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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars gives you a sense of the key issues, February 11, 2012
This review is from: The Conversion Crisis (Hardcover)
As Jews and half-Jews from secular societies have flooded into Israel, the question of for what makes a Jewish conversion valid has become quite controversial- especially the question of how observant one must be to obtain a valid conversion.

This book, sponsored by the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), a national association of modern Orthodox rabbis, contains essays from a variety of points of view. Read together, they gave me a general idea why the issue is so difficult.

The debate begins with the Talmud; one passage in the Talmud suggests that a convert must accept Jewish law in its entirety (without going into much detail as to what "acceptance" means). However, another Talmudic passage focuses on other requirements for conversion without mentioning acceptance of commandments. Does the second passage contradict the first or assume its validity? Orthodox rabbis generally favor the latter view, but one essay in this book argues otherwise.

Because oonversion to Judaism was rare in the Middle Ages, medieval rabbis did not write much on conversion. So when Jews started marrying Christians in the late 19th century and wanted their spouses converted, rabbis had little guidance. Most rabbis seem to have agreed that the Talmud requires some form of acceptance of commandments. But what does "acceptance of commandments" mean? And are there exceptions to this rule? 19th and 20th century rabbis took a wide variety of positions.

The essays in this book discuss some of the disagreements among (Orthodox) rabbis. The majority of essays appear to lean towards more stringent views; it is unclear to me whether this reflects the publisher's bias or the rabbinic literature. (The RCA has agreed with the Israeli rabbinate to create uniform standards for conversions, and was criticized for this step by more liberal Orthodox rabbis).

But in any event, this book is useful because it lays out the historical background of the issue, and discusses some of the competing views. My only quibble is with the order of the essays: the last few essays focus more on the Talmud and other early sources than do some of the other essays, and thus (in my opinion) should have been placed at the start of the book.
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Michael Lewyn
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Location: New York, NY

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