Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Conversion for Marriage

R. Gedalia Dov Schwartz recently reached the milestone of serving as the Av Beth Din of Chicago for 20 years. The Chicago Rabbinical Council published a book in honor of this event titled Sha'arei Gedula (link, scroll down). The book has a long biography of R. Schwartz, with plenty of "color commentary" added. The next and largest section is an overview of the halakhic challenges facing the American Orthodox rabbinate in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This is an extremely fascinating series of essays that, while lacking some of the historical sense of a trained historian, is nevertheless an extremely valuable historical treatment and simply a fascinating halakhic study. The final section is a long list of "Ask the Rav" questions and answers, often based simply on quoting other halakhic authorities but occasionally answered with R. Schwartz's unique perspective.

Let me quote part of the section on conversion that is relevant to contemporary discussion. However, let me briefly note that this should not be understood as an endorsement of the work of the EJF because 1) it does not address their practice of reaching out to intermarried couples (link), and 2) it certainly does not justify their dismissal of the Modern Orthodox rabbinate (I, II).

Click here to read moreR. Gedalia Dov Schwartz, Sha'arei Gedula, pp. 219-221 (I am taking the liberty of omitting some footnotes and incorporating others into the text):

Naturally, while there are teshuvos regarding the practical application of conversion, the teshuvos germane to intermarriage were principal in the minds of the twentieth century Rabbonim. For example, in 1927 Rabbi Chaim Fischel Epstein wrote concerning a woman who had converted in order to marry a Jew. The question was asked to Rabbi Epstein by Rabbi Yekusiel Yehuda Greenwald, was whether one would be permitted to perform the marriage of this couple in light of the halacha that a convert is not accepted unless his or her sincerity is substantiated, which would naturally preclude conversion for marriage. Rabbi Epstein wrote that the suspicion of insincerity only applies before the conversion; once the conversion is performed the principle of "כולם גרים הם - they are all converts" [see Yevamos 24b], takes effect. In addition, Rabbi Shlomo Kluger wrote that a conversion may be performed if there is a concern that the Jewish partner may otherwise become less religious. Accordingly, Rabbi Epstein permitted Rabbi Greenwald to perform the marriage [Teshuvah Shelemah, vol. 2 Even Ha-Ezer no. 10; see below].

Rabbi Shmuel Yalow dealt with another question which arose due to a common situation in America in the early 1900s. One case in point concerned a man who married a non-Jewish woman in a civil ceremony with a Justice of the Peace. Later, he wanted his wife to convert and to hav eproper kiddushin with her. First, Rabbi Yalow wrote that the conversion could not be accepted, as it would clearly be performed with ulterior motives. Later, however, he wondered whether perhaps, since this is something that was becoming commonplace, there might be cause to be lenient in order to save the couple from transgressing. Rabbi Yalow then posed the question in the journal Hatevuna in 1922. Rabbi Yechezkel Abromsky promptly responded to Rabbi Yalow that based on a teshuva of Rambam, the conversion can be permitted. He also said that this case is not considered a conversion for the purpose of marriage, as the couple was already living together as husband and wife [Shalmei Shmuel, no. 5; see below].
Here are scans of the teshuvos discussed above (click on them to enlarge them):

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