Thou Shall Not Forbid, II – Kashrut

By Rabbi Haim Ovadia

R. Raphael Emanuel Hai Rikki, a 17th century Italian kabbalist, suggests a mystical reason for not ruling unnecessarily that something is not kosher [i]:

It is possible that the food contains a reincarnated soul. When one says a blessing and eats that food, the soul is healed and elevated from the status of an inanimate object to that of humans. By declaring the food non-kosher, the rabbi will prevent this healing process from happening… as it is written in Proverbs (17:26), a righteous person should not administer punishments…

The last comment of R. Rikki is interesting. The verse in Proverbs recommends that a judge should be compassionate, and R. Rikki applied that to the Halakhic questions presented to a rabbi.
If you do not connect so much to kabbalistic teachings, consider the following statement from the Yerushalmi Talmud (Kiddushin 4:12):

עתיד אדם ליתן דין וחשבון על כל מה שראו עיניו ולא אכל ממנו
One is going to be held accountable for all that he saw [i.e. was available to him] and he chose not to eat.

R. Ovadia Yosef adds that when a rabbi declares, unnecessarily, that an animal is terefah [treif], he is a sinner, and his sin cannot be atoned for by repentance[ii]:

When a rabbi mistakenly declares a terefah to be kosher, he has sinned towards God [and Yom Kippur will atone for him], but when he declares the opposite, he has wronged a fellow man by causing him monetary damage. This cannot be atoned for by repentance and by Yom Kippur, until he will appease the wronged party and pay for the damages he caused.

R. Yosef’s words are an admonition to the vast Kashrut systems which control the lives of Jews everywhere [I wonder… are they a Behemoth? A Leviathan? Both will be served as delicacies to the righteous at the end of days…]. The additional cost on “kosher” products to consumers is staggering, and the kashrut net is also cast over institutions and events, dictating where and when to have an event, and affecting the lives of observant and non-observant Jews alike.

The rabbis in charge of this massive extortion program excuse themselves by saying that the additional cost to each costumer is negligible and that they must adhere to the higher standard, but these excuses are not valid. There is no difference in the eyes of the law between stealing a penny or a million dollars, and while it is fine to adhere to a high standard, people should be given other options and informed that the “lower standard” product is as kosher as the “higher standard” one.

Kosher cheese and Pesah products, with their exorbitant prices are only the tip of the iceberg. For example, several years ago, observant entrepreneurs approached one of the biggest poultry processing companies with a proposal for automated kosher slaughtering. The possibility of automated slaughtering as completely viable is mentioned in the Talmud, and it would have erased the price differences between kosher and non-kosher poultry. As you may have already guessed, the proposal was killed by the Kashrut organizations.

Another example, more personal, is of a family who was geared up for a Bar Mitzvah and made all the necessary arrangement, including booking a caterer. A day before the event the caterer informed them that he will have to cancel because the event was taking place between the 17th of Tammuz and Rosh Hodesh Av. It is hard to assess the emotional and monetary damage caused, unjustifiably, to the family.

Not only that, decisions of kashrut which impact many people, sometimes in the range of hundreds of thousands, the doors of repentance are blocked for the rabbis who made those decisions, since they do not know who needs to be appeased and recompensed, as Maimonides explains in his laws of Teshuvah (4:3):

חמשה דברים העושה אותן אי אפשר לו שישוב בתשובה גמורה לפי שהם עונות שבין אדם לחבירו ואינו יודע חבירו שחטא לו כדי שיחזיר לו או ישאל ממנו למחול לו, ואלו הן: (א) המקלל את הרבים…. (ב) והחולק עם גנב.. [ה]גונב לרבים … (ד) והאוכל שור עניים ויתומים ואלמנות, אלו בני אדם אמללין הם ואינן ידועים ומפורסמים וגולים מעיר לעיר ואין להם מכיר כדי שידע שור זה של מי הוא ויחזירנו לו

There are five things which one cannot fully repent for because they are an offense towards another person, and the transgressor does not know the wronged person:
(a) one who curses a group of people… (b) one who buys from a thief… who steals from many… (d) one who steals from the poor, the orphans, and the widows, who wander from town to town and have no acquaintances, so the transgressor does not know whom to return the stolen object to…

Regarding such complications it was said: חכמים, הזהרו בדבריכם
Sages! Be careful with your rulings and teachings!

