Lookstein On Conversion
Debra Nussbaum Cohen?s article on ?A Conversion Critique From Within? (March 7) reported my phone interview with her accurately with the exception of two matters. The first was her opening paragraph that identified me correctly as the spiritual leader of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun but added incorrectly, ?and recently retired head of the Ramaz Jewish day schools.? I am still the principal of Ramaz, although the head of school is the extremely talented and effective Judith Fagin. My role in the school continues to be a very active one in both title and function.
The second inaccuracy is more substantive. The article reported that I said that ?converting an adopted child under the new RCA guidelines requires a commitment to ?12 years of Orthodox day school education for that child, something Rabbi Lookstein finds too strict.? I do not find that too strict.
In fact, the commitment of the adopting parents to give their child a day school education is precisely the requirement upon which I insist. I try to encourage the family to observe Shabbat, kashrut and as much of Jewish religious practice as possible but the minimum requirement is a commitment to a day school education. This is the published view of the late Rabbi Moshe Feinstein in his responsa and it was also the instructions conveyed to me by my teacher, the late Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveichik. That is the fallback position for converting an adopted child where the family itself is not observant. The new guidelines require much more than that commitment.
I am very disturbed at the situation that has developed whereby rabbis of the unquestioned halachic stature of Marc Angel and Avi Weiss may no longer be considered eligible to serve on a Bet Din in the new system because they disagree with the new requirements. If we are questioning the work of such outstanding and clearly halachically committed rabbis, what has been achieved here? And will I be the next to be excluded because I find the new guidelines to be much stricter and more excluding than my own rabbinic teacher taught? Maybe some people in the RCA and in the Chief Rabbinate?s office in Israel are happy with the new system; I am sad.
Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun
Principal, Ramaz School