Thursday, July 05, 2007

My Take on the Cholent Convert story

Many bloggers have already commented on the "Cholent Convert" story. For those of you who don't read other blogs, or may have missed it, here is the crux of the story. (Original story from Mishpacha in Hebrew here).

A certain Ba'al Teshuva who had been learning in Israel for two years was eating at a kollel couple's house on Shabbos. During the meal, it became apparent that the Ba'al Teshuva did not like cholent. The kollel husband remembered reading that one who does not eat "chamin" on Shabbos is to be suspected of being an min (heretic). In addition, he also realized that the Ba'al Teshuva did not shukkle (sway rhythmically back and forth) when he davened (prayed), as many Orthodox Jews do. Upon observing these two behaviors and realizing that the Ba'al Teshuva comes from a country where Judaism is not kept very well, he reasoned that the Ba'al Teshuva must not be a Jew according to halacha. Further questioning of the Ba'al Teshuva's background turned up nothing to indicate that he was not Jewish. Nonetheless, the question was forwarded to Rav Eliyashiv, who determined that the man must undergo a giur (conversion).

To me, the whole story sounds fishy on several counts.

1. The halacha regarding not eating "chamin" on Shabbos was not applied correctly. "Chamin" means "hot food" (from the Hebrew word cham, meaning hot). Only relatively recently has the term come to mean the specific food that we know of as cholent.

If someone did not eat hot food at all on Shabbos, they were suspected of being a min (heretic) because it was feared that they might be following the erroneous position that one cannot use fires at all on Shabbos. The halacha here is referring to someone who specifically objects to eating hot foods on those grounds, not someone who does not eat hot food because he doesn't like the cholent, thinks it's too hot outside for hot food in the summer, or doesn't eat a specific hot food for any other reason.

2. A min is someone who is specifically Jewish -- a non-Jew cannot be a min. As such, even if he was absolutely refusing to eat the food on the basis of the fact that he held that fires cannot used on Shabbos at all and that one must eat cold food, that in itself cannot be used to show that he is not Jewish -- as a non-Jew wouldn't care whether he used fires or not on Shabbos.

3. There have been plenty of people throughout history that didn't shukkle when they davened. At least one blogger has pointed out that R. Moshe Feinstein did not shukkle. I've seen countless people whom I know are Jewish and are far more learned than I that do not shukkle.

4. Another very important point that was brought out by Rafi is that certainly R. Eliyashiv knows all three points made above. As he states:

And before I continue, let me just say before some people jump down my throat, that I am sure Rav Elyashiv knows that section of shulchan aruch at least as well as me, if not 500 times better (though one does not need to be the gadol hador to quote a siman in shulchan aruch).

I can understand the kollel husband making the mistake and taking the halacha in Shulchan Aruch completely out of context -- just because one learns in kollel doesn't mean that one really knows how to learn or to think critically. But if I, who is certainly no rabbi and no talmud chacham, can easily understand this, I'm sure that Rav Eliyashiv knows it as well.

So, to me the whole story sounds just a bit fishy. I want more details before I swallow this one down.

The Wolf

16 comments:

bluke said...

The answer is very simple. The avrech after misinterpreting the sources then either checked himself or had the guy check his yichus. After checking that they could not determine whether he was really Jewish. Based on that (and not the bubbe maase of the chulent story) R' Elyashiv paskened that he needed a geirus l'chumra.

daat y said...

Will you swallow it cold or even hot?
It sounds to me perfectly understandable-it was a giur lechumra.

daat y said...

If it was lechumra then it has to be good.

BrooklynWolf said...

Thanks, bluke. However, didn't the article state that they found no indication that he wasn't Jewish??

Or am I misremembering something?

The Wolf

fudge said...

either there is a missing link in the chain here, or, in all probability, this story's a riot.

Larry Lennhoff said...

However, didn't the article state that they found no indication that he wasn't Jewish??

And people say Orthodoxy doesn't change. :>)

The presumption that someone is Jewish if they claim to be unless evidence to the contrary is found seems to no longer be in force. Now you need 'proof of Jewishness' and woe betide you if your proof is your mother's C ketubah or the like.

The translation of the article from Life In Israel states:

Since he realized that this student came from a neglected country {i.e. ostensibly Eastern European, but it does not specify] , he connected the dots and decided that according to halacha this student was likely not a Jew.
Attempts to investigate the background of the student revealed nothing conclusive, so the avreich, at the behest of the student, approached Rav Elyashiv with the situation and asked what to do.

Rav Elyashiv answered that the student must go through a conversion as a stringency [because of the chance he might not be jewish]. However any wine he might have handled is not to be considered "yayin nesech" [wine handled by a non Jew which may not be imbibed by a Jew], as the student behaved like a Jew and considered himself a Jew the whole time, and it is only a "safek" that he might not be a Jew [so the issue of yayin nesech does not apply].

