About two weeks ago we flagged an op-ed in the New York Jewish Week by Rabbi Avi Weiss, in which he criticized the Rabbinical Council of America’s refusal to validate a conversion performed years ago. Now two leaders of the RCA, Rabbis Barry Freundel and Shlomo Hochberg, have responded with their own article:
Rabbi Weiss would have us believe that the RCA’s failure to endorse a particular conversion indicates that the RCA is planning to reevaluate the status of all previous converts. How anyone would get such a notion is beyond us, and promulgating that view does a great disservice to many upstanding converts who may now worry that their Jewishness is in question.
The notion that the RCA was at fault in a case wherein a convert served as one of the rabbis on a conversion court creates a potentially harmful misunderstanding. The issue of whether a convert may serve on a rabbinical court for conversion is complex, and disputed by halachic authorities. Given the range of opinion on this topic, and with the best interest of converts in mind, the RCA and its affiliated Beth Din of America, after much careful deliberation, concluded that a convert should not serve in this capacity. This view was accepted not to insult anyone but to ensure that there would never be any reason to question the legitimacy of our converts.
In practical terms, when faced with a case where a member of the court was himself a convert, the RCA’s recommendation is for the convert to undergo a pro forma act of conversion where possible. That act (performed without a bracha) serves to resolve in advance any potential issues for the convert, as well as for future progeny. Contrary to Rabbi Weiss’ claim, this position has been consistently articulated by the RCA regarding all conversions performed under such circumstances.