See Marc Shapiro on the case for the Lenient Approach to conversion, amply documented in Marc Shapiro’s review of halachic literature: http://seforim.blogspot.com/…/marc-b-shapiro-responses-to-c…
(Contrary to what has often been stated, the lenient approach, and this includes R. Uziel, always insisted on kabbalat mitzvot. The dispute concerns what “kabbalat mitzvot” means, and whether a formal acceptance, without inner conviction, is sufficient.) Until recent years the lenient approach was even a mainstream position, alongside the more stringent (and widespread) approach. Among the adherents of the lenient approach one must mention R. David Zvi Hoffmann, who was the final halakhic authority in Germany until his death in 1921. Almost every Orthodox rabbi in that country, and many in other parts of Western Europe, looked to him as their authority. Others who held this position include R. Unterman and R. Goren. In addition, the Israeli Chief Rabbinate batei din, which were full of haredi dayanim, until recently followed the lenient approach. Many non-Jews were converted in Israel by dayanim who knew perfectly well that these people were not going to live an Orthodox life. Some of them were even intent on marrying people who were living on secular kibbutzim. No one ever challenged the validity of these conversions. The situation was similar in places outside of Israel. See R. Yitzhak Yaakov Weiss, Minhat Yitzhak, vol. 6, no. 107:
לצערנו הרב גם רבנים חרדיים ומומחים מגיירים כעין זה ומחשיבים אותה כבדיעבד.
Unlike what goes on today, in previous generations there were never any classes for future converts. In fact, according to R. Akiva Eger, these classes are improper, since one is not permitted to teach Torah to a non-Jew. Now obviously, this is not the position we accept, but it does illustrate that in reality converts don’t need to know much about Judaism. R. Malkiel Zvi Tenenbaum writes similarly in dealing with a case from England where a man was with a non-Jewish woman and wanted to convert her. The man had stopped eating non-kosher and attended synagogue on Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur, but he was obviously not a completely observant Jew. Tenenbaum notes that even though it is possible that the only reason the woman is converting is so that she can remain with her husband–apparently she thought that this was in doubt due to his new religiosity– nevertheless, one should not be too exacting with her, other than telling her a few weighty and light mitzvot. This approach should be adopted because ex post facto the conversion will be fine, “and by doing this, we will save the Jew from living with her in a forbidden manner . . . but it is best that she learn everything [relating to Judaism] after she converts, and in particular in this case when we have to hurry to save the husband from sin.”
Even R. Moshe Feinstein’s opinion regarding conversion is not uniform, and you can see changes in his view in the direction of leniency. But leaving that aside, although R. Moshe requires real kabbalat mitzvot, he acknowledges that a rejection of complete halakhic observance might not really be a rejection, because the person might not think that a particular law is really required. For example, what about a case where a woman converted in order to marry a Sabbath violator and was herself now a Sabbath violator? This is the exact sort of conversion that would be thrown out today. The fact that after the conversion she never observed Shabbat would suffice to show that there was no kabbalat mitzvot. Yet R. Moshe disagrees. He says that it depends on the woman’s mindset. In this case, perhaps she never intended on violating the halakhah, but she didn’t believe that Shabbat is really a law! And why should she, when she sees that most Jews don’t keep it? In R. Moshe’s words, she thought that observing Shabbat was hiddur be-alma, that is, something nice, but not required. This means that she never rejected the halakhah of Shabbat, she just didn’t know about it, and people are not required to know every halakhah before they convert. Therefore, R. Moshe concludes that the conversion is valid. In another responsum, R. Moshe explains that even if one rejects a particular mitzvah of the Torah, ex post facto the conversion is still valid:
ולכן צריך לומר שכיון שאיכא עכ”פ קבלת מצות אף שלא בכולן הוא גר ונתחייב בכולן אף שלא קבלם דהוה מתנה ע”מ שכתוב בתורה.
