Volume 56 Number 02
                    Produced: Tue Dec 18  6:10:07 EST 2007

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Convert as synagogue president (4)
         [Alex H., Dr. Josh Backon, Michael Frankel, Batya Medad]


From: Alex H. <odat@...>
Date: Mon, 17 Dec 2007 15:25:51 -0600
Subject: RE: Convert as synagogue president

David E. Maslow reports... 
> The National Council of Young Israel has issued (or re-issued) a ruling
> that a convert cannot be president of an affiliated Young Israel
> congregation, but has provided minimal justification.
> What is the halachic basis for this ruling? Are there responsa that
> support such a seemingly convert-unfriendly attitude when halacha
> generally shows great sensitivity to the feelings of converts?

The sources seem ambivalent about converts, being generally welcoming,
but not going out of the way to sign them up.

Being a convert myself, I am a little sensitive to this issue. I've held
leadership positions within the synagogue, but I remember my
Father-in-Law of blessed memory telling me once, "You'll never be
President". While he loved me, he knew the congregation would not sit
still for a convert as president.

I've noticed an attitude of seeing converts as "from amongst the
Egyptians" those "hangers-on" who left Egypt with the Jews during the
Exodus [1]. These calculating Egyptians fooled the Jewish people into
worshipping the Golden Calf and caused other mischief [2]. Never being
sincere converts, they were relegated to water carriers and wood
gatherers [3]... not leadership positions.

Last Friday a charadi rabbi came to visit me since he knows I am
handicapped and cannot get out. He is a kind and gentle man and we
discuss many things. Somehow the subject of converts came up and he
expressed the opinion that converts often fall away from proper Jewish
practice. He has told me in the past that many potential converts come
to his classes and he finds this distressing, seeing their participation
as a total waste of his time. It seemed almost a hurtful comment,
totally out of character for the type of man he is.

I pointed out that the Egyptian princess [4] who found that baby
floating in a basket amongst the reeds, "drew the baby out" and named
him "Moses" was later a convert to Judaism. Was she not a good convert?
He agreed that she was a good convert. And what about Yitro (Jethro)
[5], and Moses' wife, Ziporah (the Cushite woman) [6]? I pointed out
that many of the born-Jews that he inspires to become observant will
lose some of their enthusiasm over time and will fall away to a less
than perfect observance. That says something about human nature but it
says nothing about converts especially.

I recall it is a Kabbalistic goal to create one day of perfect
observance by the people, so adding converts simply increases the
task. But giving birth to Jewish children also increases the task. The
folks who object to conversions on the basis that it makes for more
work, usually do not object to Jewish births which also increase their

There is an attitude (mostly amongst the ignorant) that only a fool
would choose to be a Jew and if someone actually chose Judaism, they
must be ipso facto, not worthy. This view sees Judaism as an affliction
of birth... somewhat like the "Original Sin" idea that Catholics promote
[7]. While a potential convert should be told that being a Jew can be
tough, if he agrees to become a Jew despite this, we are to rejoice! He
is not a fool!

Another attitude, based on a reasonable concern, is that while a convert
is filled with a sincere desire to arrange his life as a Jew today,
perhaps he will be inspired to change again. In other words, if a guy
can have his head turned by Judaism, perhaps his head turns
easily. Thus, how reliable can he be? Like trust, there is no way to
answer this question other than over time.

By his actions over time, a convert proves his worth. But when it comes
to being a synagogue president, isn't this also true? We don't throw any
Jew into the position but rather we choose a Jew who is worthy. I have
known synagogue presidents who have not been up to the task. They were
sincere, but sincerity wasn't enough. It takes some ability and not
every Jew is endowed with ability. So if we add to our criteria:
ability, then one's status as a convert becomes irrelevant.

As a convert I can never be a cohen (a priest) [8]. Because I am
crippled, I am excused from walking to the Temple to offer a sacrifice
[9]. I accept these restrictions as G-d's law. I pledged to follow G-d's
law whether I understand it all or not. In fact it was assumed that I
did not understand it all but I was willing to follow it and gain better
understanding later [10]. "I will do and I will hear." [11] And even if
I become an apostate, I will remain a Jew [12].

We are commanded not to draw attention to the convert's status. We are
not to remind them that they once were idol worshippers (if they were)
[13]. Why command Jews this way unless we are prone draw attention to
converts and to harp on a convert's former state of mind? When I pray, I
pray as a Jew. I pray for my people, the Jewish people. When we pray
that "we stood at Mount Sinai", I can say "we" rather than "you". [14] I
have been adopted into the tribe. In some instances we are allowed to
take into account the fact that a Jew was a convert such as for the
marriage of a cohen [15]. But other than dealings with the priestly
order, I don't see what restrictions there could be for a convert on a
halakhic basis.

I love my fellow Jews but I am not a Jew because I love my fellow
Jews. I am a Jew because G-d is my Master and He directs me to be a
Jew. So I will remain a Jew whether you make me president or not,
whether you love me or not, whether you accept me or not. I will live
with you. I will suffer with you. I will die with you. It is a promise
stronger than death.

