bitter, angry, and distrustful of rabbis. Instead of rabbis being seen as "guiding" a conversion, the candidates have become trained to expect that the BD will sabotage them at every turn, and they become paranoid, looking for the next instance of the BD's cruel words or outright sabotage. In many cases, the rabbis seem to believe that the ends justify the means. Newsflash: If you make a person despise you because you've unjustifiably broken his/her heart time and time again, they will never trust you. Never. You will never be friends. They will never respect you. The best of those people will avoid speaking lashon hara about you, but unfortunately, that is unlikely since we're all imperfect beings. Deigning to grant the candidate the privilege of becoming Jewish will not suddenly justify all the pain and suffering you have caused. And you have  caused the candidate to sin because it is nearly impossible to avoid holding a grudge, speaking lashon hara, or the 4 million other interpersonal mitzvot that hatred and anger can cause. The ends do NOT justify the means.

The most sickening case I've heard was someone whose file was "lost" after receiving approval for a tutor. This isn't unusual; at least one BD has an unwritten policy to lose every application multiple times (purposely creating months of lost time). A year later, the candidate contacted the BD and was told to go back to the very beginning of the conversion process. The BD supposedly had no record of the previous meeting, so they had written the candidate off as a "drop out." Even the sponsoring rabbi thought everything was hunky-dory. If the BD sticks to their guns, two years of that person's life have potentially been wasted. Straight up wasted. And the candidate is facing another two years of what has already been done. A long-time frum, devoted, community leader is a victim of seemingly-purposeful bureaucratic inefficiency that would rival the French or Israeli government. All in the name of rooting out the "insincere" candidate. If that candidate still isn't sincere, who of us is??

So what about me? I have a vague plan for myself at this point, but there are still a lot of issues to work out. I'm thankful to be in a position that I can completely turn my plans upside down with no more "real" hassle than confusing friends and family. After all, in a few months, I'm unemployed and unattached. I'm optimistic about the new plan, but it's intimidating. Thankfully, I've been blessed with the patience of many good friends who are familiar with the conversion process.  Once I shared my discoveries, they were just as shocked as I was. I was pretty afraid I was overreacting! So if you feel the same me, you're not overreacting. The world has gone crazy. And we conversion candidates must be crazy for staying, but this Jewish neshama came with a stiff neck, so I'm not going anywhere.

/rant. Let's hope someone out there is still willing to convert me after this post. But who else was going to say it? :/


  1. FANTASTIC post Kochava! I am linking to this one right now.
    You have touched on something that has been a growing worry, concern, and even fear to me for months now. Every day I seem to be getting worse and worse news. I think what will happen next before I get my full conversion? and when will someone try to overthrow it? and how will they treat my children? etc... I just listing to Israel National Radio about a couple who moved there to convert and the husband was sent home and the wife had to stay and have her baby without him. Now they have no idea when hey will meet again... Swhat kinda sick thing is that? If they are willing to risk psychological damage they are deemed worthy to live in Israel? what does that prove?
    I don't think many Rabbi's and BDs could possibly understand the turmoil and intensity of the conversion candidate - as in how much they went through to even get the to point of wanting to convert. It's not as if giving up everything you ever knew, loved, and were familiar with wasn't hard enough of a proof that we are serious? THAT is the real test. now we need to be sabotaged by Rabbis just to double check?
    it makes me sad for Israel. All those souls that BELONG to the body of Judaism are risked being lost. If a Jew scorns a conversion candidate with a Jewish neshoma, he is scorning a Jewish neshoma. If he purposefully pushes away a Jewish neshoma from it's rightful place amongst the jewish people... I just can't even think of the spiritual ramifications to that one.

    so... are you changing BDs? Or?

  2. Absolutely changing. Thankfully, I had applied (but didn't get a chance to meet) with another beit din, and they seemed really nice. Polite even! From what I've heard, they are willing to consider the candidate as an individual rather than making every person go through an identical 2.5-3 year process regardless of any prior learning/living.

    This came up on my google reader this morning, not too much before your post. I haven't gone and looked at the original (from Kol haRav) but it does seem to address at least some of your points.
    As someone married to a convert, there are days I am very glad that it is my husband who is the convert and not me-it reduces the risk to our kids. However, my husband did have a fairly positive experience with his Beit Din, to the point where he was actually allowed to convert formally several months "early." He was ready, and although the official policy was he had to be 21, they let him go to the mikvah about 3 months before. Of course, he got interested in conversion through a Hillel, and the head Rabbi of that Hillel was also on the Beit Din, although I believe he excused himself from that case on the basis of conflict of interest. Nevertheless, that probably helped. Hope this is at least slightly encouraging.
    Good Luck! I'm sorry everything is so complicated.

  4. I'm watching this tragedy from a ringside seat (as many people know, my wife is a convert). It is really pushing people away from Orthodoxy. Of course, the more post-converts it pushes away the more the BDs say "See - we have to be tough - we convert people and they leave!"

    I agree completely that the rabbinic powers-that-be are taking advantage of the powerless. That is why in halacha the widow, the orphan, and the ger are often lumped together for additional protections - because they are all people without the usual connections to power.

    I hope someday to see sanity restored to this area, and to see Judaism of the future view this period as our equivalent of the witch trial days in Salem and in Europe.