Anyone who reads responsa literature of the last hundred years often comes across cases where a man was intermarried and wanted to convert his wife, or wanted to convert his future wife. Often he had a child with the non-Jewish woman and wanted the child to be converted. A few different issues are discussed in these responsa, in particular nitan al ha-shifhah, but one thing you find very little discussion of is kabbalat mitzvot. The rabbis often give permission to convert the children even though the parents are not religious, and they give permission to convert the non-Jewish spouse even though there is no expectation that the person is going to lead a religious life. This obviously shows us that these rabbis had a different conception of conversion than what is today declared to be the only acceptable approach. Rabbi Yehudah Herzl Henkin has recently called attention to Rabbi Abraham Price’s comments in this regard. Price was the leading rav in Toronto, and he defends the lenient approach (which was being carried out all over the world). Yet today, these conversions would be thrown out…….
In the recently published responsa of R. Eliezer David Rabinowitz-Teomim (the Aderet), Ma’aneh Eliyahu, no. 65, he discusses converting a Gentile who was involved with a Jewish woman. He raises the issue of whether it is proper to convert the man if he will not be observant. Even though the woman will be spared the sin of intermarriage, the man who is converted will now be violating the prohbitions of Niddah and Shabbat. This means that he was in a better place before he converted, as he was not obligated in these laws. The Aderet never assumes that the conversion won’t be valid because the man will be non-observant. Indeed, his entire responsum is based on the fact that it will be valid, which leads him to wonder if conversions like this are a good idea.
אם הם מדור החדש, וקרוב הדבר שלא תשמור לטבול בזמנה, ויחללו שבת, ויכשלו באיסור נדה החמורה, רחמנא ליצלן, ועוד ועוד, באופן כזה חלילה, צריך ישוב והתבוננות אם לטובלו לדת ישראל.
(There are many other responsa where halakhists show great annoyance that people who convert often don’t live a religious life, but very few of these halakhists mention anything about the conversions not being valid.)
Here is another example that nicely illustrates what I am talking about. It has not been quoted in any of the numerous discussions of the issue and can be added to the lenient side. Yet as I indicated, there is nothing unusual in this case as the approach seen here was very popular. R. Shlomo Sadowsky was a rav in Rochester and in 1918 he published his sefer, Parparaot le-Hokhmah. On page 63 he discusses converting a non-Jewish woman who is married to a Jewish man. In this case, he turned to R. Gavriel Zev Margulies, one of the leading poskim in America. (Joshua Hoffman wrote a wonderful masters dissertation on him.) The decision is made to convert her, and there is no mention of authentic acceptance of mitzvot. The halakhic concern focuses on a different matter, and the two rabbis are guided by the desire to help the man get out of the sin of intermarriage.
A few pages prior to this, Sadowsky has a responsum from 1906, when he was a rav in Albany. Here he discusses converting the son of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother. The mother had no interest in converting. Sadowsky agrees to convert the child who would, of course, be raised in an intermarried home without any Torah or mitzvot. He sent his responsum to the great R. Moses Danishefsky, the rav of Slobodka, and Danishefsky agreed with him. There is absolutely no discussion about the fact that the boy will be brought up without Torah observance. Both Sadowsky and Danishefsky assume that there is a benefit to being Jewish, even if one is being brought up in an intermarried home.…
The technical issues are probably easier in this last case, as a child doesn’t need to have kabbalat mitzvot to be converted. Yet it is still significant that the issue of being raised in a non-religious home is not considered. There have been cases in Israel where the rabbinate refuses to convert children in situations like this, since the parents are not religious. The parents are thus forced to raise non-Jewish Hebrew speaking children, who of course will serve in the army and then marry Jewish Israelis.
For another example of converting women where there is no real expectation that they will be “observant” (by current standards), since their husbands were themselves not religious, see this responsum by R. Judah Leib Zirelson, from his Atzei ha-Levanon, no. 63.
I could cite a number of other sources, but it should be obvious by now that the lenient approach is hardly a daat yahid, identified only with R. Uziel. I believe that an examination of the responsa literature reveals that until recently this was a mainstream approach among both rabbis doing conversions and poskim who dealt with this issue. I am not saying that it was the dominant approach, only that it was widespread. As we all know, however, many converts of years past would not be accepted by batei din today. (Nothing I have mentioned so far should imply that R. Druckman’s beit din followed any of the sources mentioned so far. From what I have been able to determine, his beit din required a lengthy instruction period as well as attachment to an Orthodox family during this period, and also complete acceptance of mitzvot. For one relevant article, see R. David Bass in Tzohar 30, available here.)
