Friday, November 09, 2007

Conversion and the Age of the Universe

A commenter posted here and on other blogs that at this week's conference of the Eternal Jewish Family, R. Nachum Eisenstein announced from the podium that R. Yosef Shalom Elyashiv told him that any rabbi who believes that the world is more than approximately 6,000 years old is a heretic and may not perform conversion (link). I have confirmed the essence of the story -- that R. Eisenstein said such a thing to the audience. I have not confirmed whether R. Elyashiv actually told him that.

Generally speaking, my attitude towards R. Elyashiv's rulings is that they are Torah and a mitzvah to learn but not of particular interest over other areas of Torah and have no impact on my personal practice. In other words, I generally react with a "so what?" or "that's interesting". But in this case, this ruling can have a chilling effect on existing converts and future conversions. I personally know of rabbis with this belief who have performed many conversions.

It seems clear to me that the Modern Orthodox rabbinate has, with this statement, been largely shut out from the ongoing talks about conversion standards. Perhaps this is a good thing. But what about the moderate Charedi rabbinate? Will they allow this to continue? Will they stand by quietly and watch the disqualification of R. David Tzvi Hoffmann, Rav Kook and R. Yitzchak Herzog?

When the Rambam wrote that people who believe that God can appear corporeally are heretics, the Ra'avad disagreed and wrote that even though he does not believe in that he is not ready to declare such people to be heretics. Will any Ra'avads be standing up over the next few weeks to declare that this is overreaching and that "Gedolim ve-tovim mimenu" held such a view?

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