The never-ending fight amongst different authorities on conversions continues, as per this article from The Jewish Week. Unfortunately, it also highlights the reason why Israeli authorities continue to make conversion standards stricter and the inability of the non-Orthodox so-called "streams" to see their role as part of the problem.
Here's the bottom line for many Chareidim rabbonim in Israel. A person presents and says "I'm a Jewish convert." When asked about the process, imagine the array of bewildering answers. "Well I spoke to the Reform rabbi in my town and she said if I believed in God, well that's super." Or "Yeah, but I did it Conservative so they told me it was okay if I didn't actually keep kosher afterwards as long as I tried to be a good person."
But those are the easy ones. The hard ones are the ones who went to an ostensibly Orthodox rabbi but who failed to clue in that if you're going to go through the whole rigamarole, all the studying and effort, you're supposed to continue in the lifestyle after you're in.
Indeed, if I were a Chareidi rabbi I'd conclude, as many of them doubtlessly have, that unless the convert sitting in front of me looks and sounds exactly like me, he's probably not a truly successful candidate. It's not fair, it's probably not halachic and it causes a great deal of pain to many, many sincere Jews, but it has one major advantage: it requires no thinking. Never underestimate the power of that.
But when the non-observant protest this trend, they only undermine their own case. Consider:
Rabbi Robert Levine of the Reform Congregation Rodeph Sholom in Manhattan warned the full house of 250 people at the JCC: “We’re coming very close to the level of sinat chinam”
[hatred among Jews] that brought about the destruction of the Temple. “Many Orthodox rabbis won’t walk into my shul, and that pains me,” he said, noting that the level of trust among rabbis of different denominations has deteriorated in recent years.
Really, this is one of the most tired and weak arguments, but the Reformers never cease to pull it out. Having unilaterally rejected all traditional Torah values, having built institutions that violate halacha in their operation, they are then shocked, shocked!, that Orthodox rabbonim won't walk in. What have they missed? Judaism has, amongst other things, standards. If they refuse, in the name of secular liberalism, to hold by them, then who has declared who is unwelcome in their synagogues? Not the Orthodox.
Staking a claim that Conservative Judaism meets traditional standards on conversion, Rabbi Judith Hauptman, professor of Talmud and rabbinic culture at the Jewish Theological Seminary, cited Talmudic passages regarding how one should treat a potential convert. She said each requirement is met by Conservative religious courts.
A female rabbi insisiting the JTS meets traditional standards. Yeah, uh huh. See what I mean about a lack of self-awareness?
After hearing Rabbi Levine speak of how Reform conversions are carried out with an emphasis on Torah learning and a commitment to ethical behavior, within a framework of choice, Rabbi Herring said he was “astounded” to hear that the Reform movement “requires acceptance of the commandments.”
He said he had been led to believe that Reform requirements did not include a commitment to keep the mitzvot.
“We have to be truthful and frank,” he said.
The gray area of the discussion was on the definition of what it means to “accept the yoke of the commandments,” as cited in the Talmud; some Orthodox rabbis insist on a convert’s commitment to keep all of the mitzvot, and the more liberal branches require an assurance to lead an ethical life based on Torah values, but not necessarily each commandment.
Rabbi Levine noted that his Reform movement was responsible for most American conversions, and he offered an impassioned explanation of why basing a child’s Jewishness on patrilineal descent, the Reform standard, is consistent with Jewish history. He said that if Rabbi Herring’s standards were required, “we would be a vestigial people,” adding that when “you tell the vast majority [of potential converts] ‘you’re not up to our standards,’ the next generation won’t give a damn.”
This is an example of how Reforms twist time-honoured Torah principles beyond recognition and then insist: see? see? We're the ones who are really traditional by doing this! What Rav Herring (I think the RCA needs a leader named after a more aggressive fish) does not understand is how Reform defines Torah and mitzvos. Bluntly speaking, it means "Anything I do that I think makes me a good person is a mitzvah. Anything I learn which I think has religious meaning is Torah."
Rabbi Hauptman posed the notion of all girls going to the mikveh before bat mitzvah and all couples doing the same before marriage so as to level the standards of Jewish practice in a non-judgmental way.
Perhaps Ms. Hauptman should encourage her girls to not engage in pre-marital sex before sending them to a pre-bat mitzvah mikveh dip? Perhaps she could convince the 95% of her adherents who don't keep kosher to try avoiding the bacon dip at their next company lunch? Perhaps she could speak to those in her religion who drive on Shabbos and think they're doing a mitzvah and disabuse them of this notion?
In the end, the non-religious movements are hypocrites. On one hand they scream of Jewish unity. On the other hand, they create thousands of definitions of what kashrus, Shabbos and other Jewish insitutions mean. They are, in fact, the source of the disunity. If a Jew wishes to abandon Torah and mitzvos, he has that option. But to abandon them but continue to insist he's a good practising Jew? Sorry, that's just dishonest.