  5. EXACTLY, Larry! "We talk to the candidates and then they don't come back...look how good we are at weeding out insincere converts!" Without at all contemplating that it may be because they were rude, pessimistic, disinterested, and/or completely disregarded human psychology. The psychology bit makes me think of the two extremes of not-caring-what-you-do vs. "You must observe Shabbat, kashrut, and leave your Jewish significant other, AND move three states over before we'll even start working with you." Of course that will freak people out! And since when has that ever been required as a prerequisite to being allowed to work with a tutor, etc?? Most community rabbis won't even give a relatively basic ruling to a candidate (much less any non-public-group teaching) without permission of the BD, precisely for the fear of subverting the "process." Therefore, a potential convert is left to sway in the wind for a year or more without any assistance other than books or the internet. Then you gotta unlearn half the things you learned!

  6. many of my thoughts&feelings... :-(
    not only US....

  7. If fact, to some extent very strict beit dins select for insincere converts. If you are told "In order to convert you'll have to go without TV and internet for the rest of your life" many would be converts would refuse. But unethical converts might well think they could do without them for a couple of years, after which they could hope to never need to interact with the formal system again. Naturally the response to that is for beit dins to both ratchet up the requirements and also start checking up on converts repeatedly post conversion, and to invalidate even more conversions post facto.

  8. My heart goes out to you and to all the potential converts dealing with this situation. Could this go under the "don't judge Judaism by the Jews" category?

    Also, I recommend St. Louis as a nice, not scary community. And the BD is on the approved list.

  9. If it's any consolation (probably a small one, at best) you might care to know that many, many Orthodox Jews are furious about this situation. Chumra is the golden calf of out generation.

  10. You should add another option among the 'reactions', one that says "Brilliant but depressing, as usual" :/

  11. Nice article by Rabbi Marc Angel on doubting conversions and the strife it causes:
    That's someone who's willing to stick out his neck for converts, and is former head of the RCA and on the board of the IRF (international rabbinic fellowship).

    I was born 'Jewish' and only later, while becoming more observant, realized that my mother's conversion was doubtful by orthodox halacha (probably only one Rabbi supervising the mikveh, not three).

    My Rabbi presented me with two options: Toronto's RCA/haredi beit din, which is widely accepted, or converting with a panel of IRF rabbis. He belongs to both the RCA and the IRF, and after doing my research, the only honest choice I could make was to convert through the IRF. My beit din was kind, knowledgeable, and didn't insist on any extreme versions of observance that I wouldn't be willing to commit to long term. In the communities that I wish to be a part of (mainstream orthodox and modern-orthodox) there's no question that my conversion is valid.

    You know, there's always going to be SOMEONE doubting your conversion - maybe it's just caution of the ultra-orthodox, or maybe it's part of the whole frummer-than-thou movement in Judaism. The question to me was, can I be honest with my beit din, and will the people whose opinions matter to me accept my conversion.

    So I would highly recommend checking out the IRF for anyone who is looking for a significantly less painful-than-usual conversion :)

    1. Please avoid the IRF panels. They are not recognized by RCA or Haredi Rabbis as valid.

  12. I read your article and do feel your pain since I have seen MANY suffer. But I do want to say in clear defense of the Rabbi's, that I have also seen many people who are trying to convert for marriage simply putting on a show and it ends up being the biggest scam. You article does not explain how a Rabbi is supposed to keep up halacha and know the difference between those who are sincere and those who are laughing at the system.

  13. Anonymous,

    What will be the punishment from Hashem for the rabbis, laypeople, and others who drive away righteous converts unnecessarily? It's the question asked in criminal systems all the time: Do we send 1 innocent person to prison or let loose 10 guilty people to prevent any innocent person going to jail?

    On a practical level, no matter how high "security" gets, people will scam. In fact, someone pointed out that there will be more scamming the more that is unnecessarily required of converts. The discussion was if television was ruled assur by the beit din. In that case, the scammers think they can get by for a few years without a TV, but the sincere ones who (justifiably) believe that TV is not assur will convert conservative.

    In short, I don't think there is an answer. People will scam. You do your best through reference letters and knowing people who know them, but emotional abuse and chumrahs will only encourage the scammer rate while drive away those who are demanded to be here by Hashem.

  14. "Where is the common human decency? Where are the gedolim who say that a convert is born with a Jewish neshama (soul)?"

    With all due respect, it is of no consequence how someone feels. I met a woman who was a Reform Jewish convert, deeply immersed in the "Temple" life. One year later she left Judaism for Buddhism. As insensitive as it sounds, feelings alone should never be considered because feelings constantly change and can be irrational. They are inconsequential. Becoming a Jew and being a Jew is all about action - being proactive. As a rabbi once told me: No matter how much you "feel" like a Jew, you are not a Jew until you step out of the mikveh.

    The most important authority in regard to becoming a Jew is Hashem. What does He say -- particularly about marrying a non Jew -- which one IS after a Reform or Conservative conversion. The Jewish people are judged as a Nation. We have communal prayers - we fast together, we mourn together. We have a covenantal relationship with the Almighty. We do not not need insincere(absolutely not referring to you :)individuals who may change their mind because being a Torah Jew has become too restricting or inconvenient for them. When you feel yourself being pushed to the limit remember that everything is a test. We are all tested like Abraham Avinu who was tested 10 times by Hashem and found to be worthy.

