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 Converting First Part of the Jewish Life Cycle

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aaryah.maayanot

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PostSubject: Converting First Part of the Jewish Life Cycle   Wed Dec 19, 2012 10:32 pm

Shalom Aleikum
If someone without proof or declaration of his or her conversion is seen observing Jewish Practice and living a full Jewish Life, he or she is to be considered as an authentic convert to Judaism, the lack of proof or witnesses notwithstanding
(Tur. Yoreh De'ah, No.268, Maimonides in Mishnah Torah, Hilchot Isurei Bi'ah 13:9; Karo's Shulcan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah 268:10)- Putting enough faith in Judaism to approach Hashem by its means on a regular basis for certainty is Baderech entrance of guiyur: expressing the Desire to convert to a Rabbi, followed by the post accepted period of Learning( this has been initiatory for whom attending to express Ruth's Declaration)
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daniel eliezer

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PostSubject: Re: Converting First Part of the Jewish Life Cycle   Thu Dec 20, 2012 3:57 pm

Dear Aaryah,

Regarding your statement, “he or she is to be considered as an authentic convert to Judaism,” but there are two things that must be considered.

The first is that this IS NOT what the Rambam (Maimonides) says. His words are, “…harei eilu c’chezkat gerei tzedek.” – “…behold, these are of the status that we consider them Righteous Converts.” The crucial word in the Rambam is ‘chezekat’, which is the semichut of the word ‘chazakah’. ‘Chazakah’ is critical to Torah and halacha in all areas. To give a simple introduction, ‘chazakah’ is a means of determining the status of something when there is (1) no reason to PRESENTLY question what seems obvious and (2) it is used to determine status when it accompanies VALID PROOF.

An example of (1) is where I assume someone who is living in a house is the owner of the house, because he maintains it as if it is his own and because I have no need or reason to think otherwise. An example of (2) is where the person wants to sell the house as his own, but, even though he’s been living in the house a long time, the deed is not registered in his name. He, however, has in his possession a genuine and valid will of his grandfather showing that he inherited the house from his grandfather, whose name is on the deed. The ‘chazakah’, i.e. the ‘at face value’, is supported by valid legal proof.

What you yourself quoted from the Rambam (Maimonides) supports definition number (1). However, when teaching Torah and Jewish Law, it is OBLIGATORY to quote ENTIRELY. The Rambam (Maimonides) in the continuation says, “…if they come to live AMIDST [implication being that they were living apart] Am Yisrael, we DON’T marry them until they bring witnesses [valid proof] or until they immerse [in the mikveh] before us, since their ‘chazakah’ [legal status] is that they are non-Jews.” This part of the Rambam (Maimonides) supports definition (2) whereby we accept someone at face value all the time we have no reason to believe or suspect otherwise. Since marriage requires that both the man and the woman be valid Jews, then each is required to prove that he and she is a valid Jew and we incur the obligation to question them and demand proof.

I’ve written what I’ve written solely for the sake of clarification. We live in very challenging times, times when confusion runs rampant and times when we feel very pressured to define ourselves by what ‘we feel to be true’. Every serious would-be convert ‘feels Jewish’, but 'feeling Jewish' and 'being a Jew' are not the same thing. I am in no way denying the validity of our personal feelings, because if we didn’t have these valid feelings we would never begin to consider becoming Jews. Nonetheless, becoming that ‘Jew who is inside us’ requires that we acknowledge that there is an authority, Torah and halacha - Jewish Law, which determines, and part of that determination is, ‘who is a born Jew’ and ‘who is a Jew by Choice’.

I want to close with a question which relates to this problem of ‘validity’.

Let’s say that parents, in addition to their own children, brought into their home a child and raised him or her without in anyway ever making him or her a legal, bonafide member of the family. When the parents leave this world, they leave no will and the executor of the estate must decide who gets what. Their ‘legal’ children claim that the ‘non-legal’ child has no legal claim to what is their valid inheritance by 'right of birth'. The ‘non-legal’ child challenges that he or she is a valid member of the family because he or she was literally raised as ‘one of the family’.

It’s not an easy dilemma, is it? Feelings or jurisprudence? And to give it even greater proportion, what if it’s a family with genuine generations of lineage, including aristocracy?

My example is not entirely the same thing, but it's close enough for us to give this matter of 'validity' genuine and serious thought.

B’Shalom,

Daniel Eliezer
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Debbie B.

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PostSubject: Re: Converting First Part of the Jewish Life Cycle   Sun Dec 23, 2012 3:29 am

Thank you, Daniel, for the clarification with not only a more nuanced meaning of the Hebrew of the statement from Rambam, but also the context from which it comes.

