Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Ruling of Rav Ovadia Yosef and Rav Shlomo Amar on Conversions

Shlomo Moshe Amar
Rishon Lezion Chief Rabbi of Israel
President of the Great Rabbinical Court

[Translation by Elli Fischer. Original Hebrew appears here. Interpretation and analysis appear here.]

This is the Law that Emerges from the Three Aforementioned Court Rulings:

Conversion (geirut) is a purely halakhic concept. It is not subject to substitution or punditry (parshanut). It is thus mandatory that geirut be in accordance with the halakha as explained by Maimonides and the Shulchan Arukh

a. A convert who was circumcised and immersed but did not accept the commandments (mitzvot) of the Torah in the presence of three who are qualified to judge, is not a convert at all. Even if he accepted the mitzvot upon himself, if it was not in the presence of three who are qualified to judge, it is meaningless.

b. The rabbinical conversion court (beit din) must adequately examine whether the prospective convert has studied and knows the rudiments of faith, and also has studied the basic halakhot of Judaism (as practiced in Israeli rabbinical courts).

c. Similarly, they will examine his motives and objectives for conversion. They will examine whether he is sincere in saying that he accepts the Torah and mitzvot upon himself, and is not deceiving the rabbinical court.

d. If their assessment is that he will certainly not uphold the mitzvot, they should not accept him as a convert.

e. A convert who was circumcised and immersed and accepted the mitzvot of the Torah in the presence of three who are qualified to judge, and everythings was done properly and halakhically, and he then reverted to his mistaken ways and violates the mitzvot of the Torah, he is like an apostate Jew: his wine is forbidden, but his marriage and divorce are valid, as is stated explicitly in the Talmud, the code of Maimonides, and the Shulchan Arukh.

[Handwritten portion:]
The aforementioned statements are the conclusions of responsa that I wrote regarding matters of conversion. I have already made it clear that according to Maimonides, of blessed memory, acceptance of mitzvot in the presence of three who are qualified to judge is indispensable (le-ikuva). I explained in detail his [=Maimonides’s] statements in Chapter 12 of the Laws of Forbidden Relations, in a responsum from 5764 which was printed in Responsa Shema Shlomo VI (Yoreh De’ah 12). I have now clarified the matter again, and these words were viewed by the decisor (poseik) of our generation, our master, the Rishon Lezion, the prince of Israel’s sages, the author of Yabia Omer [=Rav Ovadia Yosef] shlita. He agreed and signed with his own hand and even added, in his own handwriting, that this is the truth of the Torah and that it is a law that must not be violated (chok ve-lo ya’avor. I have also sent all of this to the [secular] Supreme Court, to negate the opinion of those who were mistaken on this matter.
Regarding army conversions, it is clear that in addition to the circumcision and immersion being in the presence of a lawful rabbinical court of three, each convert accepts the yoke of Torah and the yoke of the mitzvot upon himself in the presence of a rabbinical court of three. This is after they are taught the rudiments of the mitzvot, as is known, are tested, and spend time with Torah- and mitzva-observant families who have even recommended them.
I grab the coattails of our master [=Rav Ovadia Yosef], shlita, and sign,
S. M. Amar

All of the aforesaid is the truest truth (emet le-amitah) of the Torah
The obvious needs no proof,
Ovadia Yosef