  15. Anonymous, you're right. But I think it's the wrong argument and a misunderstanding of my argument.

    I agree with your primary point. An individual's feelings are essentially irrelevant (though they matter in the mitzvah of avoiding embarrassing someone). (And further, I am here talking about their feelings in the sense of feeling emotionally abused or manipulated, not their feelings on whether they're "Jewish" or not, which is a completely different idea.)

    My argument is about actions, just as yours is. We have interpersonal mitzvot that apply to the relationships between people, even rabbi and non-Jewish conversion candidate (since the mitzvah of not oppressing the convert doesn't apply until after the mikvah). These mitzvot are not being followed by some groups and individuals. The rabbis can judge people favorably, avoid embarrassing them, and the other interpersonal mitzvot, and someone's feelings can still be hurt. However, Hashem focuses on our actions, and we are to formulate our actions in these mitzvot based upon how a "normal" person would be expected to react and standards have been developed by the gedolim over the centuries. As an example, verbal abuse of 100 people is still an aveira even if it's just to weed out one potentially sham conversion. There are other ways to find out it's a sham other than breaking the self-esteem and happiness of innocent bystanders. The standards exist because Hashem made them, they have worked for centuries, and those who act outside those standards (converts, laypeople, and rabbis alike) will answer to Hashem for that. A 100% success rate is impossible.

    As a foundational issue, I object to your story about the reform convert. Reform conversion and orthodox conversion today are like night and day, and that is an entirely unfair comparison to make. They have no correlation whatsoever. No orthodox convert should be tarnished by the actions of a lapsed reform convert because the orthodox requirements, issues, and support system are so different.

    But thank you for raising these issues. They can be a very fine distinction, and it's easy to miss, particularly when people don't have to suffer through it :) It's good for me to understand what people's understandings are! It improves my own writing and information here (and not to mention my legal argument skills...and eventually, Gemara skills!).

    1. Spot on! I have seen multiple friends go through the abuse of BD and even simply people in the Jewish community. It infuriates and deeply saddens me that my people does this and as a women, there is nothing I can do about it. I hope the true converts hang in there. Frankly, though if I had to put up with what my friends have, I would likely give up. I don't know what gives these people such strength, but they amaze me with their determination.

    2. It's because we're "crazy". Ha ha. No, honestly. For me, personally, I am going through the conversion process because (I know someone earlier on this thread spoke about how feelings don't matter on this issue because regardless of how you feel, feelings can change, and until you step out of the mikveh, you are not a Jew) I don't feel that there is another way. Simply put, no convert ever wakes up one morning and says, "I want to choose the most difficult way, ever. I want to lose my family, friends, and life I've known to follow a way that maybe will isolate me forever." I feel blessed and proud to know a new (Jewish) community who has warmly embraced me, but no convert knows what they are gaining in return for leaving everything they've ever known behind. We have such determination because we have nothing to go back to; we have no safety net. Before we ever went to a rabbi to say we were interested in Judaism or converting, we made the decision internally. It's been a roller coaster ride and I know that all I can do is hold on.

  16. The Curmudgeonly Israeli Giyoret says:

    Excellent post! As far as the Israeli batei din go, there was always a subtle psychological bias in favor of the pregnant Swedish kibbutz volunteer-type who didn't really CARE about what the beit din said or what she promised because she never took them seriously in the first place. Be sincere, and the odds are you will be hurt. I had hoped this had changed.

    Your point about the hostility turning to friendliness after the conversion, you are so right. These people create an obstacle that is hard to get over. It took me years.

    At least nowadays, you do have the internet during the time you are left to twist slowly in the wind.

    I have said for years that what is needed is an open admissions policy to STUDYING Judaism, and a screening before the process is ratcheted up. Most insincere candidates will drop out on the way, and you do not have the problem of creating a chillul Hashem by giving nonJews the impression that everyone in the dati world is rude, snotty, and hates them. (This IS true, isn't it?)

  17. Why on earth would you want to convert into a religious community that would treat you like that??

    1. Belief. Being sure that Judaism, Orthodox Judaism answers all my questions. It calls to me and challenges me.

    2. It's very hard to explain, why. It's a calling from Hashem, that's all I can say. We're a family, husband and wife with children. We have no one to marry. We have successful careers and happy family life. We want to convert, want to overcome obstacle after obstacle to convert, why? We don't know. We just love Hashem, and Tanach and want to be His people. Why? Just because there's a desire, unstoppable, within, and don't really know why.


    Conversion to Orthodox Blog- it might clear up why some people choose this path even though it is a difficult one.

    1. Having looked at your blog, I'm afraid your two posts don't clear anything up. Unless you're just saying that a relationship is why someone would choose this path, and I think we all knew that already... I'm just confused by your comment. That said, good luck to you, however your situation works out. London has a very difficult conversion process, so keep your head up!

  19. Jewish tradition frowns on people who convert to Judaism because they want to marry a Jew; yet that is the #1 motivation for Americans converting to Judaism.

    Jewish tradition also frowns on people who convert to Judaism for monetary gain.

