Leniency Within the Orthodox Movement

Rabbi Uziel holds that as long as the judges first attempt to break off a projected marriage to a non-Jew, they are obligated to convert the non-Jew, even if the motivation is marriage.

Print this page Print this page

In considering issues relating to the conversion of non-Jews to Judaism, Orthodox Jews tend to defend a strict policy that we term the halakhic approach [one that strictly follows traditional Jewish law]. Conversion for the sole purpose of marriage is highly discouraged. Conversion when the non-Jew does not intend to observe halakhah in full is generally considered to be no conversion at all. Rabbi Melech Schachter, in a fine article on conversion, states what most Orthodox Jews believe:

"Needless to say, conversion to Judaism without commitment to observance has no validity whatever, and the spuriously converted person remains in the eyes of halakhah a non-Jew as before."


The Denial of Conversions Motivated by Marriage Creates More Intermarriage

The traditional stringency is not the only halakhically valid approach available to us; on the contrary, this may be the proper time to rely on other halakhic standards. No one will argue that conversion to Judaism for other than spiritual reasons is ideal. Certainly it should be discouraged. However, in terms of practical reality we may have to be more tolerant of such conversions.

Raphael Hayyim Saban, then the Chief Rabbi of Istanbul, wrote to Rabbi Benzion Meir Hai Uziel, the Rishon Lezion, in 1943, asking if conversion for the sake of marriage is valid.

orthodox couple in israelIn his response, Rabbi Uziel opens with a quotation from the Shulhan Arukh (Yoreh Deah, 268:12), which states that we must examine a potential convert to determine if his motives for accepting Judaism are sincere. Certainly, the ideal is not to convert those who are insincere. Then Rabbi Uziel adds that since in our generation intermarriage is common in civil courts, we are often forced to convert the non-Jewish partner in order to free the couple from the prohibition of intermarriage. We must also do so in order to spare their children who would otherwise be lost to the Jewish fold. If we are faced with a de facto mixed marriage we are permitted to convert the non-Jewish spouse and the children, when applicable. If this is true when a couple is already married, it is obviously true before they have begun a forbidden marriage relationship. The conversion could offset future transgressions and religious difficulties.

Rabbi Uziel bases his opinion on a responsum of the Rambam [a 12th-century North African philosopher and halakhist]. The case before Maimonides dealt with a Jewish man who had a non-Jewish maid-servant. The man was suspected of having conducted himself immorally with his servant. Should the beit din [rabbinic court] have her removed from his house?

In his answer, the Rambam states categorically that according the law, the maid should be sent out. After it learned of his wrongs, the beit din was obligated to exert all its power either to have the maid sent out or to have the Jewish master free and then marry her.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Rabbi Marc D. Angel

Marc D. Angel is Rabbi emeritus of Congregation Shearith Israel, the historic Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in New York City.