Global, Identity, Religion

The Heirs of Slytherin II, maybe not

Those who are following BZ’s post about the Syrian community’s alleged refusal to accept properly converted Jews (which is itself, at least one, if not several, violations of halacha) might want to take a gander at Gil Student’s post on Hirhurim, which has a letter refuting the charge from Rabbi Moshe Shamah.
The gist is:

That Edict was enacted to discourage community members from intermarrying with non-Jews. It acknowledged the reality of the time that conversions were being employed insincerely and superficially. Accordingly, conversion for marriage to a member of the community was automatically rejected…
…I quote from an official formulation of the Sephardic Rabbinical Council of several years ago that reflects their position: “1. A conversion not associated with marriage that was performed by a recognized Orthodox court – such as for adoption of infants or in the case of an individual sincerely choosing to be Jewish – is accepted in our community. 2. If an individual not born to a member of our community had converted to Judaism under the aegis of an Orthodox court, and was observant of Jewish Law, married a Jew/Jewess who was not and had not been a member of our community, their children are permitted to marry into our community.” Based on these standards a goodly number of converts have been accepted into the community. Genetic characteristics play no role whatsoever…
the quote claiming that even other Jews are disqualified from marrying into the community “if someone in their line was married by a Reform or Conservative rabbi” is a totally false portrayal of community rabbinical policy. Many Ashkenazim whose parents were married by such rabbis have married into our community.

6 thoughts on “The Heirs of Slytherin II, maybe not

  1. For the record, I have a friend who was denied the right to marry a member of the Syrian community because she was adopted, and therefore converted at birth. By an Orthodox Rabbi. They do, in fact refuse converts. Not everyone, but some people.

  2. Shocking: the NYTimes providing a biased onesided account of a Jewish issue that makes Jews look bad. If one didn’t know better you’d assume that the once Jewish owners of the Times were the type that would underplay the plight of the Jews during the Nazi holocaust.

  3. Well, the Times sources say one thing, and this Rabbi says another. They’re both pushing an agenda. But I think the story about R’ Ovadia Yosef coming to Brooklyn and demanding that an authentically converted Jewess be allowed to marry into SY is very telling. They refused him, to his face, and only caved after the fact from pressure exerted by younger, more practical Rabbis. This Rabbi Shamah is engaged in apologetics for a racist and non-halachic policy that is definitely – not maybe – but definitely misapplied in some cases.

  4. Rabbi Shamah is a wonderful man working to help keep the community sane. He is not, however, accepted across the board. I wish he was, but he is not. It is also worth noting that his approach sticks to a pretty strict position, accepting converts, but not conversions done in the process of a couple building a relationship together. While this is the position of many ashkenazi orthodox communities, few have the social power to enforce it the way the Syrians do.
    This letter shows that, like in any community, there is a spectrum of opinion on communal issues. The debate on this issue is largely underground. A few community leaders, like Rabbi Shamah, are working to put forward a kinder, gentler Syrian Orthodoxy, though they face an uphill battle.
    While there are strong communal norms, we do still live in a post- emancipation context, and individual families play out the dynamics of acceptance in a variety of ways. My own maternal family is VERY accepting of a variety of life choices of its members, including intermarriage, marriage of converts, and lifetime commitment to same-sex partners. I am really blessed to be from a family within the community that is warm, open, and understanding. This, however, it not the mainstream. Furthermore, all these folks who are accepted by the family are not accepted by the community. They all live outside of its social and geographic orbit, and have no interaction with communal institutions.
    Rabbi Shamah’s halchic defense is welcome, but it does not address the social reality. The article reported on the prevailing cultural understanding, which, as I indicated in my reply to the original post, only bears some relationship to halacha. I do not think the article was inaccurate, though it did flatten the debate and focus on the heartbreaking stories. Individuals and couples have their own complicated relationships with their families, and sometimes those relationships include remarkable acceptance. However, all of the this complexity regarding community leadership and family choices does not mitigate the prevailing understanding which is, “you better not date non-Jews, or even have substantial social interaction with them, because if you choose to build a life with them, you will have to leave the community.”
    This is why I originally said that the syrian position is not substantially different than other American communities who crusade against intermarriage. Its just a matter of degree. The Syrian position, in its extremity, points to the quasi-racial basis of all Jewish fears of intermarriage, cultural dilution, and population loss.

  5. Some people just like chumras, no matter who it hurts. Hillel converted a Jew who wanted be high priest on the spot. In TB Yevamot it teaches that you teach a prospective convert some minor and major mitzvot for conversion. It is only in, I think, Bekhorot, that the criteria is complete acceptance of every mitzva for now and ever at the time of conversion. Why some Orthodox/other chose this machmir view, and are intolerant of other conversions with mountains of support in the sources… some people just like chumras

  6. Here’s a quote from early on in the article:
    “They arrived in New York at the start of the last century and settled on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. But the Eastern European Jews who dominated the Lower East Side at the time disdained them as Arabische Yidden — Arab Jews. Some of the Ashkenazim openly doubted that these foreigners from farther east were Jews at all. The Syrian Jews were deeply insulted. They are a proud people…”
    This is perhaps how it all started – sort of revenge.

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