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- An insider’s perspective
After being a mentor for some time with The Eternal Jewish Family and witnessing first hand its many serious flaws, the question is what do we need such an organization that dilutes the very framework of halachah that has guided the Jewish people for the last two thousand years? My first assignment was to work with an intermarried couple, where the non-Jewish husband was enthusiastic about committing to Judaism and learning what it means to become a Jew. His Jewish spouse was less than enthusiastic and cold about the whole idea. As I was approached by Rabbi Jacobs to speak to this family, I asked him point blank, how can you even think about working with this man if his wife is not supportive and want nothing really to do with Judaism? Not only that, from a halachic perspective, what was I allowed to teach this man if his wife was not yet on board? Jewish history? A little bit of Hebrew? Gematrias? As I posed this question to Rabbi Jacobs, he did acknowledge that this certainly was not lechatchila to work with such a family, but he wanted to see where it would go. After all the conferences all over the world and world-class Rabbanim and Rosh Yeshivos who took part, who paskened such a question that this was permissible? Another glaring question that I asked as I started my work for them was: is there a Shulchan Aruch or a standard that you use when deciding which families to take, who not to take? What about the curriculum? Was there even a syllabus? Who are the tutors that are used, how are tutors qualified? What education is given, if any at all, to the Jewish partner? After all, doesn’t the Jewish partner have to have the same commitment and knowledge as the non-Jewish partner who wants to convert? Is there a rav in any of these communities who gives these people guidance and if so, how much contact does EJF have with them? To illustrate the chaos in this organization, I want to tell the following story. My wife and I worked with a certain couple. We were giving them classes for more than a year and then they were ready to go in front of the beis din. The shabbos before the conversion, they came to our house and we met them for the first time. The family was very nice. Definitely committed to the ideals of a Torah way of life. Their kids were in a local day school in their community and quite frankly, we were very proud of the work we had done with them. When they were in the middle of their conversion with the beis din, we received a call to verify their seriousness and commitment to Judaism. We had only met them that
shabbos but were in close contact with them over the year and were able to see and hear about their progress and what spiritual direction they were headed. The beis din was happy with our recommendation and based on our final say, finished the conversion. What about the community in which they lived? Wasn’t there any rabbinical figure there that they had worked with that could have verified the information that the beis din required? What verification was there of their Shabbos, Yom Tov experience? After this episode, I again mentioned to Rabbi Jacobs, how could it be, that after more than a year of working with EJF that they were not in contact with any rabbinical figure in their area that could tell how they were progressing and what they were doing? Even if the families that EJF works with are serious minded and committed to an Orthodox lifestyle, who is guiding these people in their own communities? Is it enough just for the mentors to speak to them on the phone? This leads to another question. Who are these mentors? I asked Rabbi Jacobs many times who they used as mentors and how he qualified them as good mentors. I never got an answer on that even though I heard that they use fine people. After all, even though EJF is an organization under the umbrella of Rabbi Tropper’s Baal Teshuvah Yeshivah, Kol Yaakov, is conversion really the same thing as kiruv? Do we want kiruv people or even baalei batim working with these people without any special training? There were no qualifying criteria for being a mentor for this organization. Period. Not only that, they gave the Jewish spouse only an hour a week to learn with someone from Partners in Torah. There are two mentors that I knew of that mentored for EJF. Both have had vast experience in working with converts and baalei teshuvah. After speaking to these two individuals at great length over the years, I came to the obvious conclusion that although they may be well-versed in kiruv and geirus, there was one thing that stood out from their resumes. Neither possessed any daas Torah whatsoever. How do I know this? First of all, they don’t mention anybody on their resumes about it, for one. I also know these two individuals in another capacity whereby both are moderators of an online group that helps people in the process of conversion. These prospective converts have a place to go, so to speak where they can ask their questions, get reading material and listen to the stories of others in the same process. These moderators see the questions come, and either allow them to go in or reject them. The all important question you may ask is where is the rabbinic advisory board that oversees the questions that are asked and what is allowed or disallowed. As I sat in disbelief a number of times from these two individuals were that they did not have a rabbinical board or had any desire sending questions to Rabbanim because they were afraid it would turn off perspective people interested in the group.
I heard this from both people on numerous occasions and the only reason I mention this is to show what a few of the mentors look like. These are some of the better ones that at least have worked with converts before. With such an important job to service these people, do we want just anyone teaching these perspective converts? With all the hoopla of the many conventions that EJF has had all over the world, what about all the choshever Rabbanim and Roshei Yeshiva that have addressed these conferences. Do they really have any inkling as to what is happening within the organization? Are they ever given any serious halachic questions to deal with? The bottom line of all these conventions was that it seemed there was a difference of opinion among the vast rabbinic personalities about conversion in general. Even at one of the dayanim conferences, one prominent dayan told me that over the course of two days, there may have been about 10 minutes of real information that he benefited from. I am afraid to ask what these people did the rest of the time? What about the batei din on EJF’s list that states that they are all on the same page about the idea of a universal conversion. It in theory is a great idea, but in reality there are many batei din on this list that first of all, don’t even know they are on the list but also have no idea what the organization does. Some of these stories are just the tip of the iceberg of the disaster and krumkeit that this organization purports, all in the name of helping these families. Yes, such an organization should exist and continue this important work. It must be done with competent people that know what they are doing! There needs someone to oversee the mentors and to train them. There should be close contact with batei din and Rabbanim in the communities so that everyone will be on the same page. The Jewish spouse needs real education from people who have the knowledge to give it to them. It should not be once a week for an hour! They have to be involved in their own communities and show the commitment needed for the non-Jewish spouse to convert. Unfortunately, there are probably thousands of people out there that could be helped by such an organization. If it would be done in the proper way, without compromising halachah, it could be an unbelievable Kiddush Hashem. As of right now, it is a disaster and in total disarray. It’s not about the scandal and how it happened. It is about who is running the organization and why it is hefker. Putting the right people in charge, could make all the difference in the world but it instead it looks like a one-man show. As the old adage goes, it is either my way or no way. From Rabbi Dunner’s letter (5Towns Jewish Times January 11, 2010), it definitely looks that way and that is just a recipe for disaster!