I like the analogy of the convert with an adopted child. Converts to Judaism need to use a legal means to formally become a member of the Jewish people because they are not members by birth, just as children need to be adopted if they are not born into a family. Adopted children may even already have some blood or legal connection if they are adopted by relatives or a step-parent, but an adoption process is still needed. Similarly, a person who is not a Jew by birth, may have Jewish ancestry or be married to a Jew (or live as a Jewish and subscribe to Jewish religious beliefs), but will still need to undergo a formal conversion process to officially become a Jew. (Note too that children of non-Jewish birth who are adopted into Jewish families also need to be formally converted to be considered Jewish by traditional Jewish Law, although not by the Reform movement.)

I think that adoption as a secular legal process is a better model for understanding conversion to Judaism than assuming similarity to conversion to other religions which are often very different in emphasis and requirements.
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daniel eliezer

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PostSubject: Re: Converting First Part of the Jewish Life Cycle   Sun Dec 30, 2012 8:02 pm

Dear Aaryah,

I would like to add one further clarification to what we’ve discussed for the sake of completion.

In the Chapter (13) of the Rambam (Maimonides) which you quote, in the first five halachot (laws) , the Rambam iterates that Jews were required to circumcise themselves in order to enter the Covenant before they would be permitted to eat the Passover sacrifice in Egypt and Jews were required to immerse themselves in a mikveh when they stood at Mt. Sinai before they could enter the Covenant of the Torah. From these two sources is where the Rambam learns what the Torah explicitly requires for halachic conversion: In the presence of a ‘qualified legal court’ (beit din), a potential Ger or Giyoret must (1) accept the yoke of the Torah and commandments, (2) undergo circumcision (excluding females), and (3) immerse in mikveh – and for emphasis: ‘all of this is done before a qualified legal court (beit din)'.

We all know this. These are things that are inviolate, and we ourselves, if we genuinely and truly want to become ‘the Jew who is inside us’, don’t want them to be any different.

However from the 6th halacha onward (and you quoted from the 9th), the Rambam is relating to realities where (1) the process was not completed before a qualified legal court (beit din) but was done otherwise, or where (2) we don’t know if there was a qualified legal court (beit din) present to witness and attest that everything was legitimate. These are situations and circumstances where we are confronted with irreconcilable and unresolvable doubt. As I explained in my first response here, “we don't have sufficient evidence to change the status of non-Jew to that of a Jew,” - we lack legitimate proof despite our attempts to ameliorate.

At this point we ourselves have no choice but to stop here, first, because this is not the forum, and, second, because we (I do not exclude myself) are not the people to continue this discussion. Additionally, it’s important and maybe even imperative that we take a step back and look again at what Aaryah has introduced us to.

At the time of Maimonides (Google him), the Rambam (acronym from his name in Hebrew: Rabbainu Moshe ben Maimon), there was only one one world of Torah and halacha. All the factions and fractions and schisms and fragmentation which exist among Jews today were as unfathomable to the Rambam as that centralized world of his is to us today. His was not a lovey-dovey world. There were many and tremendous disagreements, which is the reason Maimonides wrote his massive work (which we know by the title of “Yad Chazakah” or “Mishneh Torah”). It was his attempt to unify Jews, and although it wouldn’t happen immediately, Maimonides would became a unifying authority for all of Torah and halacha.

What made it eventually possible for the Rambam to succeed is that the integrity of Torah and halacha were the essence of Jews. There was nothing else, and even though there was genuine divisiveness, what unified them was that the Torah is what decides.

You and I know that this is not true today – and I point a finger in almost every direction. We also know that we Gerim are not responsible for the present-day conditions of Jews. These truths, however, do not prevent us from being pawns in their internecine warfare.

Because this is the present state of affairs among Jews, it is nigh unto impossible for us to discuss ‘gerut’, i.e. conversion, in a way that will make it possible for us to become [legitimate] Gerim in every so-called authority’s eyes. Given that this is the situation, it’s important that we understand why we, i.e. each of us individually ourselves, want to become Jews. It is only when we are truthful with ourselves is when we are capable of honestly deciding what to do. In that this is how I describe what is, I have nothing more to contribute in this topic that Aaryah has opened, which is a genuinely and signifcantly complicated and sophisticated portion of Torah and halacha.

What do I intend to do, however, is, God willing, to open a new topic. It will be a topic where we will move away from the halachic controversy. In its stead we will turn toward us. In turning toward us, it will be to look at 'we who have chosen', at 'we who are in the process of considering', and at 'we who are wondering about considering', “is this me – this Jew I am looking at and for?”

B’Shalom,

Daniel Eliezer
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John S

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PostSubject: Re: Converting First Part of the Jewish Life Cycle   Sat Feb 09, 2013 12:01 am

So, in other words, if Person X shows up and identifies himself as being a Jew there is no 'legal' reason to doubt him UNTIL it comes time for an activity- such as marriage- that requires 'proof of his Jewishness'?

