Struggling With Conversion Issue

I am writing regarding your editorial, “Time to Rethink Conversion Policy” (March 1), and Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove’s “thinking out loud” about the conversion policies of the Conservative movement.

Rabbi Cosgrove is a good friend and a fine rabbi, and whatever opinions he offers on the issues of the day are invariably well thought out, and worthy of attention. I write not to take issue with him, per se, but rather to speak to the issue of religious standards, and the challenge of maintaining them.

Virtually every policy or standard that has to do with interfaith relationships and marriages in the Jewish community is maintained at a price, and modifying it comes at a price as well. No rabbi wants to stand in the way of true love, and the Jewish community, as Rabbi Cosgrove pointed out, surely gains nothing from alienating those who would seek its embrace. But becoming a Jew is about embracing a way of life, not just undergoing a series of rituals. The Jewish community stands to pay a price as well, a potentially steep price, if the integrity of our conversions — already an issue (unfairly, I would say) both here and in Israel — is further called into question.

The Conservative rabbinate has much to be proud of with regard to conversion. We bring an overwhelming number of Jews-by-choice into the fold. Our rabbis, Rabbi Cosgrove very much included, devote more time, energy, creativity and passion to this cause than most could possibly know.

The tensions between bringing Jews-by-choice into the Jewish community more quickly on the one hand, and maintaining a reasonable standard of study and Jewish experience on the other, are essentially unresolvable. We are meant to struggle with the issue, as Rabbi Cosgrove is encouraging us to do. As is  so often the case in religious life, the struggle itself can lead to spiritual growth and insight. This process represents the Conservative movement at its best.

President, Rabbinical Assembly

The author writes the “A Rabbi’s World” blog for The Jewish Week.


About the Author
Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is the Rabbi Emeritus of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens.