When the prospective converts I know heard that Jose Portuondo-Wilson (“Orthodox Convert Fights for Recognition”, October 5, The Jerusalem Post) was denied his right as an Orthodox convert to make aliya to Israel, they started rethinking their conversions. These converts scrambled yet again to find organizations to vet their baatei din (rabbinical courts). Was their beit din and the rabbis on board Orthodox and Jewish enough for Israel, they wanted to know.
They weren’t the only ones scrambling. I had scrambled once to figure out if my rabbi, Haskel Lookstein, was okay by Israeli standards. I found myself scrambling again.
Converts, prospective and past, are still struggling with the question of whether they will be “kosher” enough after conversion. And if they troll online late at night to find lists of recognized rabbis and recognized baatei din, they’ll find that all signs seem to point to one thing. Convert haredi and your conversion will almost be assured to be “kosher” enough for the Israeli rabbinate.
So what does that mean for the Modern Orthodox convert like me? I remember being pressured to convert through a haredi beit din while I attended a haredi conversion school in Israel. The headmistress didn’t think that Modern Orthodox conversion was my best option. I found myself emailing back and forth with my Modern Orthodox rabbi in New York, utterly unsure as to what decision to make. In the end, I decided to stick with my rabbi. But if I almost turned away from a Modern Orthodox rabbi I loved, what will stop converts with less fulfilling relationships from turning away from conversions done by Modern Orthodox rabbis that might not hold up here in America or in Israel? Will they decide that Modern Orthodoxy, as it seems the Israeli rabbinate has, isn’t Orthodox enough for Israel?
ONE CONVERT from my online support group for converts repeatedly told other frantic converts that no conversion is 100% accepted everywhere. But when these converts decided to convert Orthodox, didn’t they in fact choose that route because they thought they were assured automatic acceptance everywhere in the Jewish world? They thought, as I presumed, that Orthodox conversions were kosher everywhere. But now even Orthodox conversion isn’t sacrosanct.
But what of the new RCA standards, you wonder, the ones that should streamline the path through which new converts are accepted by the Israeli Rabbinate. The new RCA standards seem to affect only present and future conversions. No one is talking about (until the Jerusalem Post article) all the conversions performed BEFORE these new guidelines. No one is talking about the red tape my grandchildren might confront when they try to make aliya or marry in Israel because my conversion was performed before the new RCA standards were issued to Modern Orthodox rabbis.
Meanwhile, for the past two years, my mother-in-law and her brother haven’t spoken because he, living in Israel, doesn’t think my Orthodox conversion was performed by the right rabbi. He’s not quite sure I’m Jewish enough to be married to his nephew. My conversion rabbi wasn’t on the approved lists he was looking at in Israel. When this soundbite came up at a Sukkot meal, an appalled friend asked, “There are people who doubt your ORTHODOX conversion?” As I nodded, I thought not of myself but of all the prospective converts who have been scared away by the latest news in Orthodox conversion. While I hadn’t acted as they did, I understood them.
Isn’t all this news just a slap in the face to all converts? A sign that they’ll never be truly accepted among the chosen people?
And then there are the converts who are meeting with rabbis right now. They’re telling themselves that they might not be ready for haredi standards. That they can fake their commitment to haredi values. That they’ll do and say anything as long as they can get that conversion that’s almost 100% approved everywhere. Their conversions to Judaism will not be the inspiring, spiritual experiences that I and other converts have had. Instead, their conversions will become nothing more than a desperate search for approval.
(Tags: Israel, Converts, Orthodox)