    1. What is "frowned upon" is converting SOLELY for marriage. The sages recognize that marriage is usually only ONE reason people convert to Judaism. It is a factor to be considered, not a bar to entry. I would say it "raises a red flag to investigate further" rather than "is frowned upon." If it were really "frowned upon" for this one reason, the halacha would not detail how to deal with conversions involving marriage to a halachic Jew. And if I remember correctly, the Gemara states that "marriage" is presumed to not a "reason" for a conversion if the couple is already married secularly. From a practical standpoint, marrying a non-Jew who wishes to convert has always been a strong source of halachic Jews embracing their Judaism. It shouldn't be so spit upon by the Jewish masses. Hashem brings the right people into our lives for a reason. Sometimes that reason is to spark an interest in Judaism in the hidden Jewish neshama.

      As a practical observation: many who wish to convert and are in a relationship with a Jew (marriage or otherwise) who successfully convert are usually no longer in that relationship by the end of the process. When the conversion candidate takes conversion seriously, the halachic Jew is forced to make a decision, and they usually don't follow.

      THAT SAID: please provide a citation for your assertion that marriage is the number 1 motivation for Americans converting to Judaism. A) I suspect that is the #1 reason people CONSIDER converting to Judaism, but B) I think it's relatively low on the qualities of people who successfully convert orthodox. C) I think you completely forget the huge numbers of "converts" (often raised "Jewish" in the reform movement) who are patrilineally Jewish. I would say that is the largest common factor between orthodox converts, simply because there are SO MANY reasons that bring people here, and each individual often has several reasons.

    2. It is good you can what needs to said. And it is said so well. My daughter was hurt by the long endless process from 9 years old to 21 years old, that I think she still truly hates the Jewish people as a whole, and cares only for certain Jewish friends. I gave all her college money, thousands of dollars to the community. We hope now that we can get food stamps. Her parents got divorced. Her dad and I got divorced mostly for my conversion. I have gone through breast cancer treatment alone in community twice. On the saddest day of my life, at the end of a 18 years of marriage,and the fatigue of cancer treatment effects, and lack of family and friends due to a Jewish conversion process, adding in the job difficulties and observancy; a Chabad rabbi and and his wife told be to leave because I am not supposed to be sad and exhausted on Shabbos. I felt like I lost my last home. I downed a ton of drugs and tried to die. Almost did on Shabbos. I completed a Conservative conversion, and Mikvah. So glad I did this. It gave me some feeling of belonging. I tried once again to walk to shul, bought a foreclosed house, went under financially. Became a mistress to a Jewish man. Gave my body to a Jewish cause or for survival. I used to cry about Holocaust. Even as a teenager. Now, I don't feel sad about it anymore. I think that is not really what want to feel. You are right. You can only be pushed so far, and then you break. Nothing can make you trust the people who hurt you so badly. No matter what happens, you remain unable to recover. As badly as my love would like it. I do love him. I much as I wish I could, I can never forget. I may die this way. Really soon.....

  20. Rabbi Asher Meza at actually speaks out about this mistreatment of potential converts.The main reason I did not convert is not mainly because beitei din makes it so difficult to be jewish but because they can take away a persons jewish status.They can retroactively annul a conversion.Please dont get me wrong im not saying I know-it-all but in the Torah there are punishments for those who are not observant jew and geir alike.If a geir breaks shabbes then they are liable for the death penalty like born jews are liable for the death penalty for breaking shabbes.There is a punishment for every disobedient action done against the Torah.The law is for every born jew and every convert who converted.I could deal with the mistreatment and harshness of some conversion policies if it meant I would forever be recognized as a jew.I think if they want to annul conversion what about those jews that they let go to shul and drive on shabbes,should they not be shunned also?It should be equal for born jews and converts alike.If I convert and break torah then I should be shunned but they cant take away a persons jewish status because thats anti-biblical and is against talmud and Shulchan Aruch. And the so-called tradition of discouraging converts the way they do in modern times and pushing them away not once but 3 times is anti-halachic and against the Torah,namely Rambams Mishneh Torah in Issurei Beiah.But the solution is following the Torah without the ulterior motive of keeping potential converts out of orthodox judaism.Common sense tells me that they should treat born jews and converts equally.If a convert or born jew abandons orthodoxy then they are both apostates,and the convert and jew remains a jew even though they are liable for kareis.Tell me how silly this really sounds okay? Lets say in the days of Moshe Rabbeinu there was a born jew and a convert breaking shabbes or doing some sin that warrants some kind of punishment and Moshe goes to Hashem and Hashem says they get the death penalty because there are three valid witnesses who were there at the time the aveira was commited and the born-jew gets stoned but the convert doesnt but goes home untouched as a gentile because the beis-din at that time says he never really converted and hes a goy now or always was a goy so he can escapes punishment.Sounds stupid, huh?No, the culprit gets stoned!The convert is a convert and gets the punishment meeted out to convert and born jew alike.I know I have a critical tone but I love the Rabbis and I love the jewish people, but our leaders,well your leaders should stop trying to play Hashem because hes still in the business of hearing the cries of the orphan,widow and convert!