Sultan Knish said...

if the 'life in israel' translation is correct, this is very strange at best

I mean the host's conclusions are a load of nonsense based on his inability to properly understand what he learned, for that matter if we assumed that everyone who doesn't shuckle or eat cholent on shabbos isn't jewish, the jewish population would swiftly be reduced to a million or so people in williamsburg and bnei brak

assuming that nothing conclusive means they had legitimate suspicions that he is non-jewish based on the research they did but couldn't prove it conclusively, then we can toss the whole cholent nonsense and focus on that

unfortunately israel does now have a very large population of non-jews who have come in as jews

I personally was aware of someone who went to yeshiva with me whose mother was non-jewish but falsely claimed she was. He learned, he dressed in a black hat and no doubt has been married off by now. There are far too many cases like this now to even begin to do anything about it

Sultan Knish said...

the really sad thing is that the magazine repeats the line of reasoning of the host's utter narishkeit as if it's a legitimate approach when any rav should have laughed him off the planet

queeniesmom said...

Will leave the halachic issues to others but did anyone consider the possiblity that not everyone eats chulent for shabbat and that there are other minhagim out there re: what is considered shabbat food.

Chulent stems from cold northern climates, those who come from warmer climates don't eat hot food on Shabbat afternoon as you didn't keep a fire going in the extreme heat.

this reminds me of the stories of "proper food" for Pesach &/or Shabbat that I heard at school. the only problem was i didn't grow up eating these foods and still don't.

TheAnswer said...

The translation of the key phrase, according to my understanding, is thus "Since he knew the young man came from a forsaken country (i.e. little Jewish presence), he linked one fact to the other and determined it is possible that the young man is not Jewish according to Halacha. The attempts to clarify the Jewishness of the young man did not produced conflicted results".

According to my translation, the Kollel guy thought it is possible this boy is not Jewish and then did further research on his own. The research produced some indications the boy is Jewish and some he is not. Only after that he went to R' Elyashiv.

Disregarding the cholent, R' Elyashiv still had the research presented to him which had some indications the boy was not-Jewish. While Halacha would say the boy is Jewish (Chazaka overrules the Safek), he Poskened to convert as a Chumrah.

The only thing I see wrong with the story is the Kollel guy's conduct. But once the research was down and revealed the possible skeletons in the closet, R' Elyashiv helped the boy to an easy conversion which will definitely help him in the future.

I hate the way bloggers fly off the handle on anything that looks bad for Charedim. This is another example.

TheAnswer said...

My translation had a typo, it should read

"Since he knew the young man came from a forsaken country (i.e. little Jewish presence), he linked one fact to the other and determined it is possible that the young man is not Jewish according to Halacha. The attempts to clarify the Jewishness of the young man produced conflicted results".

BrooklynWolf said...


I hate the way bloggers fly off the handle on anything that looks bad for Charedim. This is another example.


I didn't think that questioning the validity of the story was making chariedim look bad. On the contrary, it only makes the Hebrew edition of Mishpacha magazine look bad.

The Wolf

badrabbi said...

I agree with Sultan Knish entirely. Not liking cholent or not swaying with davening does not make one a non-Jew. The story wreaks of falsehood.

What is more interesting to me is that while the story in all liklihood is false, that we take it so seriously. This tells me that on the whole, we are used to these nonsensical poskens from the rebbes. Illogical decrees are all to common so what's one more?

cool yiddishe mama said...

"So, to me the whole story sounds just a bit fishy. I want more details before I swallow this one down."

Wolf, your points about halakhah and being taken out of context are right-on. Too often, I will listen to someone telling me about a halakhah but not understanding the context of it being established. (It just is, is the answer.)

I just hope that there is no fish in that hamin that you are trying to swallow, as that will violate the minhag of not mixing fish and meat.

[Side note...when did fish get into its own class so that something as so typically Jewish as lox and schmear on a bagel can not be done by some minhagim?]

BrooklynWolf said...

The only way I can see the story being true is the way The Answer proposed. But if that's the case, then this was simply a "lucky break" that this guy was "caught." However, because of the way the story was reported, now everyone is going to be checking out their neighbors for their likeness of cholent.

The ultimate stupidity of this will be realized when people start turning down shidduchim because someone in the family doesn't eat cholent.

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

"A min is someone who is specifically Jewish -- a non-Jew cannot be a min."

Although I agree that the story is nonsense on stilts, Sanhedrin 38b indicates that a nonjew can be an apikores "lo shonu ela apikores nochri aval apikores yisrael kol sheken d'pakar tfay".