Volume 39 Number 62
                 Produced: Mon Jun  2  5:21:04 US/Eastern 2003

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

         [Avi Feldblum]
Conservative  Conversions (2)
         [Martin D. Stern, Binyomin Segal]
Conservative Acceptance of Reform Conversions
         [Alana Suskin]
Conservative Conversions
         [Janet Rosenbaum]
Non-Orthodox conversions
         [Eitan Fiorino]
         [Binyomin Segal]


From: Avi Feldblum <mljewish@...>
Date: Mon, 2 Jun 2003 05:19:42 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Administrivia

Good Morning, All,

I suspect we are coming close to the edge of where the discussion below
will remain valuable and stay within the mail-jewish guidelines, so I will
be carefully reading further posts on the issue with a critical eye to
ensure that they have something new and usefull to say.

I think that there are two underlying questions that would remain valuable
to discuss, if the discussion can properly focus on the topic and not
degenirate into a discussion level I will not accept.

1) What are the definition and requirements of a Beit Din bizman hazeh (in
current times) where there is clearly no S'mecha. Where is Beit Din
required (Geirus - Conversion is clearly one, what else falls in the

2) What is the definition of Kabalat Ol Mitzvot as a requirement for

One topic which I do not think there is anything valuable to be said
beyond what was covered in the previous issue and this issue has to do
with whether the Conservative movement accepts conversions which do not
include Milah and Tevilah. Details of the Conservative movement positions
are not generally subjects for this mailing list, however, if in the
course of a submission, a claim is made on that subject, I will allow
correction of the topic from people who know. In this case, both the
online corrections twice from Alana Suskin, as well as an off-line
response from another Conservative Rabbi on the list, makes it quite clear
what the movements position is.

Avi Feldblum
mail-jewish Moderator


From: <MDSternM7@...> (Martin D. Stern)
Date: Sun, 1 Jun 2003 17:15:35 EDT
Subject: Re: Conservative  Conversions

The fundamental flaw in Conservative conversions which no one has so far
raised is the virtual inability of there being such a thing as a valid
Conservative Bet Din. Since the fundamental point which separates
Orthodoxy from Conservatism is the latter's rejection of the concept of
Torah min hashamayim as formulated by such authoratative figures as the
Rambam, any member of the Conservative movement must be assumed, prima
facie, to be an apikoros and, therefore, disqualified from serving on a
Bet Din. While it is possible that some Conservative clergymen may in
fact be fully believing and practicing Orthodox Jews, it is difficult to
believe that these are anything but a small minority. So to find three
members of the Conservative movement qualified to sit on a Bet Din would
be difficult, to say the least.

Martin D. Stern
7, Hanover Gardens, Salford M7 4FQ, England
( +44(1)61-740-2745
email <mdsternm7@...>

From: Binyomin Segal <bsegal@...>
Date: Sun, 1 Jun 2003 16:29:22 -0500
Subject: Re: Conservative  Conversions

Avi tries to excuse the Conservative movement for the actions of some 
of the more extreme members of their rabbinical assembly.

> However, I think you have more conclusively shown that the majority
> opinion, and the one that to the extent that there is an official
> position of the Conservative movement, is that conversion requires
> Milah, Tevilah and Kabbalot Ol Mitzvot. That there are individual
> Rabbi's that do not follow this, is true but I am not sure of the
> relevance. As has been discussed in the threads on Fraud, there are a
> number of things that individual Orthodox Rabbi's have done that most of
> us would agree is not ke'halacha.

Avi is suggesting that conversion without tvilah is a fraud that some
unsavory conservative rabbis allow. But Avi himself knows that isn't
entirely the truth - the key words are

> to the extent that there is an official position of the Conservative 
> movement

When a rabbi (any rabbi) lies, steals, murders etc. he is committing a
crime that everyone recognizes. When an orthodox rabbi performs
conversion without tvilah he is performing a crime against his purported
beliefs - a kind of fraud or hypocrisy. However a conservative rabbi who
performs conversion without tvilah is fulfilling his rabbinic role. He
is choosing what he thinks is correct. Within Conservative ideology this
is the undisputed right and role of the synagogue rabbi.