Alex Herrera (Ashkenazi convert)

References (I looked these up mostly in secondary sources. I provide
them for further reading and not as proof texts.):

[1] Exodus 12:38 "And a mixed multitude went up also with them..."
[2] Exodus 32:1 "...the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron..."
[3] Deuteronomy 29:10 "...the stranger ... from the hewer of your wood to the drawer of your water;
[4] Exodus 2:10 "...unto Pharaoh's daughter, and he became her son."
[5] Exodus 18:5, "And Jethro...came... unto Moses into the wilderness..."
[6] Numbers 12:1, "...the Cushite woman whom he married..." 
[7] See Psalm 51 and you can figure out where Catholics got this idea.
[8] This is logical. A convert is like a newborn with no parents (Bavli Yevamot 48b) and therefore, the required priestly parentage is missing. A adoptive child (of a gentile mother) to a cohen does not gain the cohen's status. (To Be a Jew, p. 281).   
[9] I remember this restriction from my Daf Yomi study but I cannot provide a citation. The discussion was about a child who must be carried to the Temple because he cannot walkת the crippled and unusually small people.
[10] Mishnah Torah, Book Five (Holiness), 14:2, "... then he should be told, though not at great length..." 
[11] Exodus 24:7, "All that God has spoken, we will do and we will hear." 
[12] (Yoreh De'ah 268:2, 12) An apostate convert remains a Jew. He cannot annul.
[13] Mishnah Torah, Book Twelve (Acquisitions), 14:13, ""one must not say to him 'Remember your former deeds.'"
[14] Maimonides "Letter to Obadiah the Proselyte".
[15] Even Ha-'era 6:8. A cohen is not permitted to marry a proselyte.  

From: Dr. Josh Backon <backon@...>
Date: Mon, 17 Dec 2007 17:21:40 +0200
Subject: Re: Convert as synagogue president

>The National Council of Young Israel has issued (or re-issued) a ruling
>that a convert cannot be president of an affiliated Young Israel
>congregation, but has provided minimal justification.
>What is the halachic basis for this ruling? Are there responsa that
>support such a seemingly convert-unfriendly attitude when halacha
>generally shows great sensitivity to the feelings of converts?

On the basis of the gemara in Yevamot 45b, Kiddushin 76b, and Yerushalmi
Kiddushin 4:5 (on the prohibition of having a king not of Jewish stock)
[see also Minchat Chinuch 498], the Rambam in Hilchot Melachim 1:4 rules
that a convert can have no "sherara" [authority] over a Jew and this is
also codified by the Beit Yosef TUR Yoreh Deah 269 and Beit Yosef TUR
Choshen Mishpat 7.

The term to be defined is "sherara". The Iggrot Moshe YD IV 26 has no
problem with a convert being a rosh yeshiva nor does the Tzitz Eliezer
XIX 47 on whether a convert can be a dayan.  The Encyclopedia Talmudit
Volume on "gabay tzedaka" does indicate that a convert shouldn't be a
gabay tzedaka (person responsible for disbursement of funds).

Dr. Josh Backon

From: Michael Frankel <michaeljfrankel@...>
Date: Mon, 17 Dec 2007 15:13:00 -0500
Subject: Re: Convert as synagogue president

The basis of their diktat is "sh'roroh" which geirim are not supposed
to exercise, so no convert kings.  in full apologetic mode, this might be
analogized to an american convert (i.e. an immigrant not born in-country)
not legally able to be run for president.  the apologetics by analogy
unfortunately don't cover the issur of women exercising sh'roroh as
well.  in halokhic practice however, this can be set aside in the face of
other considerations, such as "qabboloh" ^÷ the willing acceptance of
the governed, and thus d'vorah hann'vioh.

however the real halokhic weak point in applying this stricture here is
in the nature of the job. a shul president who has no authority to compel
compliance is not exactly a melekh.  some would actually require not only
the authority to compel, but also the power of life and death to
constitute "sh'roroh".  obviously different rabbonim may, depending on
whatever intangibles of education, predeliction, policy, etc that may
inform their individual halokhic instinct, might come up with very
different rulings.  

but as a resident of silver spring, you might be
interested/amused?/appalled?  to know that KMS gained at least one
family of yor'dim from another community over that precise issue. (well,
at least it was a contributing motivator).  some years back - it was
before everybody had caught on to the new program - the nominating
committee actually nominated someone of the female persuasion for vice
president.  higher spiritual authority quickly intervened in defense of
male sh'roroh, the nomination was withdrawn, ill feelings abounded, and
pretty soon the white oak golus asher b'kemp mill expanded yet again.

Mechy Frankel

From: Batya Medad <ybmedad@...>
Date: Mon, 17 Dec 2007 19:48:15 +0200
Subject: Re: Convert as synagogue president

Here in Shiloh, in the Ramat Shmuel Synagogue, we have a convert as a
gabbai.  Another convert had been on his Chevra Kadisha in chutz
l'Aretz.  It's it a mitzvah not to remind converts of their past?



End of Volume 56 Issue 2