Challenges letter

Challenges letter

In a letter last week, Rabbi Stephen Lerner argues that whereas Orthodox conversions are sometimes invalidated by extremists in the Orthodox rabbinical establishment in Israel, Conservative conversions “do find acceptance in Israel.” Rabbi Lerner’s letter needs to be parsed carefully and is potentially confusing because it mixes halachic acceptability with certification by the Ministry of Interior. The Israeli rabbinate does not accept any Conservative conversions, not Rabbi Lerner’s and not any others. The fact that the rabbinate questions only certain Orthodox conversions does not mean that it tacitly accepts Rabbi Lerner’s conversions. It does not question them because it does not consider them valid at all.

Rabbi Lerner’s anecdote is also misleading. Once again he mixes halachic acceptability with qualification under the Law of Return. Had the woman in his anecdote applied to the Ministry of Religion with an Orthodox conversion, she would have been deemed acceptable. I imagine the Masorti rabbi to whom she turned would also have accepted an Orthodox conversion. The issue was the halachic validity of the bet din to whom she had turned.

The point argued here is not whether Rabbi Lerner adheres to halacha but whether his letter is potentially confusing. If readers are under the impression that Rabbi Lerner’s conversions carry more weight in Israel than Orthodox conversions, they are sadly mistaken.

Finally, Rabbi Lerner argues that all Conservative conversions are halachic. This statement is not only misleading but inaccurate. To make blanket statements about any movement, Conservative or Orthodox, is unwarranted by the facts.