From: Alana Suskin <alanamscat@...>
Date: Sun, 1 Jun 2003 17:40:59 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Re: Conservative Acceptance of Reform Conversions

 Shmuel Himelstein <himels@...> writes:
> On the "Ask a Rabbi" site (see URL below), Rabbi Danny Horwitz, who is
> listed as a Conservative Rabbi, ...In other words, there are
> Conservative rabbis who are willing to accept Reform conversions as
> valid, even if they don't include the rituals.  There is no hint of
> recrimination against Conservative rabbis who accept Reform converts
> even without Milah and/or Tevilah.


I have to say very plainly, the assumption you make above is simply not
correct. The Conservative movement is completely unequivocal about milah
and tvilah for converts.  I suspect that the reason Rabbi Horwitz wrote
that way was because he was gentling his tone, rather than because he
sometimes accepts conversions without milah and tvilah.

 I assure you that the Rabbinical Assembly is very plainspoken about the
fact that rabbis that accept conversions without milah and tvilah are
not following accepted Conservative practice, and are subject to
censure.  Moreover, while it is certainly true that rabbis are mara
d'atra in the shuls, it hardly follows that they can assert anything at
all (after all, Orthodox rabbis are *also* mara d'atra in the shuls, and
not just anything is acceptable from them!) but in any case, mara d'atra
in the Conservative movement gives very broad, but not completely
unlimited authority: of the standards of the movement, here are four
that will get rabbis thrown out of the RA (supposedly, since I don't
personally know of anyone who has violated them and has been caught at
it, which doesn't mean that it's never happened, I just can't say
whether it has or not) - a CJ rabbi may not attend or officiate at an
intermarriage (which includes someone who was not properly converted); a
CJ rabbi may not marry someone who has been previously married who does
not have a get; a CJ rabbi may not accept patrilineal descent; a CJ
rabbi may not do or accept a conversion without mikvah and milah.

I'm not sure what more can be said about this. These four things are
standards of the movement, they're repeated to rabbinical students
extremely often by rabbis who are in the administrative parts of the
movement (such as the Rabbinical Assembly), and I assure you that as a
recently graduated rabbinical student, I have some background to be
aware of what the standards of the movement are.

Since I think all has been said on this matter that can be said without
it becoming "he said, she said," I'm not going to post any more about
this topic.

(On a side note about women rabbis: there are a number of Conservative
women rabbis who will not be witnesses at a conversion, in order to make
those conversions acceptable to the widest possible audience).

Alana Suskin

From: Janet Rosenbaum <jerosenb@...>
Date: Sun, 1 Jun 2003 19:13:07 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Conservative Conversions

I've done extensive informal research into Orthodox opinions of
non-Orthodox conversions with tevila and bris, and I found that while
many dismissed their legitimacy categorically, others were much more
cautious and said that it depended very much on the situation.  The fact
that the former group was so categorical in their denial seemed to
indicate that for them, the issue was less an issue of halacha than

Strictly speaking, I doubt that there are more than a few C/R rabbis who
know enough to qualify as mumarim.  Prior to the decision to attend
rabbinical school, I imagine that everyone would agree that a future C/R
rabbi is a tinok sh'nishba [Jew raised in a predominantly non-Jewish
environment].  The statement that attending C/R rabbinical school
somehow removes this status seems contradictory since the same people
state that C/R rabbis are ignoramuses, yet if a C/R rabbinical school
teaches enough Judaism to make its graduates apostates, its graduates
must be fairly learned!

Wrt the question of the when the status of a C/R ger matters most, the
issue which is most common is shabbat observance: if a C/R ger is a
non-Jew, they're chayav mita if they keep shabbat, and if they're a Jew,
they're chayav mita if they don't.



From: Eitan Fiorino <tony.fiorino@...>
Date: Sun, 1 Jun 2003 23:48:20 -0400 
Subject: Non-Orthodox conversions

Shalom Kohn wrote:

> According to the Rambam (text at home... sorry that I cannot supply the
> citations) says that the would-be convert needs to be taught "miktzat
> dinei kulot va'chamurot" -- some of the strict and lenient laws -- but
> agree in principle to accept all the mitzvot, whatever they be.
> Obviously, therefore, the convert need not know every mitzvah, and the
> list of mitzvot per Conservative Judaism, even if not coterminous with
> Orthodox practice (and I do not mean to enter into the thicket of
> whether there is a difference, and in what respects), arguably qualifies
> at the very least of "miktzat" mitzvot.  Thus, so long as the convert
> intends to accept all the mitzvot -- whatever they may be -- and has not
> been taught practices which affirmatively are contrary to halacha
> (e.g. driving to shul on shabbat), his acceptance of the commandments
> would appear to be adequate.