To be continued…
R. Haim Ovadia

[i]הון עשיר, חולין ב: וטעמא נ”ל עפ”י מה שכתוב בלמודי האר”י זלה”ה דשמא יהיה שם באותו דבר נפש בן אדם, המתוקנת ע”י אכילת אדם אותו הדבר בברכתו הראויה אליה ובכוונה רצויה, ואם יאסר אותה והיא מותרת הרי הוא גרמא בנזיקין שאין אותה הנפש מתתקנת, ואדרבא ע”י זה אפשר שיורידנה במדרגה יותר גרועה שתאכל מבהמה טמאה או כיוצא בה, וכתיב (משלי יז, כו) גם ענוש לצדיק לא טוב
[ii] חזון עובדיה, ימים נוראים, עמוד רמג: המכשיר טריפה בשגגת הוראה, היא עבירה שבין אדם למקום, אבל המטריף כשרה בשגגה, היא עבירה שבין אדם לחבירו, שהפסידו ממון, ואין יוהכ”פ מכפר עד שירצה את חבירו ויפייסו… וכשם שאסור להתיר את האסור, כך אסור לאסור את המותר… ודאי שעליו לרצות את חבירו, ולפייסו בממון, כדי שיסלח לו. שהוא בכלל עבירות שבין אדם לחבירו. ואין יום הכפורים מכפר עד שירצה את חבירו

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Rabbi Haim Ovadia |

Thou Shall Not Forbid

In today’s halakhic landscape it seems that the rule of thumb is “declare that it is forbidden.” This rule is applied when in doubt, when a question is asked, and when there is a fear about abandoning tradition or losing control of the community. A partial list of such prohibitions would include eating strawberries, bananas, broccoli, leafy vegetables, or at a friend’s house. It would also forbid people from swimming, riding bicycle, exercising, jogging, or reading non-Jewish literature on Shabbat. Listening to music, shaving, taking a haircut, showering, or washing clothes are also forbidden for long stretches of time. For some people who wholeheartedly believe that they observe the Torah, studying foreign languages, sciences, or using common sense, are also among forbidden activities. Some people even go further to call this approach stringency, when, as a matter of fact, it is usually a choice to remain passive, an inaction whose consequences could be interpreted as either strict or lenient.

