Rabbi Elchonon Tauber, a leading expert on Jewish law in Los Angeles, says in this class posted online: “We don’t encourage proselytizing. We have no intention of making goyim into Jews. There’s no mitzvah. Chazal (Talmudic rabbis) say that converts as as difficult for Israel as a nasty skin disease.”
“Should you [a Jew] adopt a Jewish child? The Lubavitcher Rebbe said no because of yichud (being alone with a member of the opposite sex not a family member). Many gadolim hold that we should not adopt non-Jewish children and make them into Jews.”
“There are many incredible converts but all rabbis have met converts who turned out to be a disaster.”
“Some converts only want to be Modern Orthodox with a lot of cutting corners, not covering their hair, etc. I try to stay away from such converts.”
“There’s a rabbi called Abner Weiss. He used to do conversions. He’s not learned. He’s a good speaker. Beth Jacob needed a good speaker. He’s a Cohen and he married a divorcee. I got a phone call from Brazil once. He said that this Rabbi Weiss made a conversion a long time ago. I said, then it was good. Later he became not-good.”
“You fell in love with a girl and we should make a conversion? A learned Beit Din (Jewish law court) won’t touch this. We don’t accept this but if a Beit Din did it, it’s a kosher conversion.”
“There’s someone in the news [Barry Freundel]. Let’s say his sin was pornography. If it was that, that’s complicated. If a dayan (rabbinic decider) speaks lashon hara (evil speech), are his conversions invalid? It’s complicated.”
“If we can prove that he slept with a woman who was not his wife, then his conversions after that are invalid. But you need two kosher witnesses.”
“You have to keep all the mitzvahs [to be a valid convert to Judaism]. I’ll say this on the record. I’m not afraid. The RCC has a Rabbi Adlerstein and he signed a letter a year ago saying we accept everyone, there are different types of Judaism… He was talking about the ladies demonstrating at the Wall (Kotel). I showed it to Rabbi Shochet and a few rabbis. This sounds like he does not believe in the 13 Principles of Judaism as listed by Maimonides.”
Here is the letter in question published in the Jewish Journal June 6, 2013:
“There are no villains in this story.” Those were the calming words of Natan Sharansky, renowned human rights champion and Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel. The story was of in-fighting that has erupted among Jews at the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism. Sharansky, tasked with resolving the issue by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, spoke to a group of Los Angeles Rabbis last week, knowing that the monthly Jewish holiday of Rosh Hodesh will arrive this Sunday – and many Jews will gather again for prayer at the Western Wall. The prospect of clashes has unsettled the Jewish world.
Some of those gathering will be part of “Women of the Wall,” a group of women and men meeting every Rosh Hodesh for almost 25 years. The women will be praying as a group in the women’s section. Others will be women and men who believe that the way “Women of the Wall” pray violates Jewish law. Last month on Rosh Hodesh these differences led to an ugly confrontation. As the great Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai wrote a generation ago, “From the place where we are right flowers will never grow in the spring.” From the place where we are right, violence erupts.
We are American rabbis from different denominations; we know there are different ways to be a Jew. We know that the ability to disagree civilly does not grow spontaneously. It takes many years of cultivating relationships and building trust through meeting, listening, sharing, and working together. This is a process that diaspora rabbis and Jews have been engaged in for decades, one which has begun to bear real fruit in recent years.
Here in Los Angeles many of us are reaching across our divisions to model a relationship of respect and dignity. Despite our deep differences, we all equally love the Jewish people and the State of Israel. We dare not demonize or dehumanize one another.
The Western Wall is a central symbol to all Jews. But this Wall that has united people can also divide us. Winston Churchill used to say that Americans and the British are two peoples separated by a common language. The two groups vying for control of the Western Wall are two communities separated by a common scripture, the Torah. Matters of conscience are not themselves amenable to compromise or negotiation. Still, we all believe that a principal element of conscience is to listen and learn from one another and to show the respect and dignity that befits an ancient people and a great tradition.
Few know that better than Natan Sharansky, who languished in the gulag for eight years. He was chosen by Israel’s Prime Minister to come up with a solution, one that would defuse a dispute that spilled over to Jewish denominations in the United States, and strained relations between diaspora Jews and the State of Israel at a time that she is threatened existentially by Iran and the possibility looms of a front opening up with Syria. Sharansky reminded us that while each was – and still is – convinced of the justice of his or her position, there was another side to be heard.
Freed in exchange for a Soviet spy in 1986, Sharansky explained that he was whisked off to Jerusalem, now in the company of his wife Avital from whom he had been separated so many years before, right after their marriage. One of his first stops, of course, was the Western Wall. He clung to Avital’s hand to remind himself that this was no fantasy, no dream from which he would wake up in solitary confinement once again. Nearing the Wall, however, he and Avital had to briefly part company, as men and women are separated in prayer in Orthodox tradition. He did not convey this with any resentment. (His wife, in fact, is Orthodox.) He told us of what he understood at that moment. The Western Wall serves as a place to pray for countless Jews. But it also serves as a powerful focus of national Jewish yearning and aspiration, quite apart from religious belief. Somehow, both have to be satisfied, and that is what his plan would try to do, embodying the key Jewish and democratic values of mutual respect, inclusion and tolerance. Sharansky and the Government of Israel should be commended for engaging in this ambitious effort to resolve such a difficult problem.
We believe that this is a message that resonates not only among the Jews of our great city, but among all our neighbors as well. At a time when the Middle East faces increasing upheaval and bitter partisanship has become a norm even within many democratic countries, this is a theme worth amplifying and repeating. And with the help of G-d, perhaps some of our determination will reflect back to Jerusalem, the “City of Peace,” and make it more peaceful yet. With some gentleness we can ensure that flowers will always be able to grow.
Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein
Rabbi Denise Eger
Rabbi Ed Feinstein
Rabbi Morley Feinstein
Rabbi Laura Geller
Rabbi Judith HaLevy
Rabbi Eli Herscher
Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky
Rabbi Elazar Muskin
Rabbi Kalman Topp
Rabbi David Wolpe
Members of a Task Force on Jewish Unity comprised of Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Progressive and Reconstructionist leaders
Rabbi Tauber: “I’m not sure his conversions are kosher. They say he did it for political reasons.”
“There’s a rabbi [Yosef Kanefsky] who announced publicly he no longer says the blessing, ‘Thank you God for not making me a woman.’ To me, he sounds like an apikoros (heretic).”
“R. Shmuel Kamanetsky says in Philadelphia, they made a Modern Orthodox conversion. The rabbi came from a shul without a mehitza. Rabbi Kamanetsky declared the conversion invalid. He made the lady do a more strict conversion.”
“Or if you find out the rabbi was a molester, but you have to know when that started.”
“I was shocked that the RCA came out and said [Barry Freundel's conversions were kosher]. Maybe something will come out? Maybe there are witnesses?”
“In the 1970s, there were a lot of hippies who became Jews and it didn’t take long and they became goyim. The rabbis got together and they decided to make prospective converts live like an Orthodox Jew for a year before converting.”
“I once heard from a ger (convert) that Yom Kippur didn’t work for me.”
“Why don’t we teach them about sex [when they first seek to convert, instead we teach them Shabbos and kashrut]? I ask a lot of people who became religious what was the hardest thing? And they said sex. Sex is the most powerful.”
I’m translating the rabbi’s comments, best I can, into English. I’m not doing a literal translation. I am trying to convey the sense of the rabbi’s comments.