The problem with non-Orthodox conversions is that the kabalah is by
definition defective, since Orthodoxy views non-Orthodox halachic
processes as invalid.  Thus, things are exactly NOT as laid out above -
one does not interpret the education of the non-Orthodox convert as
having simply been taught "some of the strict and lenient laws."
Rather, from the view of Orthodoxy, the non-Orthodox convert has been
taught a system of mitzvot, of halachah, that is incorrect.  It is
therefore impossible for the non-Orthodox convert to be viewed as having
correctly accepted the yoke of the mitzvot.

> The only possible issue, therefore, would relate to the
> halachic qualifications of the beit din, whose presence is a
> prerequisite for a valid conversion.  Judges need to have the same
> qualifications as witnesses, at a minimum, and apostates therefore do
> not qualify.  According to the Rambam, someone who does not accept the
> divine origin of Torah (Torah min hashamayim) or other fundamentals of
> faith is deemed an apostate.  Thus, the question becomes whether the
> particular rabbis on the conversion panel would qualify based on their
> own beliefs, inasmuch as (to my limited understanding) the Conservative
> movement has flexible standards on some of these issues.

My understanding of this issue, as it relates to Rav Moshe's heter
regarding gitten for non-Orthodox weddings, is that non-Orthodox clergy
cannot constitute a beit din becaue of their status as leaders of (for
want of a better phrase) halachically deviant movements.  There are no
exceptions for personal piety or Orthopraxis.

We can debate the merits and demerits of Orthodox policy towards
non-Orthodox movements, which is by and large driven by the principle
that it is forbidden to do things that even appear to convey legitimacy
upon non-Orthodox movements (in my view, the split between the Agudah
and Centrist worlds about acting in concert with non-Orthodox on matters
of communal concern is a question of degree, not of principle).
Whatever our views, however, this policy was adopted in the earliest
response to Reform and clearly dictates Orthodox policy on issues such
as gerut and gittin.



From: Binyomin Segal <bsegal@...>
Date: Sun, 1 Jun 2003 16:18:41 -0500
Subject: Re: Orthodox-Conservative-Reform

Over the last few issues of MJ there has been an ongoing discussion
about various aspects of Conservative identity and its halachic

In a related thread, a number of people have spoken about how there was
very little difference in practice between many orthodox and
conservative synagogues.

Overall, the tone I seem to be picking up is, "we are all so much alike,
why can't we all just get along." And while I value the source for this
sentiment, I continue to be concerned with the blurring of lines that
are crucial. A few people seem to be trying very hard to blur a line
that most poskim have seen as very definite and distinct. I think it may
be very important to look long and hard at why so many poskim saw the
line clearly.

The near universal attitude of "world class" poskim from the last
hundred years (MO and Chareidi) is that affiliation with the
Conservative movement - its synagogue organization, its rabbinical
organization - is significant evidence that the rabbi or synagogue in
question should be treated as heretical.

A number of people here have made some statements that suggest that
indeed the contrary is true and self-evident, and yet they have chosen
to ignore the vast precedent set in the past (Rav Moshe's tshuvot alone
on this issue would be a good place to start). If - on a halachic list -
many of the most well versed are going to disagree with Rav Moshe and so
many others, it would be appropriate for them to at least admit that
they are disagreeing, and give their rationale.

Recall that this thread started in an attempt to find a halachic way to
reach out to non-orthodox. If the "solution" is to reach out by blurring
any difference between orthodox and non-orthodox, you will have no
solution at all. You will win connection with the non-orthodox only by
casting aside your orthodox brethren. Further, if your "solution" fails
to take into account the precedent and near universal attitude of poskim
from the last hundred years, it will not be halachic.



End of Volume 39 Issue 62