Two admonitions against this methodology are found, side by side, in the Yerushalmi Talmud:[i]
כשם שמצוה לומר על דבר שהוא נעשה כך מצוה שלא לומר על דבר שאינו נעשה
כשם שאסור לטהר את הטמא כך אסור לטמא את הטהור
Just as it is a mitzvah to say that something is an obligation, so also it is a mitzvah NOT to say that something is forbidden!
Just as one not allowed to declare falsely that something pure, so also one is not allowed to declare falsely that something is impure!
These two were later merged and paraphrased to form the following succinct dictum, which, to our great chagrin, is rarely followed:
כשם שאסור להתיר את האסור כך אסור לאסור את המותר
Just as one cannot permit that which is forbidden, one cannot forbid that which is permitted.
I recall one particular case when I was asked by a congregant, at shul, whether one is allowed to use mouthwash on Kippur, and answered positively. Though for some my answer was a breath of fresh air, others could not grasp the scope of the problem, and rabbis all over town were arguing against the “leniency”, not considering that by allowing one to cause misery to his neighbors in shul, and by forcing people to abandon their basic hygiene needs, they are the lenient ones, while my ruling is strict. Eventually, one of my congregants sat with a rabbi he used to study with, and they pored over the sources for two hours. The rabbi finally admitted that he cannot say that using mouthwash on Kippur is forbidden. According to the rule mentioned above, then, it must be permitted.
Throughout history, this rule has been used by many commentators, interpreters of the law, and Halakhic decisors. In his commentary to the Mishnah, R. Ovadia of Bertinoro (1445-1515) wrote that those who impose unnecessary stringencies rule against the law of the Torah:[ii]
ועל המורים בתורה שלא כהלכה – לאסור את המותר ולהתיר את האסור
Rabbi Menahem ben Meir (1249-1310) writes that by trying to micromanage Halakha and attempting to cover all possible breaches of the law, the legislators might lose the trust of those who are willing to commit to a life of observance. He adds that the Creator knows that the capacity of humans to tolerate the burden of prohibitions and follow the mitzvoth is limited, and He crafted the legislative system of the Torah accordingly. One should try to adhere to the laws as given by the Creator and not add new layers. [iii]
The reason for the prohibition against making unnecessary prohibitions was clearly explained by R. Shabbetai Cohen (1621-1662), aka the Shach, in his commentary on Shulhan Arukh:[iv]
כשם שאסור להתיר את האסור, כך אסור לאסור את המותר, אפילו בשל עובד כוכבים, ואפילו במקום שאין הפסד, מפני שעל הרוב יש בו צד הקל במקום אחר מחמת שנאסר, והוי חומרא דאתי לידי קולא.
ואף על פי שלפי הנראה לא יבא מזה צד קולא, אסור! שאפשר שיתגלגל ויבא קולא עד אחר מאה דברים.
One is not allowed to declare that something is forbidden when in reality it is permitted. Even if it belongs to a non-Jew [he refers to prohibition of eating, and one would have thought that it will have no consequence for a non-Jew], even if no financial loss is involved [the poskim tend to be “lenient” to prevent financial loss].
Even though apparently no lenient result will emerge from the ruling [meaning that the “strict” ruling will not cause any transgressions of the law in the future], since it is possible for this to happen after a chain-reaction a hundred stages long [which cannot be anticipated by the current rabbi], one cannot declare that it is forbidden.
There are many examples for the practical use of this rule, and we will explore them in future posts, but for now allow me to point out one “leniency” which is the result of past “stringencies”.
By demanding religious uniformity and conformity of their congregants in Europe, Ashkenazi rabbis have pushed the majority of Jews away from the practice of traditional Judaism. Those rabbis liked to think of themselves as stringent, but they were actually very lenienet in allowing hundreds of thousands of Jews to drift away from tradition.
In recent decades, Sephardic rabbis in Israel and abroad followed suit and decided to retreat into a protective cocoon, instead of facing challenges head-on and providing viable solutions. As we shall see, declaring that a certain action or object is prohibited, not only is not considered a solution, but it is in itself prohibited.
To be continued…
Rabbi Haim Ovadia

[i] ירושלמי תרומות, ה:ג: רבי אחא בשם רבי יונתן כשם שמצוה לומר על דבר שהוא נעשה כך מצוה שלא לומר על דבר שאינו נעשה אמר רבי לעזר כשם שאסור לטהר את הטמא כך אסור לטמא את הטהור.
[ii] On Avoth 5:3
[iii] בית הבחירה למאירי, מסכת אבות, פרק א: ויראה לי בביאור זה שהוא הזהיר להיות כל אדם שומר פתחי פיו לתת להם בל יכביד השומעים בהם וכ”ש כשמדבר בדברי תורה שלא ידבר בהם אלא בזמן הראוי בשעור הראוי ובמקום הראוי לו ובדברים הראוים לו אם מצדו אם מצד השומעים ובמשלי הערב אמרו על חכם א’ שהיה מאריך בדבריו יותר מדאי ושאלו לו מדוע אתה עובר הגבול להאריך כל כך ואמר להם כדי שיבינו הפתאים אמרו לו בעוד שיבינו הפתאים המשכילים יקוצו ואמרו כדרך שעשה הקדוש ברוך הוא סייג לדבריו עניינו כמו שהקב”ה נתן התורה והמצות והחקים כפי מה שראוי לאדם לסבול לפי המונח בטבע עליו אין להוסיף וממנו אין לגרע
[iv] ש”ך, פלפול בהנהגת הוראות באיסור והיתר, סוף סי’ רמב:ט

