A few days ago another story about a rabbi’s inappropriate behaviour hit the news. And later the news are that his conversions are brought into doubt by the Israeli rabbinate. These statements were retracted soon afterwards, the conversions are kosher, case closed (Amanda Borschel-Dan: Freundel scandal highlights converts’ vulnerability).
Case closed? What must these converts be feeling? Not only do they have to deal with the thought that some pervert might have a video of them showering (if female, that is), in addition they must fear that their Jewish status is coming into question. In other words, they have been the victim of a pervert rabbi and the consequences are that their, the victims’, integrity is questioned??
And for all of you who say it’s just a formality, you do a quick gerut leChumra (conversion to remove any doubt) – it isn’t. This is no small matter. It may have all sorts of ramifications. What is your status in the meantime before you schedule the mikva date? What about children born between the conversion and now? Marriages? What if you just moved to another community and as they don’t know you they require you to go through the whole process again? What if in your (new) community there is no possibility to convert? And in the future, what if they ask you for your conversion certificate and the doubt will always fall back onto you?
All in addition to the psychological effects, questioning your identity, the feeling of insecurity that something like this may happen again at any given moment and you have absolutely no power to stop it. No matter your sincerity, your commitment, your adherence to halacha, your lifestyle and choices – it falls onto you. At any given moment, without you having any influence on when, why or how it affects you. Here’s a quote by Bethany S. Mandel from her bill of rights for Jewish converts about her fears:
10. We should not have to live in fear about the status of our conversions in perpetuity. I should not be afraid that the actions of a rabbi on my Beit Din could mean my conversion won’t be universally respected somewhere down the line. My first instinct hearing reports of Rabbi Freundel’s improprieties after shock was fear. Fear for my status, fear for what it would mean for my daughter and unborn child. I have lived an Orthodox Jewish life since the moment I emerged from the mikvah. I should not have to be afraid of how the actions of others who I have no control over (but who at one time yielded plenty of control over me) could affect myself or my children. I have no indication that my conversion is in any way jeopardized at this moment, and I have asked around plenty to ascertain if there is (I want to make that crystal clear for other Freundel converts). Yet, I live in the real world where I have seen this happen too many times already.
The validity of a conversion should never be doubted afterwards. Especially not only because some faults of the supervising rabbi (not fraud on the part of the candidate) have been discovered. I am glad that the rabbinate and the RCA re-affirmed the validity, but there should never have been a question in the first place.