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On Mikva and Matan Torah

:
Observations from Witnessing the
Conversion Process

A s director of the Mechina
program at Stern College for
Women, a program geared
toward women who are coming
from unaffiliated or less affiliated
Mrs. Shoshana Schechter
Director of Mechina Pathways and Assistant
Professor of Bible, Stern College for Women
backgrounds with limited to no
formal Jewish education, I have had
the opportunity and privilege of I’m not sure if she or I was more she’s older,” at which point the rabbi,
seeing young women from all over anxious, though in all fairness it was to help lighten the mood, smiled and
the world accept the yoke of heaven probably she. The mere thought of said, “You know, we can change that
and the yoke of mitzvot and choose entering a mikva with a group of three now too.”
a life of Torah. For some of these rabbis was itself anxiety-provoking In my experience in accompanying
women, though, the choice was not to say the least. It certainly didn’t these young women, the most
merely choosing a Torah lifestyle make it easier after the news media inspiring part of the geirut process
over a secular Jewish one, but rather reported about mikva scandals is the proceeding that takes place
choosing Judaism altogether. I have involving a corrupt rabbi abusing his immediately before the woman
had the unique opportunity to guide power over vulnerable women seeking is about to immerse in the mikva.
several of my students through the conversion. The members of the beit While partially immersed and
geirut process and to experience the din (that served on the cases that I completely covered except for her
event as a layperson from the inside. have dealt with), Rabbis Rapp, Romm head, Rabbi Romm asks her a series
And I must say, the entire experience, and Willig, deal with the immersion of questions before her complete
from the initial beit din meetings, to with tremendous sensitivity and immersion. Discreetly, from just
follow-up communication with the modesty. Numerous steps are taken to outside the doorway, he begins by
members of the beit din, culminating ensure that the immersion takes place asking her, “By immersing at this
in the final tevillah (immersion), I with the utmost standards of tzniut. time, do you agree to believe in one
have been struck time and time again Additionally, the rabbis, aware of the G-d and reject other gods and other
by the sensitivity in which the process potential anxiety, do everything they religions?” He then continues asking
was handled. [Note: I have dealt solely can to put each woman at ease. My her about the acceptance of other
with the Manhattan Beth Din for favorite line at one conversion of twin aspects of Judaism including belief
Conversions under the leadership of sisters was when one of the rabbis in G-d’s revelation of the Torah, both
Rabbi Zvi Romm.] asked, “OK, who’s going first?” and the Written and Oral Law, belief in
To be perfectly honest, the first time I one of the young women pointed to reward and punishment, acceptance
accompanied a student to the mikva, her sister and said, “she will because

PERSPECTIVES ON CONVERSION
Special Symposium • Shavuot 5777

44
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
of Shabbat, kashrut, tzniut, tefilla. Experiencing these events have been covenant and this imprecation, but with
He then asks about her commitment and continue to be among the most whoever is here, standing with us today
to Jewish community: living in a inspiring experiences of my life. As before Hashem, our G-d, and with
Jewish community and being actively Rabbi Romm asks the young women whoever is not here with us today.
involved in a community that is to agree to a lifelong commitment Devarim 29:13-14
committed to Torah Judaism and to Torah and mitzvot, I find myself The Torah is a gift from G-d and
halacha. He asks if she is committed directing the very same questions to is ours for the taking, even if we
to raising her future children in a me. And as she agrees after each one, weren’t actually at Har Sinai. Just as
Jewish community conducive to I find myself agreeing silently, noting Moshe urges the next generation to
Torah growth and sending those that over the course of my life no one take ownership of their Torah after
children to Jewish schools that ever asked me those questions. they leave the supernatural bubble
embody those values. He asks about Moshe tells Bnei Yisrael at the of the midbar and enter the Land of
her commitment to her fellow man beginning of Sefer Devarim: Israel, we too must take ownership
and her commitment to mitzvot bein of our portion in Torah. It makes
adam lachaveiro, interpersonal mitzvot ‫ ל ֹא ֶאת‬.‫ֹלקינּו כָ ַרת עִ ָמנּו ְב ִרית ְבח ֵֹרב‬ ֵ ‫ה’ ֱא‬
no difference whether we grew up
like tzedaka and chessed. Each loaded ‫ֲאב ֵֹתינּו כָ ַרת ה’ ֶאת ַה ְב ִרית ַהזֹאת כִ י ִא ָתנּו‬
with Torah or we didn’t, whether
question begins with the identical .‫ֲאנַ ְחנּו ֵאלֶ ה פֹה ַהּיֹום כֻ לָ נּו ַחיִ ים‬
our knowledge of Torah was taught
wording, “By immersing at this time Hashem, our G-d, sealed a covenant
as the “Old Testament” or even if we
do you agree to…” And after each with us at Horeb. Not with our
learned the “new” one, at some point
question there is a pause, and the forefathers did Hashem seal this
in our lives each one of us must try to
woman responds with, “I agree.” The covenant, but with us — we who are
reflect, take ownership of our Torah
questions culminate with the woman here, all of us alive today.
and commit ourselves actively, not
immersing herself in the waters of Devarim 5:2-3
just passively. Na’aseh v’nishma, we will
the mikva with the help of the female Toward the end of the Sefer Devarim, do and we will listen, is not confined
mikva attendant as the rabbis leave the he repeats this idea: to the national unilateral response
room. A few minutes later when she at Har Sinai over 3,000 years ago.
emerges Rabbi Romm gives her a mi ‫וְ ל ֹא ִא ְתכֶ ם לְ ַב ְדכֶ ם ָאנֹכִ י כ ֵֹרת ֶאת ַה ְב ִרית‬
‫ כִ י ֶאת ֲא ֶשר יֶ ְשנֹו‬.‫ַהזֹאת וְ ֶאת ָה ָאלָ ה ַהזֹאת‬ Nobody is asking us the questions that
sheberach blessing and like any new the convert is asked before entering
Jewish neshama born into the Jewish ‫ֹלקינּו וְ ֵאת ֲא ֶשר‬
ֵ ‫פֹה עִ ָמנּו ע ֵֹמד ַהּיֹום לִ ְפנֵ י ה’ ֱא‬
.‫ֵאינֶ ּנּו פֹה עִ ָמנּו ַהּיֹום‬ the mikva, but our na’aseh v’nishma
people, she receives her Jewish name. can be manifested even in a silent “I
Not with you alone do I seal this
agree,” more than 3,000 years later. It
is most apropos to dedicate a Shavuot-
It makes no difference whether we grew up with themed publication to the topic of
Torah or we didn’t, whether our knowledge of geirut. As we celebrate z’man matan
Torateinu, the period of receiving the
Torah was taught as the “Old Testament” or even Torah, there is no better way to glean
inspiration than to look at those who
if we learned the “new” one, at some point in truly accepted the yoke of Torah in a
our lives each one of us must try to reflect, take very personal and profound way. On
this Shavuot, may we all experience
ownership of our Torah and commit ourselves our own matan Torah individually and
actively, not just passively. proactively.

Find more shiurim and articles from Mrs. Shoshana Schechter at
http://www.yutorah.org/Mrs-Shoshana-Schechter

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Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777