The Use of Municipal City Water for a Mikveh

The Use of Municipal City Water for a Mikveh and a Case Study of the
Seattle Rabbinate in the 1950s

Rabbi Yossi Azose

The purpose of the following essay is twofold. First, we shall highlight an example of a lenient halakhic practice in America that had gained widespread acceptance among the Orthodox Jewish community throughout the first half of 20th century, and the subsequent opposition to this practice by leading Orthodox authorities in the 1950s who successfully challenged its legality, to the point where today it is generally considered beyond the bounds of accepted halakha.

Second, we shall focus on a critical juncture in American Orthodox Jewish history wherein a noticeable shift occurred in the paradigm of halakhic authority, from initially residing primarily within the domain of the community rabbi into the hands of the country’s leading gedolei hador and roshei yeshiva. The effects of this shift have laid the groundwork for a current trend in America that increasingly favors the authority of gedolim and roshei yeshiva over the local Orthodox rabbi.

As a backdrop to our analysis, we shall examine the circumstances surrounding the controversy that erupted over the kashrut of the Seattle mikveh
in the 1950s. This little known story, long ago forgotten by but a very few who are still around to remember, represents a vivid moment in the history of the American Jewish experience when the forces of these two aforementioned sources of authority collided with one another. Though the in-depth, technical halakhic questions involved in using municipal city water to fill a mikveh are beyond the scope of this essay, it is hoped that it will provide both a historical overview, as well as a general summary of the halakhic issues surrounding the matter.

