I'm sure that by now, most of you have heard about the revocation of the conversion of "Sarah," the woman who was converted by Rabbi Leib Tropper of Eternal Jewish Family. About a year after her conversion, her husband let slip the fact that Sarah sometimes went out of the house with her head uncovered and/or wearing pants. On these grounds Rabbi Tropper declared that her original intent to convert was not sincere and her conversion was declared null in June 2006. The news of this was followed by the announcement that it's possible that ALL the conversions done by Rabbi Haim Druckman's Beis Din in Israel (as part of the official government conversion authority) over the last nine years may be invalidated.
Being able to invalidate a conversion years after the fact is a scary thing. Perhaps the scariest article I've seen on the subject was written by Dr. Zvi Zohar, a Professor of Sephardic Law and Ethics at Bar-Ilan University. He begins by bringing up a fictitious, yet very possible scenario. A woman (Miriam) converts in an Orthodox ceremony and marries a Jewish man (Reuven). They have a son and a daughter. The son goes to Yeshiva, obtains semicha and becomes a rabbi himself. He serves as a witness for several marriages, sits as a dayan (judge) in several cases (including, possibly divorce and conversion cases), etc. The daughter goes on to marry a Kohen and has several children of her own. Her children duchen, receive the first aliyah in shul, participate in a pidyon haben, etc.
The story then continues:
Miriam, now nearing sixty, has been working secretly for several years on an autobiography – and it is accepted for publication. When published, the public is informed about matters that her husband and close friends have known all along: Miriam opted for giyyur because of Reuven, whom she wanted to marry. She declared acceptence of mitzvot during her giyyur procedure, but was never really convinced that the commandments were ordained by G-d and revealed to Moses, and her observance of halakha, never consistent even at the beginning, soon become spotty, then totally haphazard. She has no problem with the fact that her son Yehuda has adopted a religious lifestyle, and indeed keeps a kosher home for his sake, and when Yehuda and his family come to visit in the U.S., Miriam and Reuven make sure that everything is halakhically meticulous. But when they are alone, they are not religiously observant. Miriam’s good friend Maureen knows someone at the New York Times, and Miriam is interviewed. She tells the reporter how happy she is to be Jewish, and how she really identifies with the Jewish People and the Jewish values of social justice, warm community and family ties, etc. However, she confides, the ritual parts of Judaism – such as Shabbat, kashrut, taharat hamishpaha – never really attracted her, and she doesn’t personally observe them. The interview is picked up by HaAretz, and published in Hebrew in Israel.
What happens then is the scary part. A rabbi reads about this in HaAretz. He calls up the son's Rosh Yeshiva and advises him that the son was never Jewish to begin with, since his mother's conversion was invalid. Everything the son has done in his life (in a halachic sense) is invalid. Any marriages that he witnessed need to be re-performed. If he acted on a court to convert other geirim, then those conversions are invalid too. And if he acted in an official capacity at a divorce... well, let's just hope and pray those women haven't remarried and had kids.
The convert's daughter is also in a very precarious situation. Her life has just turned into a living hell. Since she' s not Jewish, she has to separate from her husband. Furthermore, even if she converts, she cannot "remarry" her husband, since he is a Kohen. Her children are no longer Kohanim (and never were to begin with) and have no "relationship" with their father.
Taken to it's logical conclusion, a ger cannot participate in Jewish society at all. As Dr. Zohar writes:
But is all this possible? Of course -- if one accepts that giyyur can be retroactively annulled. Indeed, if it is possible to retroactively annul even one giyyur based upon subsequent conduct of a ger, then we can NEVER rely upon the Jewishness of ANY person who underwent giyyur, nor upon the Jewishness of any descendent of a female proselyte. The Jewishness of all such persons is eternally contingent, always liable to being undermined by some future revelation. Knowing this, other Jews should always refrain from having gerim or the descendents of female giyyorot serve as witnesses, rabbis, Cohanim … they cannot be counted for a minyan, for a zimmun etc… and of course, no one will ever agree to marry them.
And, the end result will probably be an end to all conversions:
In fact, the most reasonable conclusion for any Orthodox rabbi to draw is that it is better never to accept anybody for giyyur – for who can really know what is in a person’s heart, and how he/she will behave in the future? And of course, once it gets around to persons who have been planning to undergo Orthodox giyyur that they and their children will always be only conditionally Jewish – they will surely revise such ill-considered plans. Who would knowingly place themselves and their families in such a terrible bind?
Scary stuff indeed. The havoc that a single individual can wreak on the klal as a whole is mind boggling. In addition, it's possible that this can be used as an extortion threat by the potential convert themselves. Suppose the convert and her son disagree about an issue -- grandparent's visitation for example. Do we allow a system where the convert can tell her son to accede to her demands or else she'll have him declared a non-Jew by stating that her conversion was never sincere? Do we allow one person to hold a figurative sword over people? It's bad enough that a husband can withhold a get from his wife, but at least there she entered into the marriage willingly. In this case, the parties affected have absolutely no say in the matter -- one person can threaten to destroy the lives of all their descendants with just one word.
Is this really where we are headed? To the point where converts are so completely disenfranchised that they cannot do anything religiously? You can't use them (or their descendants) for a minyan, for a dayan, for a witness at a marriage/divorce, or for anything at all. Heck, you can't even marry them, since it's possible that the conversion will be invalidated even generations later. Is this where the rabbanim who are overseeing this debacle want to take us? If so, then we're really entering a scary world indeed.
UPDATE: Apparently, EJF has it's own version of how "Sarah's" conversion went. The details are here. In any event, the main point of the post wasn't about "Sarah" but about revoking the validity of conversions years after the fact, as is being done in Israel. Since that's still the case and the main point of the post is still valid, I'm going to leave it up.