Rav Herschel Schechter on Conversion
“From a long and very interesting interview with rabbi Hershel Schechter (if you don’t know who he is, click here), I picked a couple of paragraphs. Not all of them will be clear to those who weren’t following all recent conversion wars closely. But if you find this topic to be as interesting and as important as I do, spending time understanding Schachter’s viewpoint will not a waste of time. The interview in full is here. The paragraphs I chose to highlight here:
Do you agree with R. Sherman’s application of that halakhah
vis-à-vis R. Druckman?
I happen to be very friendly with R. Druckman, but I don’t understand
why he got involved in gerus. I understand the government
appointed him, but why did he accept? It’s not his field. It’s like them
asking me to be in charge of spaceships; it’s not my field! He’s not in
the area of pesak Halakhah. He’s a wonderful rabbi but he’s not
really involved in the area of pesak Halakhah. I think it’s take
a shande (actually outrageous) if it’s true that he was mekabbel
gerim without kabbalas ol mitsvos. That’s scandalous. R.
[Joseph B.] Soloveitchik, R. Moshe Feinstein, and R. Chayyim Ozer all
read the Rambam the same way.
Is there more room for pushing to convert people who have a Jewish
father, despite the fact that this does not count for Jewish identity
in the formal and halakhic sense?
R. Marc Angel quotes something like that in the name of R. Uzziel,
but I personally find it very difficult. I find that R. Uzziel’s teshuvos
differ significantly from standard classical teshuvos, and many
of the things he says I don’t understand.
What is your opinion about the retroactive cancellation of
conversion (bittul gerut), such as was done in Israel after a
woman practiced as a Jew for 15 years? Is retroactive cancellation of
conversions halakhically problematic?
What do you mean ‘mevattel‘ (cancel)? You can’t be mevattel
gerus. They just said that the beis din was pasul –
we do that all the time. If a Conservative beis din did the
conversion, we are ‘mevattel‘ it. Why were they mevattel her
gerus? They just investigated all of R. Druckman’s conversions
because of this case and then they were mevattel them. We know
this R. Sherman [who was responsible for canceling the conversion in the
case above]. He was here in Yeshiva for, I think, 2 or 3 months. He was
giving shi’urim in the Kollel a little bit. He is a
brother-in-law of R. Kook from Rehovot and he’s very sweet. This is not
him. This doesn’t fit with his personality. Someone else must have wound
him up and written that teshuvah; it’s a very poorly written
essay and so repetitive – it must be 25 pages long! Terrible, terrible.
That’s the way they always write things there? Someone else wrote that,
he didn’t write that. Shechinah medabberes mi-toch gerono (lit.
the Heavenly presence is speaking through his mouth). It’s clear he
didn’t write that.
What do you believe Israel’s Law of Return should be based on?
Should it be based on halakhic Jewishness, having some degree of Jewish
blood, feeling connected o the Jewish nation or some combination of
There is only one conception of Jewishness. Erets Yisrael doesn’t
belong to the non-Jews. Erets Yisrael belongs to the Jewish people and
the Jewish people are those who are Jewish. R. Soloveitchik said gerus
is a halachic concept and there is no reason to introduce a halachic
principle like this into the law.? Gerus is a halachah – if what
is happening in battei din today doesn’t correspond to Halachah,
then there’s no such concept of gerus, period.
(Via Rosner’s Domain.)