Municipal City Tap Water for a Mikveh Rabbi Yossi Azose

Mikveh in Every Home, by Rabbi Haim Ovadia

Thou Shalt Not Forbid, III
Mikveh in Every Home, by Rabbi Haim Ovadia
Several months ago, in a discussion about the methodology of the great Sephardic rabbi of the past, I mentioned, by passing the famous ruling of R. Abdallah Somekh, who allowed using the public water system for a Mikveh. According to that ruling, large bathtubs and swimming pools would qualify as a mikveh. Reliance on that ruling, as was customary in Iraq and Morocco, would allow Jewish communities to have a mikveh on every block and would encourage many women, who are otherwise reluctant to attend the mikveh, to do so.
In response to the article, I received the following email from R. Yossi Azose, a descendant of R. Somekh (who also ordained my Great Grandfather, R. Yehudah Fetaya), in which he introduced me to his learned study of the prevalence of tap-water mikvaot in America in the early to mid-20th century, and the causes leading to today’s stringent stance. R. Azose wrote:
The practice was endorsed not only by Sephardic poskim. as you mentioned, but many Ashkenazic authorities as well (most prominently Rav Yechiel Michel Epstein, author of Arokh Hashulhan).  
In the 1890’s, R. Pesachya Hornblass member of the Warsaw bet din, visited the spa resort of Carlsbad [Karlovy Vary] and encountered married non-observant Jewish women who remarked to him that they would consider keeping the laws of niddah if they could immerse in a spa, rather than in the cold waters of the community mikva’ot of the time.  This gave R. Hornblass the thought that perhaps the rabbinate should allow these women to immerse in a thermal spa and reduce their prohibition to a derabbanan (according to the Rambam who holds that mayim she’uvin is only a rabbinic prohibition), whereas doing nothing would keep them as niddot under the penalty of karet.  R. Hornblass presented his suggestion to his colleagues in an article in the Torah journal Sha’are Torah, and after a couple of months of feedback, he wrote a follow-up article in the same Journal stating that it wasn’t a good idea because such a leniency would lead to abuse by observant women who otherwise would have used the regular mikveh, but would misunderstand that the rabbis were giving them carte blanche to use the thermal spa.
R. Azose concluded that the “ultimate fear of the unintended consequence that being very lenient would have on otherwise God-fearing people, is a factor that must be considered as well”.
In the article (see PDF link below), R. Azose shows that at least a dozen of the most highly regarded halakhic authorities in America prior to WWII, all signed on to the permissibility of using tap water for a mikveh. In addition, he has shown evidence that indeed most mikva’ot in America, and some in the UK, were originally constructed in this manner.
All this changed with the arrival of European rabbis after WWII. Those rabbis, led by the Helmetzer Rebbe, launched a campaign against the mikveh’s and the communities which sustained them, and with the fall of the Seattle Mikveh, the last one standing, have accomplished the mission of abolishing all of them.
That battle was part of the general war against the “lenient” practices of American Jews, which have evolved gradually and were adjusted to the reality of American life. The rabbis who came from Europe after the war did not experience the gradual changes, and were not familiar with the circumstances which bred those changed. What they saw was strikingly different than their religious life-style and they reacted with zeal.
In retrospect, one realizes that with the abolishment of the tap-water mikveh, the rabbis have created a new map of the Jewish United States, in which small rural communities cannot survive. Jews must gravitate around a large enough community which can sustain a “rigorously” kosher mikveh, whose construction could range from 300,000 to a million dollars.
The “stringent” approach of the newly-arrived European rabbis, has solidified, in their mind and that of their modern-day successors, the identity of orthodox Judaism, but it had disastrous results.
The readers recall the warning of the Shach that a stringency is bound to breed a leniency, even if after a hundred stages, so here are some of the problems that “stringent” rabbis have not foreseen. We could say that they were very lenient in allowing the following things to happen:
Many women do not observe the laws of family purity simply because they live far from a mikveh, or because they feel that visiting the mikveh is an invasion of privacy. It is very difficult for young mothers to find time to visit the mikveh without the children taking notice, and if the time to go to the mikveh falls on a Friday night, it is almost impossible to attend the mikveh. These coming High Holidays present us with three weekends of Yom tov, Yom Tov, and Shabbat back to back, causing observant couples who do not live within a walking distance to a mikveh sadness and agony as they feel separated for three days. Serious problems are also presented for those traveling to those parts of the world where a kosher mikveh is a rarity.
Some people will still argue that these are sacrifices we make for God’s sake or for the integrity of the law, and I would remind them that there were cases of women who were assaulted on their way to or from the mikveh, and some fifteen years ago, a woman was killed on Friday night, walking in a dark street in Lakewood, NJ, on her way back home from the mikveh.
Had the rabbis not launched their war against tap-water mikveh, we would see the creation of ritual baths in private homes all over the country, and all the problems mentioned above would have been solved. There is no doubt that the “traditional” mikveh would have continued to exist and that many observant women would only use that kind of mikveh, but then it will be their choice.
To be continued…
Rabbi Haim Ovadia

Christological statements in the Zohar

Judaism is traditionally monotheistic, and rejects Christian concepts of the Trinity. Christianity is a trinitarian monotheistic: they hold that God exists as three hypostases, but is one being, having a single divine nature. The members of the Trinity are co-equal and co-eternal, one in essence, nature, power, action, and will.

Kabbalah Sefirot Tree

he Zohar: Pritzker Edition

But over the milennia Jewish theology and literature has developed in many different ways. In the 15th century a book began to be published called the Zohar (זֹהַר‎, “Splendor” or “Radiance”.) This was described as the work of a Spanish Jewish writer named Moses de León, who in turn said that he found a secret cache of works written by Shimon bar Yochai (“Rashbi”), a rabbi of the 2nd century CE.  Most Jews at the time didn’t accept that this was literally correct, but within another 2 centuries the Zohar became to be seen as the most authoritative and ancient work of Jewish mysticism. By the 19th century large segments of Orthodox Judaism held that it was an article of faith that the Zohar was legitimate. However, much of it is written in an unclear fashion, and even it’s adherents and commentators have a hard time understanding what the precise teachings are.

