Q. What is your view of the current conversion controversy in Israel?*
Converts who entered Judaism in good faith and under the aegis of impeccable rabbinical authorities do not deserve to have their whole lives shattered. I know so many who have become immense assets to Judaism and the Jewish people and I would prefer to say “Well done” to the rabbis who converted them.
There is an excellent book by Rabbi Marc Angel of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in New York in which he analyses the requirement of kabbalat ha-mitzvot – a convert’s solemn acceptance of the commandments – and I would only say that converts who earnestly maintain this commitment are to be loved and praised. A few unfortunately give the majority a bad name when they make a commitment which they do not entirely mean.
The rule as codified by Maimonides (Issurei Bi’ah 13:14-18) is that if a person is seen to have reverted to paganism we need an investigation to see if they were validly converted.
In today’s world the term is not paganism but we understand what the sages were talking about when they spoke of a convert backsliding, though such cases are not automatically the rabbi’s fault.
In my own case, I have never personally converted anyone. I was a member of a Beth Din which carried out conversions, and I always feared that someone would let us down. I think the majority remained faithful and I am proud of them.
* This article first appeared in 2008.