Thursday, January 29, 2009

Guest Poster: B'nai Avraham v'Sarah: So You're Kosher But Not Glatt Kosher?

This was originally posted by Austin C. Moore on his Facebook page. He is a Conservative convert. Although, he seems to be more (Moore... haha) observant than many people who call themselves Orthodox.

Vayikra 19:33: "You (plural) shall not oppress the convert in your land."
Vayikra 19:17 - "You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your fellow, but you shall not bear a sin on his account."
Judaism has never been monolithic and homogenous, it has always been evolutionary. At one time Rabbinnic Judaism was the greatest heresy of its day. It had Sages who were brilliant. When did we stop. The transmission of law at Sinai did not stop in the generation of the Sages for every generation possesses capable Sages. The Torah was not given to the Haredim, but to all Israel.

Unfortunately, many use the Torah to divide rather than unify. Many have built fences not only around the Torah, but also around the synagogue. What happened to ahavat yisrael and klal yisrael? The fact remains that Judaism is larger than the Haredim, and their face is not the only face to Judaism. Their definitions are not the exclusive authoritative position on all things Jewish, or even halacha. (I think I just signed my warrant for gehinnom).

Many in the Orthodox Community act as if there is one brand of Judaism. Has there ever been one form of Judaism? We have been stratified by tribes. We had the Sadducees, Pharisees, and Essenes. We had Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel. Even the Talmud includes minority opinions of the Rabbis! If we are supposed to brand those in the minority opinion as heretics, why does our Oral Torah include dissenting opinions?!?! At one point there was the mitnagdim and Hasidim. Was either more or less "Jewish" than the other? No. Look at the Sephardim and Ashkenazim? Which is more authentic Judaism? Neither.

Our Tradition teaches shivim panim, that the Torah can be read from seventy differently but equally meaningful perspectives. What happened to pluralism in Judaic thought? Which is correct: tucking in your tzitzit or wearing them out? Should you eat kosher or glatt kosher?

Placing those in cherem who cling to different beliefs is the antithesis of Torah. We can hold different beliefs and interpretations and remain faithful Jews. However, this Haredi alienation exists for those who challenge the religious authority of the generation, the self-proclaimed arbiter of what is Jewish. The words of the liberal Rabbis in the Torah who challenged the authority in their day are now cited to brand Jews as apikorsim. The words of yesterdays "heretics" are used to brand proponents of unpopular Jewish positions today as heretics. Is this not irony? Rabbi Helen Bar-Yaacov has a humorous adage, "Those who are less religious than me are heretics. Those who are more religious than me are fanatics."

Does having the longest payes or the blackest coat make you a "pious" Jew? What use is putting on a tallit if you slander your neighbor? Why do the Haredim defend the Iowa slaughterhouses as ritually kosher while the the meat was ethically trayf, and employees were mistreated. The Haredim have become so entrenched in ritual mitzvot that they trangress ethical mitzvot regarding gerim. They accuse progressive Jews of picking and choosing mitzvot and Torah when they largely engage in the same practice, but they are Orthodox so they define what is right and wrong.

We ask the age old question, "Who Is A Jew?" I doubt the Haredim today would accept Ruth's conversion if she appeared before them to marry in Israel today! Will the Moshiach ben David be "halachically" Jewish by Israeli Orthodox standards? The Israeli Supreme Court would probably insist on a pro forma conversion, "just to be sure." And he will have to undergo both Sephardic and Ashkenazic conversions just as the Ethiopian Jews to be fully accepted as Jews. Or yet a better scenario: The Chief Rabbi would ask, "Adon Ben David, can you present Ruth's conversion certificate?" Mr. Ben David presents it. The Chief Rabbi responds, "I'm sorry, but the rabbis on the Beth Din are not recognized by the Israeli Rabbinate, Mr. Ben David." Oy Gevalt!

Recently, more than 1,000 of Rabbi Haim Druckman's conversion were nullified. Is there even a halachic precedent for nullifying a conversion? I can think of innumerable halachic problems nullifying a conversion can bring.

The Israeli Rabbinical Court has a list of less than 100 rabbis (not all of whom are living) whose converts they will accept. Israel will not even accept the Beth Din of America's converts anymore! This is such a slap in the face to the American Orthodox Community. What makes Israeli Orthodox Judaism superior? When will the Orthodox Community be on the same page? I thought these are the same people who said there is one Torah, one opinion, one authority, and one halacha. Well, then why are they all on a different page. They must have invalidated their premise that Judaism, even Orthodoxy, is homogenous.

It is expected that the Orthodox will not accept Reform and Conservative conversions. The same arguments they used against Reform and Conservative rabbis are now being used internally against their own Orthodox rabbis. When does this madness and mockery of Torah end?

The fact remains that there is no such thing as a universal conversion even in the Orthodox world. You may be accepted in America, but not in Israel. You may be accepted by Breslov, but not Lubavitch. You may be accepted by the Ashkenazim, but not the Sephardim. The thing is that you're kosher, but you're not glatt kosher. I don't eat glatt kosher, so being merely kosher has always been good enough for me!
For more information on the Division Between American Orthodoxy and Israeli Orthodoxy:
Here is a Conservative responsa regarding the annulment of conversions:
For more on conversions:


  1. Friend, sorry to rock your boat but that's nonsense. All Jews regardless of affiliation recognize an orthodox conversion done according to halacha. Lubavitchers ALWAYS accept Breslov converts. Sephardim ALWAYS accept Ashkenazi (orthodox) converts. And the Israeli thing is purely politics. The Jewish groups, regardless of affiliation, as opposed to the government, all recognize all orthodox conversions.

