MICHTAV SHLOMO: HILCHOT GEIRIM HAMEVUAR

MICHTAV SHLOMO: HILCHOT GEIRIM HAMEVUAR by Rabbi Shlomo Krispin
Or Etzion, 2015
Since the establishment of the State of Israel, there has been a steady influx of Jews from the four corners of the globe that have chosen to make Israel their home. While the great majority of these immigrants have been halakhically Jewish (ie. born of a Jewish mother or previously converted in accordance with Jewish law), a considerable number have not. In particular, the 1990’s was a turning point in Israel when it absorbed 979,000 immigrants from the Former Soviet Union, of which approximately 300,000 were not halakhically Jewish. Though David Ben Gurion wrote in 1958 that ‘there is no need here to fear the assimilation of Jews among non-Jews,’ this large quantity of non-halakhically Jewish citizens of Israel has been a game changer for Israeli society, and it is in response to this shift that a number of leading rabbis have sought ways for these individuals to convert to Judaism.
While there are Dayanim who believe that the giur (conversion) process in Israel should be identical with the approach of other Battei Din (Jewish courts) in the diaspora, others argue that the choice of these individuals to live in Israel, serve in her army, and broadly live in accordance with a Jewish lifestyle itself speaks volumes about their positive attitude towards Judaism. Consequently, we encounter two schools of thought regarding conversion in Israel: those who consider the choice to live in Israel as a factor in the conversion process, and those who do not. At the same time, those authorities who have adopted a more lenient approach to conversion in Israel, such as Rabbi Ben-Zion Uziel, Rabbi Isser Unterman, Rabbi Shlomo Goren and others have often been criticized by those who have adopted a strict approach with the claim that their leniencies go beyond the boundaries of accepted halakha, and in response to this, many of these scholars have sought to show how an unduly strict approach to conversion  is, in fact, a recent phenomenon and that it is they who are following normative halakha.
While many articles and books have been written on this hot topic, many of these have only focussed on specific facets of this question (eg. Kabbalat Ol Mitzvot), and where they have been technically comprehensive, they have rarely been written by Dayanim ‘in the field’ who are acquainted with the practical issues that arise during this process.
Given this, I was particularly interested to learn through Michtav Shlomo which is a comprehensive work (spanning 607 pages!) written by Rabbi Shlomo Krispin who is the Rabbi of the Or Yesharim community in Pardes Chana, Av Beit Din of the conversion court in Haifa and also Av Beit Din of the conversion court for soldiers in the IDF. Though primarily focussing on halakhic issues, Rabbi Krispin begins the work with a fascinating introduction that discusses the philosophical and mystical aspects of conversion, after which he proceeds to analyse all aspects of conversion such as the need to love the convert, the responsibilities of a conversion court, the process of accepting converts and laws relating to the circumcision and immersion of a convert.
Precisely because Michtav Shlomo is written from a practical perspective, Rabbi Krispin does not shy away from discussing some of the awkward practical questions which are rarely addressed in print. For example, he makes it clear that any soldier in the IDF who have begun – but not completed – the conversion process and who is killed in battle may be buried in the Jewish cemetery for fallen soldiers. He discusses the ways in which a Beit Din can approve a candidate for conversion who suffers from selective mutism (and therefore cannot communicate to the Dayanim), and he also expresses his frustration concerning the recent phenomenon of the invalidation of conversions by some Battei Din.
Michtav Shlomo is an important book from an expert with significant practical and a deep understanding of the challenges being faced by Israel as a society, and by Dayanim who are trying to respond to those challenges.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s