Leniency Within the Orthodox Movement

Rabbi Uziel holds that as long as the judges first attempt to break off a projected marriage to a non-Jew, they are obligated to convert the non-Jew, even if the motivation is marriage.

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But there is an [apparently contradictory] law stating that if one is suspected of having had immoral relations with his maid and then he freed her, he may not marry her. The Rambam said that in spite of this ruling, he has judged in such cases that the man should free and marry the maid. He justified his decision by stating that it is necessary to make things easier for repentants (Takanat Hashavim). He relied on the famous statement of our rabbis, "It is time to serve the Lord, go against your Torah." The Rambam closed this responsum with a significant, profoundly religious comment, "and the Lord in His mercy will forgive our sins...."

Mercy and Pragmatism Temper a Strict Halakhic Interpretation

The Rambam recognized that his decision is in violation of the ideal halakhic standard. However, he allowed his human insight to cope with the problem realistically, and he invoked other halakhic standards to justify himself. As a true man of reason and faith, he dealt with the situation sensibly while relying on God's mercy. God will understand the motivations for this halakhic decision and will either approve or forgive. In any case, what must be done will be done.

In support of the Rambam's approach, Rabbi Uziel cites several Talmudic sources that reflect the same attitude. It is better to choose the lesser of two evils, even when the choice is not ideal. It is better to stop adding fuel to evil now, rather than risk an increase in transgression.

Based on this attitude, Rabbi Uziel says that when an intermarried couple comes to a beit din seeking the conversion of the non-Jewish partner, we must allow such a conversion. We may not take the haughty position that these are wicked people who deserve to suffer the fate of transgressors. On the contrary, by coming to halakhic authorities the couple displays a desire to avoid transgression. They do not want to reject the Torah but want to be included in the Jewish community.

As was stated earlier, if we are permitted to convert one who is already married to a Jewish mate, we may certainly convert one who wishes to marry a Jewish partner in the future. Even if we know that the main and perhaps only reason for the conversion is marriage, yet when all is said and done such a conversion is still halakhically valid. But Rabbi Uziel considers such conversions not only to be permissible, but actually morally required. Rabbis are not only allowed to convert a non-Jew for the purposes of marriage, but are urged not to step away from the positive responsibility to do so. In support of this idea, Rabbi Uziel referred to the strict chastisements of the prophet Malachi against those who married out of the faith.

"Judah has dealt treacherously, and an abomination is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah has profaned the holiness of the Lord which He loves and has married the daughter of a strange god [bat el nehar]. May the Lord cut off to the man that does this..." (Malachi, 2:11-12).

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Rabbi Marc D. Angel

Marc D. Angel is Rabbi emeritus of Congregation Shearith Israel, the historic Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in New York City.