Beit Midrash

  • Family and Society
  • The Torah vs. Public Issues
To dedicate this lesson

Prevailing Versus Winning


Rabbi Berel Wein

Judaism always encourages taking a long view of matters and problems. It is not wise to judge long range outcomes and consequences on the basis of short term appearances and happenings. The parable of the tortoise and the hare is one of the greatest truths of human history and existence. Because of our impatience we often confuse prevailing in the short term with winning in the long term. Our world demands instantaneous results and has very little patience with what the long term will eventually hold for us. Yet we are bitterly aware that prevailing in the short term is certainly no guarantee as to what the long term result will really be. Robert E. Lee won more victories on the battlefield than did Ulysses S. Grant. But in the end the Confederacy was destroyed and the American Union was preserved. Here in Israel peace hopes have prevailed and they led to Oslo, Wye, Hebron, Lebanon and Gaza. Our hopes and actions for peace prevailed but they certainly did not win for us any of the intended results or benefits. It is difficult always to judge the future from the present. What one sees from here may not be what one sees from there but what one sees from here is no guarantee as to the beneficial outcome of policies taken so confidently, even arrogantly. There is far too much emphasis on currently prevailing rather than upon ultimately winning. Politicians, always aware of the next election can only operate in this world of prevailing. That is why so few of them actually ever really win anything.

The current contremps regarding David Rotem’s conversion bill introduced in the Knesset is a perfect example of prevailing over winning. The opponents to the bill, mainly the non-Orthodox groupings in the United States have prevailed. With a specious argument about somehow "dividing the Jewish people" (it is perfectly united currently isn’t it?) they have prevailed in forcing a six-month postponement of further consideration of the bill. Whether the bill in its present form is a perfect solution to an almost otherwise insoluble problem is certainly a matter of doubt and debate. But it should be clear to all by now after decades of trying to square the circle regarding conversion procedures that anything less than traditional halachically acceptable courts and conversion procedures will not be recognized buy a large and constantly growing community in the Jewish world. The drive of the non-Orthodox groups gives them a sense of prevailing, especially with that champion of prevailing and never really winning, the Israeli Supreme Court on their side, but ultimately in many cases these "converts" suffer tragic social and familial consequences, perhaps not immediately but certainly in the future. In my over fifty years of rabbinic experience I can testify to the heartbreak of grandchildren who now wish to marry into an observant Jewish family and find that their grandparents’ conversion is deemed questionable at best if not downright invalid. It is clear that temporary court and legislative accomplishments can mean very little a few generations down the pike.

The statistics regarding the eventual Jewishness of such converts who underwent a non-halachic conversion bear out the toll taken on the Jewish world and its future by such programs and initiatives. If there is no minimal halachic observance in a house the likelihood that the children raised there will have any positive attitude to Judaism, identity the Land and State of Israel and the Jewish people is abysmally low. If nothing is demanded of the potential convert in terms of life style changes and all is left simply to words and pious declarations there is little hope that the Jewish people or even the convert himself or herself will feel any benefit from what becomes an essentially empty ceremony. The Torah mentions thirty-six times, more times than any other commandment, the necessity to treat converts well, honestly and with great respect, all in recognition of the life-changing decision and action taken in becoming part of the Jewish people and its destiny. But the convert must be told realize and accept the true cost of one’s decision to be part of the Jewish experience. And that cost is outlined by the same halacha and its warmth and consideration that the Torah orders for the Jewish attitude towards the convert and for the convert’s own true eventual benefit. This halachic norm and tradition guarantees not only prevailing but eventually winning as well.
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