    I encourage you to join the Jewish world. And not just a group of people playing make believe.

  2. So, you agree with this guy? This Conservative fellow is more religious, and follows halacha more than his orthodox counterparts? If I recall correctly, Conservative Jews don't believe that Hashem wrote the Torah (to be more specific, dictated it to Moshe). That doesn't sound very orthodox to me. If I don't believe that it's the word of G-d, which is a fundamental tenet of Orthodox Judaism, why am I following it at all?

    Next point. He says that we've always had many sub-divisions within Judaism: Sadducees, Pharisees, and Essenes. Of those three, how many were considered heretical by what we would call today Orthodox Jews? Two, The Sadducees and the Essenes both don't believe in what we consider obvious truths. Just out of curiosity, did you do any research into what he said, or did you just read it, nod your head, and post it? Even with the Orthodox Jewish Community's faults, we aren't by definition heretics.

  3. I never responded to Menashe.
    No, actually, it's not true that everyone accepts all Orthodox conversions. There's the battle between the RCA and EJF. They don't accept each other. England/Great Britain doesn't accept conversions from anywhere but England. Read VERY CAREFULLY, England does not accept conversions from anywhere BUT England. They do not accept conversions done in Israel. I believe Australia accepts Australia and England. The Dutch rabbis are picky, too.

    The funny thing is that conversion in Israel is incredibly hard if you don't have a Jewish father, grandfather, spouse or previous conversion under non-Orthodox auspices. If however, you had any of these grounds for Aliyah in the first place, then they basically just sign off on you.

    I'm curious what background you have on this issue. It seems to me you aren't as knowledge-able as a convert or conversion rabbi.

  4. Shocked,
    Yes, I agree with him. I know far too many "Orthodox" people who don't keep the mitzvos. Actually, you are not recalling correctly. They believe the Torah comes from Hashem. However, they believe that the delay before the oral law was written down might have caused some distortion. Actually, that's not so outlandish, as the oral law contains rabbis arguring over the right or wrong way to do something. If you know what you are supposed to believe as an Orthodox Jew, you will know that you are supposed to believe that the oral law was transmitted and stayed intact to the exact same degree as the written Torah. Based on all the opinions throughout the oral law, I see that maybe this is not word for word what Moshe was told my Hashem.

    It is so very unfortunate what I see in the conversion world and amongst people working in Kiruv. They really do lower the standards for those with heritage or intermarriage/intermarriage threat. They tell you they will drop you from conversion if you get caught dating. However, it seems to me that those who date and find someone are suddenly converted.

    Then again, maybe I'm just bitter because the standards weren't lowered for me. If they had been, maybe I would have had a different opinion.

  5. Hmmm... I've done my fair share of research into the various sects of Judaism, and I believe that you are the one who's recalling incorrectly. I've attached two websites. The first says that Conservative Jews are 'unsure' of who wrote the Torah, but it was definitely edited by humans. This is not talking about the oral law, but the Torah itself. The second article says that Conservative Rabbis agree that there are some untruths in the Torah. Yet, they believe that the Torah comes from Hashem??

    Moving on to your next point. You seemed to contradict yourself. I'm 'supposed to believe that the oral law was transmitted and stayed intact to the exact same degree as the written Torah.' Yet in the next sentence you say, 'Based on all the opinions throughout the oral law, I see that maybe this is not word for word what Moshe was told my[by] Hashem.' Which one is it? Is it the exact same or is it not? What do you believe? You must have heard the expression "Eilu v'eilu divei Elokim chaim" (these and these are the words of the living G-d). Well, that would explain how there were disagreements amongst the rabbis in the oral law. But I may very well have missed your point because you didn't say it very explicitly.

    By the way, you didn't respond to the second half of my previous comment. :)

  6. I think the point is that frequently you hear Orthodox say, we're the ones that have always existed. This is a false statement. Orthodoxy has evolved but, they act like it hasn't. When I tell the bubbies and zaidies some of the stuff like water has to have a hecsher, they start screaming about how their family is rabbinic all the way back and this is new schtus they are coming up with. One person who's converting actually thinks there's a Jewish law requiring black and white clothes. The chasidim didn't even always exist. In fact, THEY were considered heretical when they first came out.

    My understanding is that Othodox believe the Torah was transmitted by Hashem at sinai, as do the Conservative Jews. The difference is that the Conservatives believe that the law can be adapted. The Orthodox claim the law can't be adapted. However, they have no problem creating chumros which they later state that everyone has to follow.

    The differences that most people are upset about involve women rabbis, women holding Torahs, women chazzans, men and women sitting together and ordination of gays.

    Doctrineally, Conservatives acknowledge that the Torah has human influence. The rabbis influence on the law is noticeable in the Talmud. However, personally, I think the written Torah was kept in tact. However, I don't see how people can think the Talmud wasn't influenced by the rabbis when it's nothing more than a dialogue between the rabbis. Personally, I don't like men staring at me, so I like my mechitzah, so I'm staying Orthodox.