Sunday, January 10, 2010

How geirus should be fixed

I think the bigger problem is that no one ever stopped to say, "who the hell is this Tropper guy and why is he doing this?"

I think people are impressed by Rabbi Reuven Feinstein. It's important to remember this is not R. Moshe Feinstein and being his relative doesn't make him such. He's acting like an @$$ with no judgement by associating with that org.

They could centralize it in such a way that it wouldn't be corrupt. What they should do, but, the reality is they don't care, follows.

As already on the RCA protocols, regions would be created. Each region would have a beis din set up. I would make a beis din for EACH boro, another for just upstate whatever those counties are, another for NJ North, NJ South.... you get the idea... I would say that a Chabad beis din could be set up in Crown Heights and they would not be permitted to use their own regional beis din but they would go through that system.

They should create workshops from the veteran conversion rabbis for rabbis to take if they want to do a conversion. The rabbis would get a certificate or be put on a list to indicate that they had studied conversion with the beis din. The veteran rabbis (who would likely also be the dayanim for the regional baytai dayanim) would also make themselves available for questions to rabbis who had not sponsored m/any candidates before, these new sponsor rabbis. In fact, they should constantly check in with the new sponsors. Women teachers could also obtain these certificates qualifying them to tutor or teach classes. It would be at the discretion of the beis din if a woman had enough Jewish education to take this certification or she needs more study first.

The baytai dayanim could also sponsor workshops for members of the community interested and willing to have candidates over for Shabbos. This would provide a network of secondary support for rabbis who are sponsoring candidates so that they would have somewhere to send them for Shabbosos. These community members would be made aware of things like: you are not supposed to set up preconverts, don't ask them where they are in their process, there is no concrete answer to this question for a candidate, mevushal wine and so on....

In this manner, there would be a balance between the power of the local rabbi and the local beis din. I also think that they could then be practical and have classes set up by the beis din. Each rabbi who is currently sponsoring at least one person would be required to teach X number of classes for the beis din. Any other certificate holder in the community could volunteer to teach a section or more. They would put all these teachers together and have a giant class somewhat like they do at OZ. It would actually be more efficient though, because besides taking the class, the candidate would have a sponsor (whereas OZ has about 60 people in that class and they all have the same rabbi) they are specifically working with. The sponsor would decide when to take a candidate to the beis din. As is the case now, the baytai dayanim would pretty much accept the sponsors recommendation.

Candidates could shop around at different sponsors but, not baytai dayanim.

Because these are all rabbis from the same community who already know each other or will in this process end up getting to know each other, there would be a big difference from what EJF was doing. The biggest problem in gerim is that half the sponsoring rabbis don't know what they hell they are doing and no one so much as encourages them to ask. There is nothing to train them to do geirus and there's no system that pressures them to go and ask a veteran conversion sponsor. Also, if a system like this was set up, Tropper would never have his way. He wasn't a geirus rabbi. He was self-proclaimed.


  1. Later on tonight I'll pick this apart more and say why this isn't what anyone is doing. It is, however, a collection of what is being done in some different places.

  2. beit din/beis din...plural is batei din. ;-)

  3. Michal why do you think גרים themselves aren't being invited to help fix this?

  4. Daniel ben Avraham (Are you the one I know? Who lives somewhere around here?)

    I think no one cares. That's what I think. I think the rabbis are busy with their own lives and I don't think they want to create a better system, even though everyone pisses and whines about all these (supposedly Orthodox FFB) Jewish men who go out and find a non-Jew and bring them in for conversion. However, no one of substance cares enough to rock the boat and the rabbis have better things to do. If Tropper had done this because he cared, then he would have tried to work with the existing systems not pull what he pulled.

    Furthermore, his standards WEREN'T higher. They really weren't/aren't. His people don't even have a sponsoring rabbi. They work with a married lady over the phone who doesn't even live in their community. We had one of their gerim in the community who attended the Chabad shul. The Chabad rabbi profusely expressed that he was not her rabbi, she just attended his shul. Well, she converted and then walked away from the community-jumped ship. She got her papers and that was it. She would come to shul, return calls or Emails to anyone, not the rabbi, not even me-a candidate. What she hoped to accomplish with this? I'm not sure. Perhaps, she was converting for marriage and no knew or maybe they knew. I don't know too many details. The system that Tropper sticks his nose up at, it would be much harder for this to happen.

  5. Tropper looked the part and got some R. Reuven Feinstein on his side. He didn't do this for the community, though. I think more than for money, he wanted to feel important. Listen to those tapes and read enough about him, if you have any lick of intuition or binah, if you will, you will see it RIGHT AWAY.

  6. As to why gerim aren't invited to fix the problem: in this case, why are they especially qualified? If the problem is one of organization, anyone can fix that in theory. If the problem has halachic subtleties, then a ger who is a talmid hacham could contribute - but no more than anyone else.

    As for 'the rabbanim don't care' - this is patently untrue. Conversion and its many ramifications and proper treatment of candidates and standards and autonomy of local rabbanim, and...has been discussed and debated an awful lot the last few decades. Not always in the public eye; but a hot topic nonetheless. Some rabbanim, like Rav Marc Angel, speak out publicly. Some just work away quietly trying to do the right thing. Conversion is a much bigger scale issue now than anytime in our history, and I suspect that is part of the difficulty reaching some sort of consensus, or accommodation, or even simple cooperation. Then, of course, there is the fairly obvious role of religious politics in the whole mess.

