One of the major questions in the battle pitting R’ Avraham Shirman’s rabbinical court against R’ Chaim Druckman’s conversion courts is this: Is Conversion a Jewish value? Is it something we should pursue, for the good of Jewish society – particularly for the many thousands of non-Jews who immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union, and particularly in an age of rampant intermarriage?
R’ Shirman does acknowledge that the gemara calls conversion a mitzvah, and he discusses two views as to the nature of this mitzvah:
1) Love of Gd (as one increases the love of Gd), or
2) Love of the Convert (because the convert already deserves special love once [s]he has declared an intention of abandoning other beliefs and accepting Judaism, even pre-conversion).
Various judges on R’ Druckman’s conversion courts have contended that conversion is important for the future of the Jewish community.
Among them, R’ David Bass has written eloquently that closing the doors to a convert today is an act of opening gates to assimilation, and therefore conversion is a public need. He recently added to that, saying, “Conversion should not be seen solely as the interest of the non-Jewish immigrant looking to integrate into Israeli society, it is also an existential imperative of the State of Israel as we enter the 21st century.”
In the former, Conversion is a value because it helps us, the convert’s enablers, to fulfill our imperatives. In the latter, Conversion is a value because it helps Jewish society. Neither of these approaches, though, looks at Conversion through the eyes of the Convert.
The Ran (Gittin, 49b בדפי הרי"ף), cited by the Beit Yosef (Choshen Mishpat 1 ומסקינן), presents a third approach: Conversion is of value for the גר - and that value is also of halachah importance to us.
The Ran introduces this into a discussion of the status of judges today: The original סמיכה, the original form of ordination, no longer exists – it ceased to exist somewhere around the 5th century. However, unordained judges are able to continue to serve in roles which should require ordination, acting as the proxies of the original, ordained judges (אנן שליחותייהו עבדינן). The basic rule is that judges can function as such proxies in cases which are (1) common, and (2) of great value.
The Ran argues that this is the basis for post-ordination conversion, even though conversion is not considered a common circumstance. He writes, “להכניס אדם תחת כנפי השכינה אע"ג דלא שכיח עדיף טפי ממונא דשכיח” – “Introducing a person beneath the wings of the Shechinah, even though it is uncommon, is of greater value than restoring financial loss.” And the simple read of his comment is that it is of greater value to the convert, personally.
We see, then, that the Ran – cited by no less than Rav Yosef Karo – recognizes that we are able to function as judges, only because we are helping the גר to convert.
It seems to me that this source should enter today’s Conversion controversy.