The Conversion of a Child Whose Mother Does Not Plan to Convert

(YD 268:7-8)

Is it permissible to convert a child from the former Soviet Union whose mother does not intend to convert?

Rambam, Tur, Shulhan Arukh, and the Rishonim rule that one may convert a child, without any reservation. According to Ketubot 11a, it is clear that a Bet Din can make the decision to convert a child, because conversion is a privilege, and “one can impart a privilege in the absence of the person” (a child is considered “absent” since he does not have the legal right to make decisions). Only from the second part of the nineteenth century on was the argument raised that doubt about the observance of mitzvot in the future may change the conversion from a privilege to an obligation (i.e., the convert will be punished for not keeping the commandments) and thus the decision to convert cannot be made by the Bet Din alone. The authorities that follow this approach refuse to convert a child whose mother does not convert with him.

We do not accept this strict approach for a number of reasons. We do not know what will happen in the future and it is not our task to worry about “God’s secrets”. Even if we worry that the child may not observe the mitzvot in the future, since he/she is growing up in Israel, he/she will not be different from most of the Jews, who, even if they cannot be called “observant”, do observe some mitzvot and this too is a privilege. Moreover, when the father brings his child to convert, the conversion is not considered to be the decision of the Bet Din, but of the father, and the question of it being a privilege or an obligation is irrelevant. As for the requirement of accepting the mitzvot, we can rely on the decision of the Ritva who does not require this of a child. In our time, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein and Rabbi Shlomo Goren took the same approach.

In conclusion, in dealing with the many halakhic problems of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, we should take a lenient approach in order to help their integration and to bring them closer to the Jewish people and the Jewish tradition.

Each case has to be judged on its own merits, and if the Bet Din is convinced that the parents truly intend to raise their child as a Jew, it should convert that child. The Bet Din should take into account questions such as whether the parents intend to remain in Israel; whether they intend to give the child a Jewish education and to prepare the child for Bar/Bat Mitzvah; and whether the child’s mother believes in another religion. The Bet Din may even request a written or oral commitment from the parents because “everything follows the opinion of the Bet Din”.

Rabbi Yisrael Warman
Approved Unanimously

A Reaction to the Responsum on the Wearing of a Kippah by Men and Women

(OH 91:3-5)

I agree with Rabbi Frankel’s responsum, aside from the last section regarding women and girls. Inasmuch as wearing a kippah is a symbol of Fear of Heaven, of modesty, and of respect for tradition, which became a binding custom in times of sanctity, we have to require the wearing of the kippah not only of men and boys but also of women and girls. By so doing, we give women and girls the same opportunity to enrich their religious experience and to give the sacred moments in their lives the additional dimension that wearing a kippah adds.

Rabbi Gilah Dror
In favor: Rabbi Michael Graetz
Opposed: Rabbi David Frankel
Rabbi David Golinkin
Rabbi David Lazar
Rabbi Simchah Roth
Rabbi Yisrael Warman