    1. ANONYMOUS it says in the SCHULHAN ARUKH that conversion is permanent. it sayseven a person who immediately worships idols is still a JEW. If the person rejected a mitzvah AB INITIO that would nullify it . I know of BEIT DIN in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA , that charged someone at 5,000- 10,000 dollars and was told they convert that person. This cruel and horrible things need to stop . bet dins need to held to accounts.

  21. I couldn't agree more. Infact, I'm going through so much pain being treated unfairly by a rabbi. What can one say when the rabbi avoids your phonecalls and does not bother to respond to your countless emails? It certainly does not give rabbis to treat converts to be with some respect.

  22. Regrettably this putting down of the stranger or alien as in some way inferior has been very much my own personal experience of interaction with the Jews.
    At Machon Pardes I was told that Torquemada had converted to Judaism in order to find out about Jewish customs in order to later persecute the Jews & for this reason converts are treated with suspicion & considered undesirable. I hope you realise that there is not a shred of evidence to support the idea that Torquemada converted to Judaism. Furthermore a distinguished & long standing member of the Pardes staff taught:
    " עד איזשהו בחינה גר אינו יהודי מושלם "
    Note that Machon Pardes is considered a liberal institution & I have tried taking it up wit Danni Landes but he ignores me.

    A person with a connection to a Rabbinical programme run by Ohr torah Stone told me that Efrata was very different to the rest of Israel; it was an affluent tolerant community & a sign of just how tolerant it is - even converts are tolerated.

    In a congregation of largely Beni Akiva background young people on a working settlement I was quite literally tormented for not being Jewish in their eyes
    I could not read Ivrit properly – fun was poked at me whenever possible & as it took me a long time to complete reading the blessings before & after Kriat Shma I would not stand for the Amid till much after others on many occasions I was poked in the back supposedly as a prompting to stand but it was done as much in a way to physically hurt me as to shame me that I could not keep up with others
    This went on with the full knowledge of the Rav & those from more religious background such as Hesder who would not themselves do such a thing but yet would not & did not do anything to stop it
    Whenever someone married & in the week of nuptials following the wedding & a celebratory meal with Seven Blessings said after it was held I would be asked to make one of the last blessings – everyone knew I could not say I yet I was egged on. I asked if I could make tehe 2nd blessing next time as that I could perhaps manage but I was told I was not worthy enough
    On many occasions these young folk tried to have me lead the pray as they knew I simply could not & would make a mess of it. Just before the Shabbat before I was married Some came to me insisting I must tread the Haftorah – they were itching that someone would have to take over from me & shame me & when they could not persuade me that I must they were very angry with me
    All this is absolutely true but any attempt to have any serious thought about how wrong it was will be laughed out of court just as it was ignored by those who aught to have known better at the time.
    My parents felt extremely badly on visits to Israel particularly the way people looked at them
    I would add to this that a number of people within Gush Etzion have told me that I am not Jewish including one Rabbi

    Consider the introduction from the Khazari – the manor in which the alien is viewed & treated is ingrained within orthodox Judaism

  23. One small anecdote further to the above

    In Israel the secular reaction to a convert is "You must be mad but welcome"

    The orthodox reaction is "You are not mad BUT you are most certainly not welcome"

  24. It seems perfectly reasonable to me for a Beit Din to insist that someone who wants to convert move to a proper Jewish community in a proper town and that they agree to give up television and the internet, as well as commit to putting their future children in a Jewish school from kindergarten onward. The Jewish community's only obligation until you cross he finish line is to safeguard its own standards and be extremely picky about who they let in. If you don't like it, try some other religion.

    1. Even Chassidim use (filtered) Internet. I don't think any Beit Din should say you can't have Internet. I could understand a Chasidic Beit Din saying no television because Chassidic homes don't have television. But saying no internet is completely ridiculous and unreasonable. If I was a potential ger, I would insist on my right to use the internet.

      You could probably find some rabbis that don't allow internet. But they are a very small minority opinion. Most Orthodox Rabbis allow filtered or unfiltered Internet. And among non-Yeshivish, non-Chassidic Orthodox Jews, there is no problem in Jewish law with having NON-FILTERED Internet.

  25. Eric: It's hypocritical. One cannot approve of content (there's a TON of Torah on the Internet) while simultaneously denying access to it (by forbidding Internet access). Also, if the proponents of that particular standard want to be consistent, they had better deny access to the public libraries and all secular books, too. After all, if we can't be trusted to restrain ourselves on virtual chol, we ought not to be trusted around hard-copy chol, either.

    I have no problem with setting standards. However, individual communities do not have the right to set their own standards beyond Torah requirements. That is adding to the Torah. It's even adding to the Talmud, for heaven's sake. It is reasonable to set standards. It is not permitted, however, to create enemies by treating people like dirt.
    Please quote authentic halachic source which grants this to communities (original: i.e., nothing after the latest redaction of either of the two Talmuds): ____________________

    It would be more honest and consistent to refuse to accept any converts at all and to be upfront about it.

    There are multiple words in the Torah and the rest of Nach used for 'convert' and the word 'ger' is used in multiple contexts, and in all of them Jews (yes, that includes me and you) are commanded to (a) treat them equally with respect to expectations of mitzvah observance ("one law for the native and the stranger...") and (b) be sensitive to their feelings as outsiders/newcomers ("...for you too were strangers in Egypt...").
    Your support of a policy that ignores this because of the personal fears of the rabbi/Beit Din/community of born Jews is a denial of those words of Torah!