Most controversial were the sections of the Zohar which paralled almost exactly the Christian concept of the Trinity.

Moses de Leon himself had a hard explaining why the Christian terminology for the trinity is incorrect, while his Kabbalistic/Zohar explanation of the trinity is correct.

Today, at least in public, Orthodox Jewish Kabbalists claim this is a “misunderstanding” of the Zohar – but not only is it correct, we have textual evidence that the Zohar texts used by Christian missionaries are correct. Later Zohar texts used by rabbinic Jews were altered to more quietly allude to neo-Christian, Trinitarian teachings. Attached below are quotes from Studies in the Zohar, By Yehuda Liebes.

Example 1

‘The Ancient of Days has three heads. He reveals himself in three archetypes, all three forming but one. He is thus symbolized by the number Three. They are revealed in one another. [These are:] first, secret, hidden ‘Wisdom’; above that the Holy Ancient One; and above Him the Unknowable One. None knows what He contains; He is above all conception. He is therefore called for man ‘Non-Existing’ [Ayin]'”
– Zohar, iii. 288b

Example 2

And this teaching from Zohar (II, 53b)

Hear, O Israel, Adonai Eloheinu Adonai is one. These three are one. How can the three names be one? Only through the perception of faith: in the vision of the Holy Spirit, in the holding of the hidden eye alone. The mystery of the audible voice is similar to this, for though it is one yet it consists of three elements – fire, air and water, which have, however, become one in the mystery of the voice. Even so, it is with the mystery of the three-fold Divine manifestations designated by Adonai Eloheinu Adonai – three modes which yet form one unity. This is the significance of the voice which man produces in the act of unification, when his intent is to unify all, from the Infinite (Ein-Sof) to the end of creation. This is the daily unification, the secret of which has been revealed in the holy spirit.

Liebnes writes :

It is interesting to note that R. Moses de Leon also grapples in the above passage with the problematics of the ten sefirot — why they are not threefold as is the Unity of God (and not only why they are not considered one — a philosophical question) — apparently because the tripartite formulations were of such obvious importance to him. Indeed, in writing his response to the questioner in his work confirming the unity of three,13 de Leon also responds to this latter question:

And as to what you have said concerning the sefirot (divine emanations), that they are ten and not three or more, you have made your point very clear. Nevertheless, all the sefirot are contained within the mystery of the triune singularity, as our sages teach us (Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer, 3): “The world was created through ten sayings, and of three are they comprised —wisdom, understanding and knowledge14 — forming a single source of reality”, {ibid., p. 134)

Indeed, Abner of Burgos also relied on this triad of wisdom, understanding and knowledge, in order to verify the authenticity of the Christian trinity. Y. Baer, in referring to Abner’s words,15 drew a parallel between them and the words of the Zohar in the Midrash ha-Ne^alam in Zohar Hadash to Genesis (Mossad Ha- Rav Kook edition, 4a) and in III:290a-b (Idra Zuta), and the commentary of R. Azriel of Gerona on the passage in his Commentary to the Aggadoth, claiming that not only could such (trinitarian) quotes be used for Christological interpretations, “but that the aforementioned Kabbalist writers had made use of  the idea of the Christian Trinity in their works.”