    What is so sad is that the people who really suffer for all this are the converts and the potential converts, even if we just discount all the ones who seem insincere or uninterested in a real commitment to Torah.

  7. "why are they especially qualified? If the problem is one of organization, anyone can fix that in theory. If the problem has halachic subtleties, then a ger who is a talmid hacham could contribute - but no more than anyone else."

    I don't know. I think some of us, because of our vested interests, are extremely aware of a lot of things going on that the rabbis may not be. I also think a sincere convert has an incentive to care. Having gone through the process, we may be able to see if it could have been more efficient.

    For me, when I started my Yahoo group after my conversion, I got some ed-juh-mah-kay-shun on what is going through some of the other conversion candidate's minds. Because I wasn't a rabbi, I was asked questions that someone wouldn't have asked a rabbi or rebbetzin. After all that, then I felt that rabbis are converting a little too easy and not looking at the right stuff. They held me up. I still don't see why my first rabbi met with me for less than an hour TOTAL in our ten or so meetings in that first year. I speak to others and their rabbis would meet with them once a week for like 15 minutes... AN HOUR. Even the Av BD in Manhattan meets with you for at least an hour, at least once.

  8. Perhaps, being fresh out my management class where the management mentality we learned was to constantly review the organization structure and see if it can be tweaked... I suppose you're right, it's just another restructuring. We learned in the class that restructuring is very difficult because of organization inertia. People are set in their ways.

    I think this applies here, as well. While they claim they want change and the system isn't good enough, really these old rabbis are set in their ways and you know... let someone else change things... after they retire and they'll be happy for them.

  9. "these old rabbis are set in their ways..."

    And yet, you don't know rabbanim like the rav who one night collapsed by the door of his shul in tears because he couldn't think of any other ways to help a couple who would not take even the minimal steps he had to require of them; yet he hated to see their families and communities in pain.

    You don't know about the rav who was haunted for months (still is, years later) by the reaction of the young person about to get married whom he had to tell their conversion upon adoption was bogus. All their life they thought of themselves as a Jew, even if not religious. He took away their whole identity; but couldn't falsify the halachah, either.

    You don't know the rabbanim who have done perfectly good conversions and then fight to convince other rabbanim (like in aml's story) that their congregants are kosher committed Jews.

    You don't know some of the rabbanim who do good conversions without crazy requirements (belief in a young universe) and are then publicly excoriated and quietly continue to do the right thing day after day, year after year, decade after decade.

    Yes, some things are broken; but you aren't seeing or taking into account the battles that many rabbanim have been fighting for decades- with their colleagues, with their congregations, with their own feelings and wishes that they could do something more.

    As for more managment class, I've taken those as well. They don't make me an experienced, qualified administrator. Don't let a few college courses go too much to your head. What's more, for all of our history there hasn't been a 'system' to manage. As I noted earlier, conversion has never been done on these large scales and creating halachic agreement for history isn't a simple, quick proposition.

    I absolutely agree that gerim can contribute insights about the experience. They would best do that directly as support for others, but rabbanim have been listening over the years as evidenced in the writings of Rav Leifland, Rav Lamm, or Rav Bomzer.

    I am all for improving things, starting with greater respect for the various and varied rabbanim and gerim involved, and not requiring lockstep adherence to one demagogue's way of doing things. But I think some of your choice of words displays a distinct and general disrespect for the very rabbanim who you need to learn from, and who have been fighting for gerim since before you were born. Don't spout disrespect out of frustration in public forum; go to the local rabbanim and offer your insight.

    Maybe call up Rabbi M. Angel or Rabbi H. Bomzer and get and appointment and have a heart to heart talk. It could do you good, and they are in the general NY area.

  10. The Curmudgeonly Israeli Giyoret says:

    "If the problem has halachic subtleties, then a ger who is a talmid hacham could contribute - but no more than anyone else."

    By the way, any reasonably literate ger (or anyone else concerned with the issue) would do well to download Rav Aharon Rakeffet's excellent and comprehensive series of shiurim of the history of conversion in halakha. It's a lot of hours, but it truly puts everything in perspective. And Rav Rakeffet never changes the names to protect the guilty. This series, available at no financial cost, is well worth the investment in time and effort. For the first time, I finally had an understanding of my own giyur as a personal and historical process. It wasn't just my history, it was where I fit in to the whole.

    Sunlight is truly the best disenfectant.

  11. The Curmudgeonly Israeli Giyoret says:

    I am having trouble narrowing it down to the particular series of shiurim on the history of shailot u-tshuvot on gairut, but it's somewhere in here.

  12. I fear that building a "centralised system" would add one more system to the confusion already existing. Furthermore, I fear that a centralised body would be more corrupt (as is the case with the "state" rabbinate in Israel), because it would accumulate too much power.

    Furthermore, there is a lot of demand for Giurim in smaller communities or even towns where there is no (orthodox) community at all.

  13. PS: There is a genuine halachic problem with Giurim, i.e. that they are only valid if they are sincere...

    It is very complicated to navigate around the problem...

  14. Absolute power corrupts... ABSOLUTELY!