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Conversion, the RCA, and Rabbinic Hypocrisy

Last week, the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) issued a resolution demonstrating for the second time in less than six months just how deeply confused this once great organization has become.

In this most recent resolution, allegedly designed to bolster the support of converts within our (i.e., the Orthodox Jewish) community, the RCA “ … calls upon Orthodox communities throughout North America to support those in the process of converting as well as those who have already converted …”

While at first glance, the resolution seems like a step in the right direction and has, in fact, been hailed as such, a closer look reveals the epitome of hypocrisy.

As background – in 2008, the RCA adopted a centralized, standardized conversion network (GPS – Geirus Policies and Standards), the wisdom of which could be debated. Indeed it could be argued that the very notion of centralizing conversion broke with a nearly 2,000-year tradition of a radically decentralized approach to conversion whereby any three rabbis were empowered to convert proselytes, and where other rabbis would accept such converts at least post facto (i.e, once they had converted); In halakhic (Jewish legal) tradition, it is extremely problematic to question any conversion performed by a rabbi who himself leads a halakhically committed life as I argue (in Hebrew) in an article soon to be published in a leading Torah journal. In fact, even the conversions performed by three observant laymen are halakhically valid, at least post facto. Further, given the decision to convert is phenomenally complex and takes into account a myriad of individual, familial, and communal factors, the halakhic tradition sets no standards beyond a few very broad guidelines. Conversion cannot, in fact, be standardized. It is not an assembly line type of process. Indeed, a number of leading rabbis, including Rabbi Nachum Eliezer Rabinovitch, have argued strenuously against standardization and centralization, with Rabbis Marc Angel and Avi Weiss expressing opposition specifically in the context of GPS.

Sadly, the RCA took its break with halakhic tradition one step further when it issued the following statement in 2013:

“While the RCA encourages its members to use GPS, it recognizes that some may choose not to, in their role as the local rabbinic authority. Such rabbis recognize that other rabbis are similarly free to not recognize conversions from outside GPS in their jurisdiction.”

And herein lies an egregious hypocrisy.

On the one hand, in its 2013 statement, the RCA gave explicit permission to its members to reject the conversions of other RCA members in good standing (presumably, the RCA has no members who are not in good standing, otherwise they would be morally obligated to eject such members from their organization). Unfortunately, this statement has never been rescinded despite numerous pleas from yours truly.

Yet in its resolution from earlier this week, the RCA calls for Orthodox communities to support those who have already converted … while still allowing its own members to do the exact opposite!

This hypocrisy reflects the normative incoherence of the RCA’s statements: you cannot at one and the same time allow for normative rejection and call for normative support.

To the leadership of the RCA, I ask: Do you not see how the incoherence of your policies gives rise to utter hypocrisy in calling on others to support converts while explicitly giving your own members the right to ignore that call?

And as for me, I can only wonder out loud. Surely, there are still true giants of Torah and integrity in positions of leadership in the North American Orthodox community. I am deeply saddened that their voices are silenced in the face of such chilul HaShem.

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