    By the way: I see YOU are using the internet. You're also a convert. Don't you have a position to worry about? And aren't you worried about having it known that you use the Internet and thus causing the various batei din to FURTHER distrust would-be converts? Are you so selfish that now that nobody can deny your Jewish status, you don't give a hoot about the future of others who are in the position you once were?

    Also: Do you SUPPORT treating people like dirt? If you do not support treating people, including converts such as yourself, like dirt, please explain how you can also support the setting of standards that engender this phenomenon:________________

    I'm disappointed in you, Eric. I always thought you were a kind person. So I assumed you would have learned not to unthinkingly offend the locals (in this case, converts and hopefuls) with ingrained hyperbole by now.
    The Nevi'im castigated the people about almost nothing BUT social ills like the one you appear to be defending.
    Go back and read your Tanach. Then read your Chofetz Chaim. And think about it. It's Elul, after all...

  26. Are we all streiml wearing reactionaries now? Why should converts in MO communities be required to meet hareidi norms? Requiring converts to forego internet and television would be holding them to a higher standard than the rest of the kehal; and would run counter to the notion that there is one law for both native born Israelite and convert alike. The standards for geirut, even prior to the Israeli rabbinate's meddling, were already higher than the Talmud or Rishonim or Shulkhan Arukh require. The all-or-nothing approach to conversion, which holds geirim to standards native born Balei Teshuvot aren't expected to rise to out of the gate, cause intense damage to sincere, God-fearing, Torah-loving aspirants to the Jewish faith. Piety should be something you grow into, not the price of admission at the door. What is being required of - and done to - geirim is just a symptom of the radicalization of the observant Jewish world that will eventually affect everyone. Geirim are the canaries in the mine shaft. Only yes men who enjoy kissing buckle shoes would endorse such proposals, let alone the emergent status quo.

    1. As an individual who had a Conservative conversion (even undergoing circumcision as an adult), and toyed for years with the prospect of converting to Orthodoxy (because being observant in a community of people who, largely, couldn't care less about observance is isolating and heartbreaking), I couldn't agree more with your statement.

      Honestly, your statement encapsulates the heartbreak and frustration I have felt as someone who was on the border between Conservativism and Orthodoxy for years.

      Relief only came when I walked away from observance and the community out of frustration and disgust. I'm now talking with priests and exploring the faith of my ancestors, Catholicism. Converts to Judaism are never truly "Jews", but rather "Goyim who Converted". The priest I've been talking with is excited about the prospect of adding to the flock. I feel embraced in a way that I've never felt before and the prospect of being in a community where people share my ethnic background and where nobody will question my bona fides thrills me.

    2. You speak to my very heart! Thank you, thank you! That's exactly what I've been thinking and there's no one to talk to and no one will ever sympathize with me! NonJews think I'm crazy. Jews think it serves me right. There's no sympathy to be found from anyone. There's no one to tell. Rabbis hold converts to a much higher standard than they hold for possibly 90% of all Jews today, and they basically expect us to be perfect first in observance before conversion. It's double-standard in the most obvious way. I was teased by others, saying because I'm converting, I have to observe every law, but they don't have to. They can make decision as they see fit, but I can't because I want to convert. It's the most ilogical argument I've ever heard of.

  27. George Meza " aka" Rabbi Asher Meza has been seen around town with a new women by his side. Wonder why he left his second wife and two children?

  28. A convert from Miami who became an orthodox Rabbi divorces his 2nd wife with 2 kids. Now he is going after Wife#3 He is George Meza AKA Rabbi Asher Meza.

  29. To anonymous (of 8-14-2013), why do you need people's approval to follow the commandments? The prophets didn't have approval nor comaraderie. They showed up at new moons or emergencies or anointings. Do you think the prophet being in a cave,being fed bread by birds, & drinking from a brook was thinking about leaving HaShem's service?
    You can be as observant as you want...alone. Yosef's survived in prison for 13 years...without community.

  30. A convert will never be regarded as a true jew... one could be a murderer but as long as they re jewish by birth, all is good. Conversion is a business, nothing else. It's all about the money. That's the jewish god. It s been through my conversion, that I was taught to hate and discriminate against others. We will always be part of the goyim,lol. unless one has lots of zeros after one's paycheck, one is nothing in the community... it's not about how many mitxvot you do BUT how much money you re worth. Stop being dillusional...I m from Canada, where diversity flourishes, the jews are the biggest racists and and discriminate anyone different from them. Remember, do unto others... karma is a bitch and the day will come again where Hashem will destroy the treife that call themselves jews...not even MONEY will save your asses . Hitler was def on the right track!!!

  31. If one is not born a jew, no type of conversion will make you one in the community. Conversion is a business, not an act of humanity. Hagar didn t need a beit din, neither do we... men dictated it for the sole purpose of financial gain. To ùnjew`someone is murder... whether one uses a gun or a document, the life has ended. Shame on you for teaching hypocrisy, racism and discrimination... and this community wonders why the world waits for their demise...