Later Liebes writes

In the passage cited by Heredia, we find strong emphasis placed upon the mystery surrounding the second element of the Trinity — the son. While it is true that there is no reason to doubt the Christian origin of this element, in my opinion the use of this element in no way implies a forgery. It is quite possible that these words came from the author of the Zohar himself, for allusions to such concepts are to be found in other passages of the book, as we shall see further on in this study. But first let me remark that even at this point we do have a partial proof of the authenticity of this passage: the very beginning of Heredia’s passage does appear in extant editions of the Zohar in III:263a.24 In this Zohar passage, concerning the first of the three divine names in the verse Shema‘ Yisrael, we have the following statement:

“And this is called the father.” While it is true that the term “father” is regularly applied in the Zohar to the sefirah of hokhmah (wisdom), as it is clearly alluded to here, it is nevertheless unusual for the Zohar to simply enumerate the different names of the divine spheres unless they fit within a specific framework of discourse. Thus, only if we assume that Heredia’s addition referring to “son” is authentic will the use of the term “father” seem appropriate within this discourse.

Moreover, it seems to me that if someone wishes to falsify a document, he will forge an entire passage, so as not to be caught in the act of falsifying material, rather than attach a forged section to an authentic passage. This is so especially after we have noted that there are other passages in the Zohar discussing the triune qualities of the Shema,
which the forger certainly would have known (It is hard to imagine that his forgery just happened to chance on the same idea that appears in the Zohar in these places). Why Heredia didn’t hinge his forgery on one of these passages, which would have suited his purposes better than the one in question — a passage discussing five elements rather than the three found in the Shema — is a serious question to ponder.

All these considerations have convinced me that the passage Heredia brings is an authentic Zohar passage, which was apparently later abridged because of its Christian connotation and then woven into another discourse on the Shema.

This change was very likely made by the author of the Zohar himself, who was frightened by his own daring after the first version of his work had been disseminated. Other such instances of this phenomenon — different recensions of the same passage, all written by the author of the Zohar — have been well attested.


Here is a 25 page article (PDF format) Christian Influences in the Zohar, Yehudah Liebes

Conversion to Judaism

A work in progress

For over 2,000 years Jews have been unified by identify: One is a Jew if their mother is a Jew, or if they convert to Judaism. Basic conversion requirements are that a bet din (court of 3) witness that a convert has been instructed in the basics of Jewish faith and practice, and then:

  • Immersion (t’vilah) in a mikveh (ritual bath)
  • For men, circumcision (Brit milah, or a Brit-dam)
  • Understanding and acceptance of the Jewish faith.

The beth din then issues a Shtar Giur (“Certificate of Conversion”), certifying that the person is now part of the Jewish people. Also see The mikveh as a way to solve conversion problems

“It is thus the Halakhah dealing with ‘personal status’ which guarantees the underlying unity of the ‘holy community’…They must be prepared to conform to law at least in this respect. For, only if the ‘holy community’ remains undivided on the basic level of its existence…there can be an unqualified acceptance of one another as fellow Jews.”

Judaism “Plural Models within the Halakha”, Volume 19, No.1 (Winter, 1970) p.85-86. Reform Rabbi Jakob J. Petuchowski

