I, too, am one of those American rabbis whose conversions are not accepted by the Rabbanut, the Israeli Chief Rabbinate (“Time To Stand Up To Israel’s Chief Rabbis,” Jan. 10).
Truth be told, I am not at all offended by this and do not regard it as an affront to my Orthodox observance. In fact I have always had a very strong relationship with the Sephardic Chief Rabbinate of Israel.
Ideally, conversions in the United States should be done through broad-based groups: the Rabbinical Council of America, to take the most prominent, has a well-ordered set of guidelines. Such groups are recognized by the central rabbinic authorities in Israel, who cannot be expected to investigate each and every private rabbi who undertakes conversions.
I find a great deal of comfort in knowing that the Orthodox world has set standards for the larger community. The alternative to broadly recognized standards is no standards at all, and that scares me. There are times when prospective converts find the requirements of the RCA Guidelines difficult and they prefer more narrowly based religious courts, usually because their standards are more flexible. When invited, I am ready to assist them because I believe it is correct to enable these conversions even though they are not universally accepted. It is important to let the prospective convert know that under these circumstances the conversion, despite being Orthodox and kosher, will not be accepted in Israel and may be questioned by some Orthodox rabbis here in the United States. The prospective convert must decide whether or not to continue on these terms.
I am pleased that a number of converts have pursued a second (more rigorous) conversion, by the RCA and/or the Rabbanut of Israel. Conversion is not a private matter like eating kosher meat or choosing to use or not use the eruv. The impact affects one’s very religious identity and place in the community. For that reason we must endorse structured communal standards even while some of us attend to individual situations as they arise. The current hot-button issue is whether the Orthodox American rabbinate is capable of speaking in one voice with a shared mission and purpose. It is not useful to cast the “rabbis” of Israel as the enemy.
Kings Point, L.I.
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