Conservative Conversions

Marc B. Shapiro blogs:

Of particular interest to me was R. Yissachar Dov Hoffman’s article on the practice of a number of great Torah sages of prior generations not to kiss their children. Such a practice is so much against the contemporary mindset of what is regarded as healthy that, as R. Hoffman notes, even a Satmar rabbi, R. Israel David Harfenes, has stated that “in our time it is forbidden to follow this path” (p. 293).
Apropos of the above-mentioned responsum on conversion by R. Ovadiah Yosef, in Beit Hillel, Adar 5770, R. Yisrael Meir Yonah deals with a conversion done by a Conservative beit din. He rules that in this particular case the conversion is valid. This ruling was affirmed by R. Ovadiah.
In his responsum, R. Yonah states that R. Moses Feinstein regarded Conservative conversions as doubtful conversions rather than completely invalid…

R. Feinstein himself, who wrote very strongly against Conservative conversions, also writes about such a conversion: כמעט ברור שאין עושין הגרות כדין. The word כמעט shows us that even R. Moshe recognized that there are times when a Conservative conversion can be halakhically valid. In Mesorat Moshe, vol. 1, p. 327, we see as well that R. Moshe acknowledged the possibility that a Conservative conversion could be valid…

I also know someone who offers eyewitness testimony that R. Moshe did not think that every Conservative conversion could be voided without investigation, especially as this would mean that women married to these converts would then be able to remarry without a get. R. Moshe was not willing to go this far.
Similarly, R. Ovadiah Yosef, when asked about a Conservative conversion, replied that before giving a ruling it was necessary to find out which Conservative rabbi did the conversion, “since the Conservatives are not all alike.”[3]
R. Ovadiah was also asked about a woman who had become religious and was interested in going out with a kohen for the purpose of marriage. The problem was that she had slept with a man whose mother was converted by a Conservative rabbi. This man’s family was somewhat traditional as they kept kosher, made kiddush, and lit Shabbat candles. Could the woman in question marry a kohen, which is forbidden if she had slept with a non-Jew? The answer to this question depends on the status of the man whose mother was converted by a Conservative rabbi. If the conversion was invalid then the man was also to be regarded as a non-Jew, and the woman we are discussing, who slept with this man, would be forbidden to a kohen.
R. Ovadiah replied that the woman could marry a kohen, which means that be-diavad he accepted the Conservative conversion. He gave this ruling without even seeking further knowledge about the particular rabbi who did the conversion under question, which appears to me to be an incredible leniency. In seeking to explain this ruling, R. Yehudah Naki writes, “We see that they observed some mitzvot, so be-diavad there is more room to be lenient, at least not to forbid others” (that is, to forbid the woman from marrying the kohen).[4]
As mentioned, R. Ovadiah accepted R. Yonah’s pesak that a particular conversion carried out by a Conservative beit din was valid. In this case, the daughter of a woman who had been converted wished to marry a kohen. This would only be allowed if the daughter was born Jewish, meaning that everything depended on the status of her mother’s conversion.

* There are fourteen different synagogues in Djerba. After visiting a number of them I noticed that they had no women’s sections. I asked one of the rabbis about the lack of ezrat nashim. He replied, in words that must sound blasphemous to Modern Orthodox ears, “What do women have to do with a synagogue?” While in the U.S. we build “women friendly” mehitzot, so that as much as possible the women can feel part of the synagogue service, in Djerba women’s spirituality has nothing to do with the synagogue. While I later learned that three of the synagogues do have an ezrat nashim, women never attend on Shabbat, only on Rosh ha-Shanah, Yom Kippur, and Purim. The popular Modern Orthodox notion that it is important for women, especially unmarried ones, to attend synagogue on Shabbat is something the women of Djerba know nothing about.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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