Painting by Daniel Kabakoff
The facts on the ground, about converts and corruption in Latin America.
The last few days, I’ve been up to my eyeballs investigating a whole bunch of things related to what’s going on with corruption and converts in Latin America, and here’s what I’ve learned so far:
• The straight up halacha of performing an orthodox Jewish conversion appears to be much simpler than I realized.
According to this article, by Rabbi and Dayan Yirmiyaho Kaganoff, all you need is three orthodox Jews – not necessarily even Rabbis! – and a commitment from the would-be convert to do their utmost to keep the Torah, and abide by its commandments for the conversion to be valid.
“The basic requirement for becoming a Jew is accepting Hashem’s commandments, since a Jew is, by definition, someone who has a covenant with G-d to observe the Torah.”
“As mentioned before, conversion is an act that requires a proper beis din, meaning minimally, three fully-observant male Jews.”
There is a difference between an ‘halachically correct’ conversion, and a conversion that is recognized by the local orthodox community and / or the State of Israel Rabbinate.
Long story short, the whole situation with the anousim and with conversions generally, has become horribly politicized, and there seems to be a lot of vested interests who don’t want to see hordes of newly-orthodox Sephardic Jews in their communities and / or moving to Israel; and who especially don’t want to see millions of orthodox Sephardim suddenly upsetting the political balance and challenging Ashkenazi dominance in the worldwide Jewish community.
Latin America countries have had a takana, or agreement in place since the 1935 which was first introduced by the expat Syrian community in Argentina, that they won’t accept any new converts.
I had never heard of this before, so I did some digging and this is what I found:
“[T]he 1935 Takana… forbids marriage to those who convert for the purpose of marriage… [with] subsequent reaffirmations issued by Rabbi Jacob S. Kassin, the Brooklyn, NY Syrian Jewish community’s Chief Rabbi, and the Rabbinical Council of the Syrian community.
“Such marriages were not to be recognized by the community. Children of such marriages could not attend community yeshivot. Further, rites of passage such as bar mitzvahs, weddings and the right to be buried in the community’s cemetery were denied, as well as synagogue honors.”
It’s important to note that this Takana was first introduced to discourage insincere converts who only wanted to marry a Jew. But now, it’s been wholesale applied to the Bnei Anousim in Latin America who have Jewish roots, and want to return to their faith.
And ironically, the only people who can get around this Takana today tend to be the wealthy, connected Jews who dafka are trying to get someone converted just so they can marry them.
Their local communities are totally shunning them, so even though their conversion may be halachically valid, they can’t meet the requirements to have their conversion recognized by State of Israel.
• The current position with the State of Israel’s Rabbinate is that they will not accept any orthodox conversion done in Latin America.
The convert will either have to move for a year to the US and convert there, or try to move to Israel for a year and convert here. If you don’t have money and connections, clearly neither of these routes are really so viable. (As a side note, there has been so much corruption going on with selling conversions that in some ways, this is a sensible approach to take, as far as it goes. But not enough is being done to help sincere converts find other ways to meet the criteria.)
• People with money in Latin America are often finding ways to convert ‘orthodox’ – by hook or by crook – in any case.
People without money – even if they are totally sincere and have been living as orthodox Jews for a few years already without formal recognition of their conversion – are basically stuffed.
Of course, this is totally the olam hafuch, or the upside-down world!
Moshiach is meant to be overseeing the ingathering of exiles and a lot of them can’t get on the plane because all the politics and conversion corruption in Latin America (and elsewhere…) is preventing them from being recognized as Jews, and they don’t have the money required to beat the system.
I also learnt that there is a difference between Bnei Anousim and Bnei Conversos.
Bnei Anousim are secret Jews who kept many of their Jewish customs, albeit it secretly, often without knowing why, and who were usually very strict about marrying into each other’s families.
These people are considered to be Jewish (if they can prove their traditions and geneology), but will often have to undergo an immersion in a mikva without saying a bracha.
Meanwhile, the Bnei Conversos are people who started off as Jews, but who converted to Catholicism and totally assimilated into the non-Jewish society. The descendants of these people are considered non-Jews, and will have to undergo a full conversion.
There is a lot more to be said about the subject of converts and corruption in Latin America. The more I’ve been researching, the more unbelievable corruption at every level I’ve been uncovering. It’s been very disappointing, to be honest.
The last thing to tell you is a story I heard about someone who converted through a Beit Din that’s known as one of the strictest in Chutz L’Aretz.
For four years, this person learnt halacha, went to shul, did everything they were told. (They had a Jewish boyfriend who was very keen that they convert properly before they got married, but who really doesn’t believe in the Torah.)
The man had been raised in an orthodox family, so he and his wife-to-be played their part beautifully for the four years required by the conversion process.
Very soon after the wedding, the wife returned to her roots, and can now be found back in church on an Easter Sunday.
You tell me: Is this woman really Jewish? Are her kids really Jewish?
But this is the woman with orthodox papers from the ‘strictest’ Beit Din in the world, for converts.
It’s the olam hafuch. And until Moshiach shows up to ‘sniff out’ who is really Jewish and who isn’t, it’s probably going to continue. And when that birur process starts in earnest, I think there are going to be a lot of very surprising things coming to light, in a whole bunch of different ways.