An Interview with Rabbi Chuck Davidson by Yoel Schaper

Can conversion be revoked? Mi Yodeaa StackExchange

Conversions to Judaism not centralized

Rabbi Chuck Davidson writes

The 13 Principles of Conversion

Following are 13 principles regarding the Halakhic requirements of conversion. As in most areas of Halakha there are disagreements in the normative rabbinic community about these requirements. That said, the following points represent, in my opinion following more than 10 years of research, a solidly-based mainstream Halakhic approach.
1) Halakhic conversion requires kabbalat mitzvot, generally translated as “acceptance of the commandments”, on the part of the proselyte.
2) There is disagreement among the poskim (leading scholars of Halakha) regarding the Halakhic definition of kabbalat mitzvot.
3) A mainstream position among many poskim is that kabbalat mitzvot means nothing more than non-coercive conversion, that is consensual conversion; in other words the proselyte is converting of his or her own free will (see here, here, and here).
4) Le-khatchila (ab initio), the consent of the proselyte to convert should be informed consent. That is, the proselyte should know that Judaism includes mitzvot (commandments) that bind all Jews, whether by birth or via conversion, as well as reward for those who observe the commandments and punishment for those who transgress them (however we might theologically understand this reward and punishment). But, according to this opinion, kabbalat mitzvot does not mean that the convert is committing to observe the commandments in practice (see here, here, here, and here.)
5) Some poskim claim that the above position is a minority position (I humbly disagree), but do admit that this position was widely practiced in the past (see here).
6) Many poskim who reject the above position le-khatchila, do accept it be-diavad (post facto). That is, if the proselyte was converted despite a lack of intent to observe the mitzvot in practice, the conversion is nevertheless Halakhically valid be-diavad (see here). Of particular interest is the position of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (one of the greatest poskim of the 20th century) regarding a proselyte who did not intend to observe even as central a mitzvah as Shabbat (see here).
7) A proselyte who ceases to observe the commandments, no matter how immediate or extreme (including going back to his/her previous religion), remains Jewish according to Halakha (see here, here, and here).
8) The Talmud states that a proselyte who is prepared to accept the entirety of Halakha with one exception is not to be accepted. That said, the Shulkhan Aruch (primary code of Jewish law) does not rule according to this statement. Moreover, the Talmud’s statement applies only if the proselyte converts on condition that s/he will not be obligated by Jewish law to observe this one Halakhic point s/he does not accept (see here). Further, the statement of the Talmud prohibits the conversion court from accepting such a proselyte only le-khatchila. But if the court performed the conversion, it is Halakhically valid be-diavad (see here and here).
9) If three laymen (i.e., non-rabbis) perform a conversion, it is Halakhically valid at least be-diavad (see here, here, and here).
10) In converting a proselyte who will likely not be observant and who will transgress the commandments, the conversion court is not guilty of lifnei iver (placing a stumbling block in front of the blind, i.e., aiding and abetting) if it is performing the conversion in order to prevent intermarriage (see here).
11) If a proselyte converts for the purpose of marrying a Jew, the conversion is Halakhically valid at least be-diavad (see here and here).
12) Conversion is the first step a gentile takes in his/her Jewish journey. The Talmud, Rambam, and Shulkhan Arukh describe a conversion process which is almost immediate, with no study or preparation beforehand. Standard practice in the 1950’s was a one-month course in the basics of Judaism (see here). At least one leading posek (scholar of Halakha) rules that it is entirely prohibited to teach a proselyte Torah before the conversion (see here).
13) There are those who contend that the implementation of traditional Halakhic conversion must change from what was practiced in the past. They reason that prior to the phenomenon of secularization when most Jews observed the Halakha, it was presumed that a proselyte would be observant. But nowadays, since most Jews are not Halakhically observant, we must be careful to convert only those who we firmly believe will be observant.
It is, however, incorrect that before the phenomenon of secularization it could be presumed that a proselyte would be observant (see here, here, here, and here). To the contrary, in an era marked by widespread secularization (such as the contemporary era), there is yet more room to convert proselytes who will likely not be observant (see here).
The Halakhic parameters of conversion are, of course, much more complex than can be covered in a Facebook post. For further Halakhic sources on the relevant issues, see here.
I can be reached at


Orthodox Jewish Rabbinical organizations

Right wing/Haredi Orthodox Rabbinical organizations

The National Council of Young Israel (NCYI)

Agudath Israel of America (aka the Agudah)

Agudath HaRabonim – The Union of Orthodox Rabbis Of The United States and Canada

Iggud Harabanim (Rabbinical Alliance of America) over 800 members.

The Chief Rabbinate of Israel

The Federation of Jewish Communities (FJC) Hardi, in former Soviet Union

Modern Orthodox groups

The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), and The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. Over 1000 rabbis.

The United Synagogue (United Hebrew Congregations of Great Britain and the Commonwealth)

Torat Chayim, Over 100 male and female Orthodox rabbis

International Rabbinic Fellowship (founded 2007) Over 120 rabbis affiliated with the Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School (YCT)