    Good blog on the emotional impact of orthodox conversion

  33. The process is so bad a DC Rabbi taped women in the Mikvah! Google it. Then the RCA turned the converts away to have them start all over again

  34. I have just given up on the idea of converting to Orthodoxy and actually wrote a long letter to the rabbi saying all about the politics of Judaism in the UK and in Israel and craziness of how a 5000 yr old religion still has not made it's mind up on the definition of 'Who is a Jew?' let alone whom can convert and whom can't. I know the Rabbi will just put it in his trash email and not give a damn but I had the satisfaction of saying it how it is.
    So this is my very much abbreviated spiel on this matter:
    I do have some Jewish lineage on both parents sides but it goes back a long way and the Beth Din and Rabbis can't be bothered to look into it. They say 100 + yrs is too long ago. Some rabbis said I would have to divorce my husband after we married in a Reform shul, said we not not halachically married and if we had children they would be bastards. My husband's parents have an Orthodox ketubot but no matter; he is considered an apostate for marry out, as in marrying via Reform.
    I tried to contact the Beth Din several times and met up with them - all exceedingly rude to me. Some suggested digging up the dead bodies of any Jewish relatives who converted to Christianity and reburying them in Jewish cemeteries. Sorry, but I think it is an outrage.
    Other rabbis ignore you if you email them or just abusive.
    Many other things too.
    Why should I go through this abuse? I'm not prepared to accept it. If that makes me treif (or rubbish) or a goyim by Orthodox standard they can get lost.
    I have suffered more than enough abuse from them. They are worse than psychopaths towards potential converts.
    Want to get your heart broken? What to be made to feel you are a piece of sh*t? Then go convert to Orthodoxy. You have to be a glutton for punishment and like the author of this blog says, 'Be very stiff necked.'
    Personally, I don't believe Haschem set out to be so strict about the criteria for whom is a Jew and who isn't; I think these rules are becoming stricter and stricter and thereby are no longer about G-d but man made and about political egos.
    Judaism is becoming less of a religion and more of political apparatus, and trying to convert is akin to trying to become a politician. In fact, the latter route is probably a whole lot easier, ironically!

  35. Thank you so much for this post! Same here. Our family is in the same situation. After three years of doing everything being told, sing, we sang, dance, we danced, anything, we did it, and more. We're so close, so close, then all of a sudden, just one more thing... Now we've hit a brickwall. I really want to go to meet HaShem, really, and let's reason it out. I know we're most likely more observant than at least 80%, at least in CA, but not enough, converts must be perfect in order to convert, while others, even if they are atheists, are endeared to the very hearts of rabbis. Never have I come to understand the absolute truth of this folk saying: Blood is always thicker than water! No matter how much you love HaShem, and love the rabbis themselves, to the rabbis, you are nothing, period, nothing, because you don't have the blood. There's no organization in the world, I believe, that has such a blatant double standard of treatment. And yet, what can you do? Nothing. Nothing. Because no one told you to seek conversion. It's your own choice. I've decided, just keep going, keep learning, keep praying, and do what's right, because I have joy in following HaShem, and wait till I go to heaven, I'll most definitely ask HaShem or His angels, whomever I get to meet. Rabbis have too little sympathy for us. I have a suspicion: If they know I have the capability to climb on Himalayas, they'll send me there first before they let me convert.

  36. I wrote a couple of posts here a few days ago, expressing some frustration about conversion. But today I want to share a little conversation I had with a close Jewish friend of mine, which I hope bears a more positive note, and hopefully could help others who might also feel the same agony as I did the other day:

    ... I also feel no longer frustrated about the conversion issue. It's a good thing, that we as a family pursue a thorough, internal conversion to Judaism first, a conversion in the soul, and maybe when Jin and I retire, we can both happily and smoothly convert in the outside form. During this wait period, we'll live as much as Jews as any other Jew, striving to be more observant as much as possible, and keep learning about Judaism. The joy is within this pursuit itself, it's within our souls striving to 'express the Light, not only in the outward recognition from a rabbi or by other people at chabad. Their recognition is of less importance, Becoming closer to HaShem, and striving to be righteous in front of HaShem bears more priority. And this way all my urgency to get conversion done quickly is gone. I refuse to go to a reform or conservative place to convert because I prefer to take the hardest route, that is: convert in my soul and body and obey the commandments one by one. I don't want to define myself a chabad person, or any other organization's person. I convert to follow HaShem, that's my only and ultimate goal. Otherwise, I have no need to convert at all, because I'm practically blessed with everything I need in the materialistic world already. As a woman (happily married, blessed with daughters and a son, sufficient sustenance, security of retirement fund etc) , I already have everything of the world for my physical needs. I'm already satisfied on that level. My yearning is completely spiritual, completely for my soul, and for the souls of my husband and children.

  37. As a person just starting the conversion process. After reading all of the posts, it is with a heavy heart that begin. I am not dissuaded as it is for me, and my Jewish soul to continue. I talked to the rabbi at the beit din, he was not at all friendly even seemed annoyed to speak with me. I was pawned off on him by another rabbi. I wish everyone here the best, just remember that it is Hashem that we have to prove our hearts to.

  38. Havent read all this yet, but myself wanting to convert, this is very informative and something to be informed. Thanks as well for the links. And all the replies.

