I am torn by the conversion mess going on in Israel. I’m split in two; I don’t like what has happened on either side. I’m sure people here in town want me to speak about it from the pulpit, but I don’t know that I could say anything coherent, I have such distaste for what has happened in both camps.
1) R’ Shirman’s screed disqualifying R’ Druckman’s conversions is one problem.
The decision itself, with its logic, doesn’t strike me as particularly compelling, certainly not as a justification of such a radical move. Disqualifying a judge because in converting people inappropriately he creates a stumbling block… there are numerous halachic objections to this logic, and to the other arguments summoned in the decision. (And who, exactly, is the שו"ת בית פלוני? I have to look that up.)
2) The language used in R' Shirman's decision is disgusting, entirely inappropriate; scandalous chillul HaShem, to call it for what it is.
3) On the other hand, I have real problems with some of the justifications for the practices of R’ Druckman’s office:
3a) First, I don’t understand the justification for signing conversion certificates when you were not at the conversion. Even if the document is purely adminisrative and not part of the ritual of גירות, why sign the paper at all? (You can find R' Druckman's justification for one case here.)
3b) Second, I can’t understand how so many thousands of גרים were processed so quickly. Did they even have time to inform the גרים of the “light and severe mitzvot,” of which they are supposed to be informed? I have heard conflicting first-hand reports (!) on this.
3c) Third, I have a problem with a system that manufactures so many Jews who do not observe mitzvot. Yes, I agree that a גר is a גר, a convert is a convert, so long as (s)he accepted the legitimacy and binding character of Torah at the term of conversion, regardless of subsequent behavior. But how do you put in place a system which will mass-produce Jews who will not practice? Even if your rate of “success” is higher than those of others, I still don’t understand it.
3d) Fourth, I don’t agree with the idea that converting people is some meta-mitzvah of strengthening the Jewish nation, even if it’s the alternative to mass-yichus confusion in Israeli society. I didn’t like this meta-mitzvah when Rabbi Angel proposed it in Choosing to be Jewish, suggesting that Orthodoxy must go seek converts lest they go to other denominations, and I don’t like it now when it is proposed as a solution for yichus confusion. In my view, each case must be handled on its own merits, in terms of the knowledge, intentions and desires of the actual person who comes to convert.
4) And then I have a fourth general issue with the debate that has gone on: Loyalty to the old boy network.
Even as many condemn the Lithuanian “old boy network” in which certain people are automatically in and certain people are automatically out, the same “old boy network,” on the other side, demanded condemnation of R’ Shirman’s decision even before people had read it, to know what it said.
R’ Druckman is a huge, huge talmid chacham and leader. Nonetheless, I still don’t understand supporting him pro forma, without even knowing the issues. If someone were to level a charge against me, I would hope that people would ask questions before automatically coming to my defense.
I suppose that if I must pick a side, I’ll go with R’ Druckman, simply because I am not impressed by the decision by R’ Shirman, and because of R’ Druckman’s stellar reputation. But I can’t sit in the same camp with the automatic supporters who rubber stamped their public proclamations without understanding the issue.