Following a lecture by Rabbi Cardozo, I was thinking about the problem of converts coming before a beit din and feeling pressured to lie to the effect that they will keep all halacha when they do not intend to be quite that observant.
My two oldest sons recently went through their tzav rishon (first interview for army service). They are both eager to serve their country to the best of their ability and one of them is “under-weight.” He was afraid that his weight would bring down his physical profile and therefore his chance of serving in an elite unit. So he drank 1.5 liters of water and put half a kilo of coins in his pocket before being weighed. He also scrunched himself down when they measured his height so that he would seem shorter, and therefore more in proportion with his weight. In other words, he lied. This was enough to bring his weight-to-height ratio, and therefore his physical profile score, up. As I understand it, the army knows that this kind of thing goes on. But they turn a blind eye to it because they want anyone who is so eager to serve that he is willing to lie to serve in top units. This willingness is worth more than the two extra kilos on a less thin man.
So, maybe this is naïve, but perhaps that is why a beit din “forces” people to lie and say that they will follow every halacha before they allow someone to become Jewish. Perhaps you are very eager to join the people if you are willing to lie. Maybe I don’t care so much if I say, “Sure, I’ll keep kosher and do Shabbat, but I just can’t do taharat hamishpacha,” or even, “but I just won’t pray more than once a day,” and that dispassionate quality is what disqualifies me.
Every Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, I stand before God and think I am going to get better. How much better do I get? But didn’t I need to go through that process? And is not conversion a sort of personal Yom Kippur, a personal reckoning? Does that mean that I lied to God? If I say to the beit din, “Yes, I’ll try to follow all the commandments, but, let’s face it, I’m probably going to fail. But I’ll attempt to keep trying,” they may not accept me. So maybe I have to lie to the beit din. But isn’t that lie better than the truth because it gives me something to live up to? Would Yom Kippur be as powerful if I said to God/myself, “Well, I am who I am and that is what I always will be. Sure I’ll try to be a better person, but the effort I put into place X will have to be taken from my efforts in place Y, because that’s the way things are, so don’t hold your breath?”
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