Rigoberto Vinas
Rigoberto Vinas

One Law for All of Us – Convert or Born Jewish

 “One Law –The Kohen shall atone for the erring person when he sins unintentionally before Hashem to atone for him and it shall be forgiven him. The native born among the children of Israel and the convert who sojourns among them – there shall be one single Torah (law) teaching for them regarding one who sins unintentionally. A person who shall act high handedly and blasphemes Hashem that person shall be cut off from among his people.” Numbers 15:26 – 31

This parasha provides since biblical times a sorely needed remedy for a modern problem that continues to plague us to this very day. Unfortunately this very necessary Mussar (correction) is still not being applied today, even though it would remedy one of the greatest problems facing our generation. I refer of course to the “conversion problem;”

Popularly (gerim) converts are expected to be more religious than those born Jewish. It is even demanded of them. If a convert is found performing even one minor infraction, those who expected and demanded more of them try to cancel the conversion or cast doubt on the sincerity of the conversion in the first place. It was recently reported that an Orthodox Rabbinic Court nullified a conversion of a woman who was seen walking in the street without a Chasidic style head covering! But the Torah reminds us in no uncertain terms that regarding the observance of mitzvot and also the failure to do so and actually when committing a sin (avera) converts and born Jews are one and the same! The same law applies to both of us in punishment and also in forgiveness. The gerim are equal to the converted Jews. They are human and expecting them to be saintly or perfect both before and after their conversions is unrealistic and expressly prohibited by the Torah in this week’s parsha. One law will apply to the convert and the born Jew.

This is a very timely reminder provided in this week’s parsha for a generation living with the unfortunate fact that only Haredi style conversions and lifestyles are expected from today’s Orthodox converts. A number of years ago I had an unforgettable conversation with a well known Lubavitcher Rabbi, who had performed a great number of conversions. When I congratulated him, he became almost defensive. He explained that there was no one else qualified to perform them and that the Rebbe had asked him to do it and so he had been forced participate in preparing and finalizing the conversions of many in that part of the country. When I explained that this was not necessary and I was really complimenting him with a ‘skoiach,’ he regretfully shared with me the stroy of the one case of a convert who drives to shul on Shabbat. This was his “greatest failure in giur until today” he regrets it.

I remarked to him, that perhaps he had done such a fine job in the conversion and she had become so fully assimilated into the Jewish world around her, that she had become as observant as the other members of the community. He replied with “you have consoled me.” Based on my experiences with converts and the political problems relating to present day conversion to Judaism,  I believe that its time we took these verses in today’s parasha to heart. Instead of allowing only unrealistic Haredi standards to prevail during and after the conversion process, we should expect converts to be as righteous and as sinful as the rest of us. The process of conversion requires integration of the convert and internalization that there shall be ONE LAW for both the native born Jew and the convert. With this acceptance both will move closer to the observance of the Holy Torah together. Expecting them to be more religious than everyone else puts the burden of living according to the Torah on others instead of inviting all to live in accordance with its “pleasant and peaceful ways.” By loving the convert in their failure and successes in living Jewishly we learn to love ourselves. The ger convert like many “outsiders or others” in society becomes a mirror held up to our faces providing us glimpses of our own behavior. What we expect from them should be a mirror image of what we expect from ourselves, no more no less. To expect more or to expect less of the convert reveals an inherent distrust or inner struggle with our own identity that is unresolved and sometimes violent. The ONE LAW is an antidote to our struggles among the denominations and with each other. In light of these ideas,

I suggest that loving and accepting the convert from all levels of observance can be the catalyst for loving all Jews regardless of these very same differences that we notice about the convert. Dividing and categorizing the convert as acceptable and unacceptable is really about categorizing each other as either of these. Perhaps we should stop working out our own issues on these individuals from all over the world that simply want to be part of us and live according to our Torah. Perhaps we should love each other as much as they love us – having abandoned their own backgrounds and former cultures and even their families all they seek is that we love them as much as they love us.

I think its time we did Teshuva – full blown repentance regarding the way that we think about them and also about each other. No one’s perfect – especially those who claim to be.

About the Author
Rabbi Rigoberto Emmanuel Viñas (“Manny”), grew up in a traditional Sephardic home, born to parents of Cuban Sefardic ancestry who came to America after the Cuban Revolution in 1960. He was born and raised in Miami , Florida. Rabbi Viñas has Rabbinical ordination from Kollel Agudath Achim.