  39. This is reason I converted Reform... I somewhat don't fit any where but the reform community has been a great blessing going above n beyond. Though the Rabbi did put me through a few ropes at the beginning it was nothing like the orthodox. The hard part is that I am not liberal and way more orthodox in practice than any one at job in all this is to keep my balance, love others, but walk out my path on the level HaShem has called me to.

    1. I converted conservative but had to move to a reform shul because they shunned my children, born before the conversion. I practice the same as I did before and would like an orthodox conversion, but they wouldn't even speak to me because of my children.

  40. Can you expand on this point, Kochava? ("The converts/candidates I've spoken with in the last week (and before that) are overwhelmingly bitter, angry, and distrustful of rabbis.")

  41. Does anyone know in general, what the process is for a female to convert (only doing this to please my family, so need as lenient of an orthodox coversion that exists)?

  42. Does anyone know in general, what the process is for a female to convert (only doing this to please my family, so need as lenient of an orthodox coversion that exists)?

  43. BR, if you are only doing this to please your family, you may not want to get an Orthodox conversion. The current RCA process assumes about 2 years of living in an Orthodox community, learning all that you need to know to keep Jewish law correctly and becoming increasingly observant.

    If you live in Israel or plan to move to Israel, you may want to convert there, especially if you have a Jewish father but not a Jewish mother, as there are special programs for people in this category.

    If the issue is not you but your future children, then you may want to convert your children after they are born. This is more honest than converting yourself if you really have little to no desire to become Jewish.

    If you are hoping to please your family and they themselves are not Orthodox, then perhaps a more liberal conversion would work better for you. Then you would all be at the same level of observance.

    I wish you the very best and hope that you find a path of integrity that can also create peace within your family. You are unlikely to find an Orthodox rabbi to convert you without requiring a serious commitment to daily Jewish practice. These commitments are not easy ---- even for the people who are born into them.

    Your family should not pressure you into making this kind of spiritual commitment unless it is something you are doing of your own free will.

  44. Sometimes it feels we can't find our fit.... The forced Christianizing really messed things up for a lot of us. We went through the conversion even with our maternal Jewish Surnames
    And now, Even if we are strictly Orthodox shomer Shabbos and mitzvos, Kosher and Halacha observers with Jewish maternal lines, and conversion for reasons of doubt, it isn't enough for some. HaShem will make a way. We are being forced to be re-evaluated by our local Beis din in order to be allowed to follow In the Orthodox movement.

    Are there any orthodox Rabbis who can help us?

  45. At Marissa, I am coming in a bit late. Check (I assume you come from the Spanish/Portuguese anusim...).

  46. The way certain BDs behave and the way people are treated is a chillul Hashem, because it makes the Gemara look bad chas veshalom and the way they treat people is not in the true essence and spirit of Gemara. Forcing a person to break shabbes when they have already become a Geir by simply approaching Israel is wrong, because many people can aleeady be Jewish as well so they would be sinning against God after having repented.

  47. Anyone who is really serious aboout geiruth would never let anything or anyone prevent their gei'ruth...No one could have ever stopped me, prevented, disuaded me, or turned me away. I was driven to be a ye'hu'di...The day after my gei'ruth, I was in ye'shi'vah where I stayed throuh years of Beit HaMidrash and kollel, including a se'mi'cha program. That journey was and is the only thing that has any meaning to me. After meeting a few Young Israel types, I abandonded that immediately! I went to a Po'seq! I made li'mud HaTo'rah my life. I was mach'ni'ah myself (subjugated myself) to the Will/Ra'tzon of HaShem. I decided that I would be me'va'tel myself for what ever period of time it would take, but a geir with a Te'u'dah that would be universally accepted would be in my posession. Nothing else mattered. I had to be me'qa'bel the ol-mal'chuth sha'ma'yim -- period. The great Rabbonim in main line yeshivoth I attended never ever questioned me or my intentions, EVER. They didn't have to. I made it clear that I would not leave until I saw the mohel and went to miq'vah and sat in ye'shi'vah and learned like any other Yid. I was welcomed by my Ro'shei Ye'shi'vah b/c they knew that this was EVERYTHING TO ME. I started in the lowest high school gemarah shiur in a NY main line ye'shi'vah and within 15 months, I was in the top shi'ur. What I read here is mostly nonsense. If you are so compelled to be ta'chath kan'fei ha'she'chi'nah and desperate to be me'qa'bel the ol-mal'chuth sha'ma'yim, it will be obvious. Yes, this takes committment. Not your local shul Rabbi, but you need to be in a ma'qom Torah, in proximity to a ye'shi'vah. I never noticed any Rav's personality, b/c the ONLY thing that mattered was the goal -- to be a Yid. Sure, I was chased out of a few offices! So what! I was thankful for a few minutes from anyone who would see me and teach. Every Rebbe in my Ye'shi'vah was extremely kind to me save one, although what this fellow did to me was not with purpose...Some people, including a few ye'shi'vah Rebbe's are human too. They make misjudge your sincerity; they may even make a mistake! Imagine that! What human? Yes! What is anyone playing around with RCA "Rabbis" for...Get your selves to a ma'qom To'rah and learn...Yes, leave your mid-west USA home town! Do what you need to do, but stop complaining...