Naming rights - Liberals convert to Beit Din title

By Simon Rocker, November 10, 2011

The Liberal movement has given a nod towards tradition by deciding to rename the rabbinic board that supervises its conversions as its Beit Din.

Beit Din head Rabbi Andrew Goldstein explained: "We having been using Hebrew nomenclature for everything else we do and this was the last of the old Liberal titles.

"The European Union of Progressive Judaism has a beit din, Reform has a beit din. We called ours a rabbinic board but the name didn't seem to mean very much."

He said that, originally, Liberal wedding and conversion certificates were written in English, but Hebrew had been used as well for many years.

The Beit Din's main role is to approve conversions, although it occasionally issues a document of divorce. Rabbi Goldstein said the name change did not indicate any shift towards tradition in the content of conversion courses. "It is made clear to converts that we are a Liberal Beit Din - we don't try to hoodwink anyone."

The movement welcomes just over 100 converts a year - a figure reflecting "a slight increase over the last few years", he said.

In the past, the typical convert was a young woman marrying a Jewish man, but in recent years applicants were increasingly "people who have been married to a Jew for many years and decided they want to convert".

The name change has been attacked by the emeritus rabbi of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, St John's Wood, Rabbi David Goldberg.

"I feel this is yet another example of the way in which Liberal Judaism is shedding its original principles and becoming Orthodox-lite," he said.

"The whole point about the original rabbinic board is that we did not pretend to be a halachic beit din but to operate in consistency with modern principles. I can well understand how irritated genuine Orthodoxy is by the pretence of the Liberal, Reform and Masorti movements that somehow they act in conformity with halachah when they move the goalposts to suit their own modern agenda."

Last updated: 12:37pm, November 10 2011