If this is so, does this extend to such things as Torah readings and such during services- are a person's 'credentials' checked prior to being put on the list to be called up?

What of the 'born Jew'? Do those born into Jewish families have some sort of documentation to clarify their status? What if a person's mother is a Reform convert- is her son or daughter considered Reform as well for marriage or immigration purposes and all that?

I ask not in order to stir the pot, but because I honestly don't know.
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daniel eliezer

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PostSubject: Re: Converting First Part of the Jewish Life Cycle   Sat Feb 09, 2013 6:36 pm

Dear John S.,

You do know how to ask ‘pertinent’ questions. (LOL)

Since you’ve asked, I’ll answer you here and now, but this is the beginning and the conclusion of this matter here. We simply are not the people nor is this the forum to engage in these questions. Still, without even looking, I’m willing to guess that there are many other forums on the Internet which are burdened with them, and probably elsewhere in JBC, too.

I specifically mentioned marriage because marriage is what Maimonides is talking about in the halacha (Jewish law) that Aaryah Maayanot shared with us. The importance of marriage is as I wrote, “NO ONE: no born Jew and no converted Jew gets married without being able to prove he or she is a Jew. For a born Jew his or her mother must produce her ketubah, her marriage contract, which proves her identity as a Jew, and from this we validate that her children are Jews. A Ger, a convert, must bring documentation or witnesses verifying that his or her conversion is valid.

So that none of us misunderstands, I’m speaking about the straightforward requirements of Jewish law of ‘how you determine’. All the possibilities of missing documentation, witnesses, let alone outright fraud and attempt to deceive, are all handled within the parameters of Jewish legal jurisprudence. End of subject. (I’ll answer regarding Reform Jews below.)

Regarding Torah reading, since anyone who is called to the Torah is fulfilling the mitzvah (commandment) of Torah reading for the entire congregation, therefore that person must be a valid Jew or convert. In practice, we rely on everyday acceptance for those whom we recognize as Jews to be called to the Torah, and even guests and strangers are accorded this. If, however, there’s reason to doubt, usually a simple question or two will suffice in clarifying. If uncertainty remains, we can simply ask another person to be called to the Torah.

Again, I’m speaking about a straightforward situation where there’s no reason to suspect deception. We’ll leave it at this, because like everything in life there are always complications.

Regarding Reform Jews, the specific question that you ask is bound up in the question of “Who is a Jew?”, a question with consumes our generation. I AM NOT an authority, but I will express my opinion on this.

First, the fragmentation (euphemistically called ‘diversity’) of Jewish communities and practices is a reflection of the disintegration of the [self]identity of Jews (see the topic in this forum which is in my name). This reality is pure Americana, because in America you can be[come] an American on one condition: that you give up your identity, your ‘who I am’. This particularly afflicts Jews (not only in America), and a good part of the reason can be found here.

In Moby Dick, there’s an incident where a shipboy falls into the sea during a whale chase, and he is accidentally left adrift in the sea for a long time before he is rescued. About him Melville said, "The sea had jeeringly kept his finite body up, but drowned the infinite of his soul.”

Last, about the ongoing struggle over “Who is a Jew?”, which is focused on converts and conversion, there is a lot of political maneuvering and manipulation from all sides and there are no innocents in this struggle. Worse, whenever there is even promise of reaching some kind of collective decision, the promoters of internecine warfare win the day. We converts simply the pawns in the internecine warfare among Jews, a tactic used unscrupulously by both sides.

The real question of “Who is a Jew?” is only about Jews themselves. When Jews resolve the question for themselves, then they’ll resolve it for converts too.

I probably have not answered your questions as you desire, but I hope that I have given you a way of perceiving what you ask with a touch more clarity.

Shalom,
Daniel Eliezer
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Debbie B.

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PostSubject: Re: Converting First Part of the Jewish Life Cycle   Sun Feb 10, 2013 8:24 pm

John S wrote:
So, in other words, if Person X shows up and identifies himself as being a Jew there is no 'legal' reason to doubt him UNTIL it comes time for an activity- such as marriage- that requires 'proof of his Jewishness'?

If this is so, does this extend to such things as Torah readings and such during services- are a person's 'credentials' checked prior to being put on the list to be called up?

What of the 'born Jew'? Do those born into Jewish families have some sort of documentation to clarify their status? What if a person's mother is a Reform convert- is her son or daughter considered Reform as well for marriage or immigration purposes and all that?

I ask not in order to stir the pot, but because I honestly don't know.
I have posted some official Conservative Movement opinions on these issues on another thread:
http://www.jewishbychoice.org/t307-proving-jewish-identity#2871
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