Friday, August 5, 2011

Rabbi Speaks Out Against Geirus l'Chumrahs

Question: What is the status of the 'extra' conversion immersion [tevila leHumra] demanded by some Orthodox rabbis? 

You may know this as geirus l'chumrah. A geirus l'chumrah is when a convert (already converted) is required to undergo a "new" conversion because of doubt about a prior conversion. Sometimes this is necessary. That's why it exists. You discover later than a member of your beit din was breaking Shabbos or otherwise became a questionable dayan (judge) at the time of your conversion, you may want a geirus l'chumrah. However, it is not required. 

Definition: A geirus l'chumrah requires a new beit din oral examination and a new dip in the mikvah. But this time, there is no bracha said because we generally omit a bracha when the bracha's necessity is questionable. I don't know whether a "new" milah (drop of blood taken from the circumcision area of men) is required.

Here is a link answering the question at the beginning of this post: Questioning the Status of a Halachic Conversion is Anti-Halachic and Unethical.

I wholeheartedly agree with Rabbi Yuter. The geirus l'chumrah process is very painful for many converts, usually is based on nothing more than dislike of another subgroup of orthodoxy, and justifies everyone else questioning the convert (and all other converts). A convert is a Jew, and a Jew is a Jew is a Jew. This is unnecessary and against halacha. It is taking on chumrahs for the purpose of being superior to other people, rather than for the purpose of pleasing Hashem. 

And regardless of whether an individual is ever told they must undergo a geirus l'chumrah (it's not exactly a "suggestion"), all orthodox converts today fear that possibility. That possibility is becoming more and more statistically likely today. Worse, today, people now seem to believe that a conversion can be "overturned" because most average Jews have never heard of the term geirus lechumrah before. Because they don't understand the concept, they believe that the convert has been "re-converted" and was not Jewish before. Thus, now the convert's children may be questioned, and they may even be required to do a geirus lechumrah too. These born-Jewish children are also now subject to the sometimes-painful limits that converts must face.

For a stereotypical look at the argument that people "requiring" geirus l'chumrah are not Jews at all, check out this firey blog discussion from 2009: Subbotnik Jews of Ilyinka are Jews. "If these people need GIUR LECHUMRA it means that they are NOT Jews, period, no ifs ands or buts, no matter how emotional and sad their tale..."


  1. I have to admit, I'm not sure what R' Yuter has said here:

    "unless impropriety or fraud with regard to the conversion takes place, questioning the validity of the conversion ..."

    Isn't that a bit vague? You can only question if there's something to question. But by definition, those allegeding issues with a conversion will always try to pin it on some form of impropriety; whether with the ger in question or the beis din involve.

    It's a nice statement, but it seems rather meaningless, and subject to any number of "No True Scotsman" responses.

    Regardless, I would be wary of the (anonymous) individual you cited. The so-called RaP has dedicated his life (or at least his online life) to attacking "Rabbi" Leib Tropper in every venue possible; this means that RaP has taken "RW" positions regarding approaching mixed marriages re: conversion and a "LW" position regarding Tropper's attempts to tighten conversion standards.

    1. Originally posted: August 6, 2011 at 9:35 PM

      I can't speak for what the Rabbi intended to say, but I can explain how I understood it. I've known several people who were required to undergo geirus l'chumrah with only a statement of "We're not so sure about the rabbis of X," rather than being a specific problem of the rabbis on the beit din. The dislike/distrust of a group of orthodoxy is imputed to the ability of all the rabbis of the group to sit on a beit din. For example, and the most surprising to me, was someone who had undergone a conversion with Young Israel. He was told that group wasn't up to their standards.

      As for the commenter, I know who Rabbi Tropper is, but I have no idea who the commenter is. I simply did a Google search to find statements like I had heard others say about the geirus l'chumrah. There is a big misunderstanding that the geirus l'chumrah means there was no geirus at all to begin with. Because of the phrase "l'chumrah," they believe it is just a conversion held to a stricter standard. In other words, that any person could convert through either a) a geirus OR b) the stricter "geirus l'chumrah," which is not at all what it is.

  2. I think your reading is perfectly valid, although all that means is someone with an agenda can replace ""We're not so sure about the rabbis of X" with "the rabbis of X are not valid because [insert invalid objection here]".

    Perhaps requiring less politeness / subtlety will discourage subtle sniping; perhaps it will add extra vitriol to an already awkward and unpleasant topic. One thing I don't see it doing is leading to better understanding (either way).

    1. Originally posted: August 6, 2011 at 10:51 PM

      I agree. But I don't think this was written for those other rabbis. I think it was intended to be more "educational" to lay people about what is required for conversion than confronting the other side of the issue.

  3. The Curmudgeonly Israeli Convert says:

    "Questioning a conversion tempts the convert to sin."--Rabbi Yuter

    I'll go along with that.

    I know a very "good convert" who did a giyur l'chumra after coming to Israel with a conversion from a reputable American beit din, not haredi. Seemed to be from motives of insecurity. She paid a lot of money to a private beit din in Bnai Brak. What bothered me was that she expresse the opinion that it was a good thing she had done it, in any case, because after her first conversion, she had had her pets neutered, and that re-converting would undo the problem of having violated halacha in that regard.

    She is a good observant Jew, but this seems to be an exceedingly Catholic understanding of religious identity and teshuva, just for starters.

  4. It seems to me to be done from rather ulterior motives if she really believes her sins are cancelled this way, then maybe that was the whole reason. I do not know her, to my this is a hypothetical case.
    And of course not everyone converted by a Beit Din Tzedek is a convert for Hashem. A Beit Din always could have been deceived. Talmud says to both respect the ger and to check the convert's background, so if just after the giyur a person lives like the worst sinner then there was no giyur, since the kavanah was not present. It has never been possible to cancel a giyur and is not today. It has always been possible to question sincerity and validity of a giyur, including the times the Talmud was written, when rabbis were sent out to check the Jewish status of certain people and groups. Furthermore, a convert is a stranger in Israel, Hashem loves the convert more than a native-born, but convert faces certain mistrust as the one coming from the other side to join the Hebrews. This is the price one has to be ready to pay before the giyur.
    Putting on any Chumra (including on giyur) is voluntarily, and one who is forcing it is in fact breaking the Halakha. If any group does require this with regard to respected halakhic beit din decision, I would stay away from them, they might be on the path not from the Torah, to put it mild.