Conversion Crisis: Is the System Broken?

Why are hundreds of people interested in converting to Judaism being turned away?
Why is the Orthodox Rabbinate pushing away people eager to live a religious lifestyle of Torah and Mitzvot?
Is there anyone in the Rabbinate working to help pave the way for a conversion process that is equally loving and rigorous?

On Sunday, May 17 at 2:00pm at Congregation Ramath Orah, three prominent rabbis will explore the challenges and offer potential solutions in a critically important program sponsored by the Union for Traditional Judaism (UTJ).
Speakers are:
  Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Chief Rabbi of Efrat, Founder and Chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone Institutions
    o  Topic: "Conversion as an Opportunity: the Challenge in Israel and the Challenge in the Diaspora"
  Rabbi Marc D. Angel, Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Shearith Israel (The Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue) and Director of the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals
    o Topic: “The Conversion Crisis as a Symptom of a Larger Crisis in Halakhic Judaism.”
  Rabbi David Novak, J. Richard and Dorothy Shiff Chair of Jewish Studies, University of Toronto and President of Union for Traditional Judaism (UTJ)
    o Topic: “Reviving the Ger Toshav in the Land of Israel”

“There are hundreds of non-Jews who are eager to convert to Judaism and live a religious, halakhic lifestyle, but who are being turned away by a Rabbinate that is fundamentalist and imposing unprecedented stringencies,” said Rabbi Novak. “Our goal is to bring together everyone who believes the current system in Israel and the diaspora is broken and needs immediate fixing.”

When: The program will be held Sunday, May 17, 2:00pm
Where: Congregation Ramath Orah, 550 West 110th St., N.Y.
Registration/Further Information: Advanced registration is preferred.  To register (suggested $10 donation) or to sponsor this event (minimum $100 donation), please click "donate," button at the top of the screen call (201) 801-0707 x 111 or email

Rabbi Schachter’s Troubling Tone

This letter first appeared in The Jewish Link of Bergen County

Rabbi Hershel Schachter’s resposum concerning young women being permitted to wear tefillin in yeshiva schools is less troubling for its conclusion as it is for its attitude.  Rabbi Schachter emphatically denies the right of reasonable rabbinic minds to disagree with him, charging that his students were out of bounds in making a decision on their own permitting women to don teffiln and tallit, rather than referring the question to gedolei hora’ah (giants of instruction) such as himself.

One might suspect that it is necessary to defer to gedolei hora’ah due to their superior knowledge of text and that, therefore, Rabbi Schachter’s responsum would explicate texts that these lesser rabbis had failed to consider or had misconstrued.  But he cannot do so, because the texts are clear:

The Babylonian Talmud (Eruvin 96a) reports, without dissent, that Michal, daughter of Saul, wore tefillin and that, “the sages didn’t bother her.”  The Jerusalem Talmud (Eruvin 10:1, 26a) and Pesikta Rabati (22) offer the same report, albeit with the lone dissent of Rav Chizkiah in the name of Rabbi Abahu.  The early post-Talmudic rabbis took the Babylonian Talmud’s report (as well as the general rule that women may perform acts for which they are not obligated) to be halakhically decisive and ruled that women may wear tefillin (e.g. Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah 471 and Responsa of RaSh”Ba 1:123), and Rabbenu Tam went as far as to cite the Michal story as proof that women may say a blessing when performing such acts (Eruvin 96a s.v. dilma savar).

The UTJ's Op-Ed Initiative

The UTJ's Op-Ed Initiative is now underway with a goal of getting UTJ thinking into the public square on a monthly basis. Please click on the links below for news coverage that has appeared over the last three months. In order to keep our issues in front of the public, we encourage you to respond to our pieces by posting your comments on websites and writing letters to editors.

Rabbi David Bauman, Executive Director of the UTJ, to deliver Menorah for the White House Chanukah Party

On December 13th, the White House Chanukah Party will be illuminated by a beautiful brass Menorah from Temple Israel of Long Beach NY, that was rescued just one month ago from Hurricane Sandy’s devastation. Rabbi David Bauman, Executive Director of the Union for Traditional Judaism, and the synagogue’s spiritual leader, and President of the synagogue Bruce Sklover, will transport the Menorah to Washington for this special honor at the Chanukah party, hosted by President and Mrs. Obama.
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