Orthodox rabbi calls for easier conversion

By Simon Rocker, September 18, 2009
Rabbi Dr Jeffrey Cohen called on the Chief to do “a lot of hard talking to his Beth Din”

Rabbi Dr Jeffrey Cohen called on the Chief to do “a lot of hard talking to his Beth Din”

One of the most senior figures of British Orthodoxy has called on Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks to make conversion to Judaism easier.

Rabbi Jeffrey Cohen, emeritus rabbi of Stanmore Synagogue and author of numerous books on Judaism, appealed for action following the court case over admission to Jewish schools.

Speaking at a JC-hosted discussion published in today’s New Year supplement, Dr Cohen said: “I think the Chief Rabbi, who has spoken about us having to be more inclusive, needs to do a lot of hard talking to his Beth Din, if that is what he really means.”

Rabbi Cohen said he had been asking the London Beth Din to review the conversion process for 40 years.

“We as a Jewish community are in an emergency situation, with assimilation in lots of areas; with all the problems facing Israel; with a threat to our survival,” he said.

Referring to children barred entry to Jewish schools because the Orthodox authorities did not consider them Jewish, he said: “The conversion process should be made easier. There should be halachic solutions to enable these children to be regarded as full Jews. It is vital that our schools should be open to every child who wants a Jewish education.”

Rabbi Cohen said the original Shulchan Aruch (code of Jewish law) compiled by Rabbi Joseph Karo showed that conversion can be “such a simple thing”.

According to Rabbi Karo’s view, he explained: “Someone comes to become converted. You circumcise him and you dip him in the mikveh. You tell him some of the light precepts of Judaism and some of the more weighty precepts of Judaism. But you don’t overdo it.

“That is what he said, you don’t overdo it. Then you say to him; ‘Why do you want to become a Jew? Don’t you know how oppressed we Jews are today?’ Then you say to him: ‘The reason why we are oppressed is because, if God gave us all the reward in this world for being his chosen people, the enjoyment of it might send us astray. Therefore God keeps it for the future.’

“Why do we do this? In order, says the Shulchan Aruch, not to deter him. It then states: ‘If he says, ‘I understand that and I accept it,’ you accept him.’”

Last updated: 1:52pm, September 18 2009