Jewish conversion today
In the vicinity of Kiryat Shemona in the north of Israel, there is a cemetery for sofek-Jew/sofek-Gentile, a person about whom there is a doubt whether he or she is Jewish.
I was made aware of the existence of this cemetery by Rabbi Leibl Bistritsky, zy”a, the late Chief Rabbi of Tzfat (Safed).
What had happened is that a three-man ad hoc Bet Din (Rabbinic Court) in Tzfat had pronounced a young man, whom we will call Reuben, officially Jewish.
Reuben was in his mid-twenties, and firmly committed to living a life of Torah and mitzvoth. He had been circumcised by a local mohel for the sake of conversion, and had immersed in the famous Ari mikvah.
Reuben was studious and devout, constantly learning Torah or saying Tehillim. His face was always buried in a holy book. And the three-men on the Bet Din who had overseen the conversion process were kosher aydim (witnesses), one of whom was a respected young rabbi in the English-speaking community in Tzfat.
The reason I was in Rav Bistritsky’s office was that I had been in Jerusalem a couple of days earlier and saw Reuben, the new Jew, at the Western Wall making a public spectacle out of himself, stoned out of his mind, wearing torn clothes, and screaming praises of Jesus as the Messiah.
So I had come to Rav Bistritsky to ask him if Reuben is Jewish according to halacha. That is when Rav Bistritsky told me about the cemetery in Kiryat Shemona for sofek-Jew/sofek-Gentile.
And then he demanded to know the names of the men who had formed the Bet Din, for the entire process had been done without his knowledge.
Half the town knew who they were anyway, so I told him their names. He thought for a moment, and then leaned in towards me and whispered, “Are they Jewish?”
I answered, “Yes.”
“Do they keep Shabbes?”
“Would they be kosher witnesses at a chassineh (wedding ceremony)?”
The Rav sat back in his chair, and said quite definitively, “Then it is very possible that Reuben, despite what you saw him do in Jerusalem, is a Jew, a really problematic Jew.”
Then the Rav explained why Reuben might still be Jewish: if he had three kosher witnesses to pronounce him Jewish after he was circumcised, and if he went to the mikvah, and if they were convinced that Reuben was devoted to a life of Torah and mitzvoth, he is halachically Jewish. This means that a change was effected in his soul that cannot be undone. And all the rabbis in the world could not turn that messed-up holy Jewish soul back into a non-Jewish soul. What was done is eternal, and whoever says he can undo it is a liar. Up to here is what Rav Bistritsky told me.
My personal opinion of this kind of conversion dilemma is to take the middle path. Any rabbi who sits on a conversion Bet Din should be wise enough to perceive whether a candidate for giur c’halacha (conversion according to Jewish law) is wholehearted with Hashem and the Torah. Reubens are a menace. They leave a trail of destruction and confusion.
Conversely, “organizational” rabbis who set massive strictures on conversion, or worse, try to dominate and control global halachic conversion, are not acting in the Name of G-d, but in the name of their own power and profit. It is politics. They are corrupt.
The Zohar calls these rabbis Gibborim (Mighty ones), the Erev Rav (Mixed Multitude), who are the cause of Israel’s suffering. They are an unholy alliance, devoted to blocking the Final Redemption. They are the Jewish Church. They are a bigger menace than all the Reubens in the world.