Tuesday, April 10, 2012


The Smallest Gesture…


at the Western Wall with Reb Gutman Locks on Mystical Paths

You never know what even the smallest kindness might bring.

     A family was in Israel for the daughter’s wedding. They came to the Kotel, and the father of the bride and his brother put on tefillin.

     Over to the side, someone started to put tefillin on the bride’s brother. He did not know that he was part of the family. He asked him if his mother was Jewish. He said that she was, and that he was the bride’s brother. He had him say the blessing and was putting the tefillin on him, but before he finished wrapping his hand, he asked him if his mother was born Jewish. The brother said that she was not… she was a convert.

     “Was it an orthodox conversion?” he asked.

     He said that it was not orthodox, but it was Conservative. Oh oh! He slipped the tefillin off his arm. The brother walked away, and I said something to the man about putting tefillin on someone who was not Jewish.

     He said, “The worse thing is that his sister just married an Israeli who thinks that she is Jewish, and their children will not be Jews! Oh man, what a mess!”

     Just then the father of the bride came over to me all excited.

     “There he is!” He yelled, pointing at me. “You’re the same man who was here a couple of years ago who helped me. You took a picture of me and sent it to me. Do you remember? I put it up on my FaceBook account. It was great.” He said, “Since you were so honest, and did what you said you would, and sent me that picture, I figured that I ought to do what you told me to do. After all, a guy with such a long grey beard is supposed to be very wise.”

    I said, “That’s right, I am supposed to be wise.”

    He ignored me, and went on, “You told me that I had to straighten out my wife’s conversion, and my kids, too. So I did what you told me. I went to an orthodox beit din (religious court) and we did what they said. I got all the papers and there was an orthodox conversion. And now, my daughter just married an Israeli! There was a ketuba (religious marriage contract) and everything was completely kosher.”

     He took my hand and warmly said, “Thank you for helping us like that. My parents are both holocaust survivors. They tried to sterilize my mother, but it didn’t work. She went on to have four sons! And now my daughter just married an Israeli, and is going to have lots of Jewish kids. We beat them!” he said with great joy.

     I walked over to meet the family. His mother was standing there looking a lot stronger than her 86 years. “Hooray for you!” I said, and she lifted up her arms like a prize fighter who just scored a complete knockout. They all happily thanked me for straightening out their Jewish life.

     If I had not sent him that picture I took, like I said I would, none of this would have happened.

     Learning how to help people is not the hard part. That comes with practice. But caring enough to try…for most people, that’s the hard part.


  1. I wish I had your merit in Olam Habo.

  2. Wonderful story, but there's something I don't understand. Why did the brother say it was Conservative? He just forgot to mention that he and his mother were converted Orthodox at the same time?

  3. I apologize if I missed something (and I feel crummy for detracting a bit from the point of the story, which is an excellent point), but...
    We know that it doesn't matter if the conversion is "Orthodox" -- right? What matters is the convert's intention to actually keep the mitzvos (which would show in their behavior). If they have Orthodox papers, but don't keep the mitzvos, the conversion is still not kosher. From the description of the family, it doesn't sound like they are mitzvah-observant (although the parents sound like thy might be). I really, really hope I am wrong.

  4. If a non Jew converts via a kosher (orthodox) court, that person becomes a Jew according to all opinions. This would not be true with any other type of would-be conversion. Once the person is a kosher ger even if they would drop their observance and go on to a different religion, according to Jewish law, that person would still be a Jew! This is unlike other religions. For instance, if a Buddhist becomes a Muslim he is no longer a Buddhist, and so on. It is essential that the conversion be in accordance with the "orthodox" standard, so the entire Jewish people say that the person is now a Jew.

  5. Tali, one of the requirements of a kosher conversion is that the members of the beit din actually be observant Jews. Conservative Judaism has changed so much of the halacha (for example, they believe that it's not necessary to count seven days, or any days at all, before going to the mikvah each month) -- even though it's not permissible to abrogate a major law like that. So we can't assume that any of the people on the beit din were observant. Also, conservative converts are taught the Conservative version of the mitzvot, which leave many things out and change many things, so it's unclear whether the full acceptance of the mitzvot has actually happened. We never know how things are in G-d's eyes, but at the least it's a case of doubt, so if a Conservative convert wants it to be a valid conversion he or she needs to have an Orthodox conversion. Many Conservative gerim have gone on to have Orthodox conversions. Orthodox batei din know that Conservative gerim have already learned a lot, so the process might not take as long as it would for someone relatively new to observance.


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