Sparked by a scandal over a prominent rabbi’s mistreatment of conversion candidates, a review of conversion practices in the Orthodox community by a special committee of the Rabbinical Council of America has resulted in a series of helpful recommendations to make the experience more user-friendly. (See story, page 10.)
Five of the 11 members of the committee were women, and two of them were converts themselves, a welcome sign. Their goal was to improve the RCA’s Geirus (Hebrew for conversion) Protocol and Standards (GPS) that had been established by Rabbi Barry Freundel, who later was arrested for spying on women in his Washington, D.C., synagogue’s mikvah. The committee focused on the process itself, and as Rabbi Leonard Matanky, the president of the RCA, noted, he and his colleagues benefited in hearing from converts themselves through an extensive survey. “It was an important perspective they gave us,” he said, “and an important voice we gave them.”
The larger issues remain about the RCA’s reluctance to pressure the Israeli Chief Rabbinate over its stringent policies that discourage rather than encourage conversion. But the new commitment to make conversion procedures here in the U.S. more welcoming, within the bounds of halacha, and sensitive to the needs of those willing to embrace Judaism and Jewish life, is a powerful statement — one that should be broadened and deepened as the recommendations are implemented.