There is another important source, a pre-modern responsum that is not mentioned by Sagi and Zohar and is directly relevant to the issue of revoking of conversions. It is cited by the Shas member of Kenesset (and author of seforim), R. Hayyim Amselem, as part of his responsum against the revoking of any conversions. R. Simeon ben Tzemach Duran, Tashbetz, vol. 3, no. 47, writes as follows:
מי שלא נתגייר אלא שעה אחת וחזר לסורו לאלתר ועבד ע”ז וחלל שבתות בפרהסיא כמנהגו קודם שנתגייר ומין הוא ומן המורדים הוא, דלא קרינן ביה אחיך כמ”ש למעלה, ואפ”ה חשבינן ליה ישראל משומד וקידושין קידושין . . . וכן ראיתי בתשובה למורי חמי הרב רבנו יונה שכתב כן, וכן כתוב בספר העיטור ובספר אבן העזר, שמעשה הי’ בכותי שקידש ואצרכוה גיטא מר רב יהודה ומר רב שמואל רישי כו’, והדבר ידוע שגזרו עליהם להיות כעכו”ם גמורים כדאיתא בפרקא קמא דחולין.
In other words, in a case where a convert immediately after the conversion practices idolatry and violates Shabbat, the rishonim mentioned hold that the conversion is valid and the person has the status of a sinning Jew. Today, we would be told that such a conversion is completely invalid, as it is obvious that the convert never intended to accept Judaism. The proof of this is that immediately following the conversion he continued in his old ways. Yet these rishonim hold that the conversion is binding.
R. Shlomo Daichovsky, until recently a dayan on the Supreme Rabbinic Court, held this position. Eight years ago he expressed his opinion against R. Avraham Sherman and wrote as follows:
נשותיהן של שלמה ושמשון עבדו עבודה זרה – כך מפורש בתנ”ך. גירותן היתה מפוקפקת מלכתחילה, כלשון הרמב”ם: ‘והדבר ידוע שלא חזרו אלו, אלא בשביל דבר’. בנוסף: ‘הוכיח סופן על תחילתן שהן עובדות עבודה זרה שלהן’. ועוד יותר: ‘לא על פי בית דין גיירום’. יש כאן שלושה חסרונות גדולים. אין לי ספק, כי אם היתה באה גירות כזאת לפני בית הדין ברחובות, היו פוסלים אותה, ללא כל בעיה. יתכן, וגם אני הייתי מצטרף לכך. אף על פי כן, רואה אותן הרמב”ם כישראליות לכל דבר. ומוסיף בהלכה י”ד: ‘אל יעלה על דעתך ששמשון המושיע את ישראל או שלמה מלך ישראל שנקרא ידיד ה’ נשאו נשים נכריות בגיותן’. כלומר, אסור להעלות על הדעת, אפשרות כזו. ובעצם, למה לא?
אין מנוס ממסקנה כי בדיעבד, אינו כלכתחילה. ולא ניתן לפסול גיור בדיעבד, לאחר שנעשתה.
R. Ovadiah Yosef believes that we can void a conversion, but only if there was (or should have been) a certainty before the conversion that the whole thing was a sham. But if there was no reason to think so, even if the convert did not become an observant Jew the conversion is valid. He writes (Masa Ovadiah, p. 438):
“אם באמת היה הדבר גלוי וידוע מראש שאינם מקבלים עליהם עול תורה ומצוות, רק ע”ד האמור: ‘בפיו ובשפתיו כבדוני ולבו רחק ממני’, ואנן סהדי שלא נתכוונו מעולם לקיים המצוות בפועל, אז גם בדיעבד י”ל שאינם גרים. אבל אם לא היה כאן אומדנא דמוכח בשעת הגיור, אע”ג דלבסוף אתגלי בהתייהו, דינם כישראל מומר, שאע”פ שחטא ישראל הוא.
In the famous Seidman case, where R. Goren – based on R. David Zvi Hoffmann’s well-known responsum – converted a woman who was going to be living with a kohen after the conversion, R. Ovadiah agreed that the conversion was valid be-diavad. (See R. Shilo Rafael, “Giyur le-Lo Torah u-Mitzvot,” Torah she-Baal Peh 13 (1971), p. 131).
R. Yitzhak Yaakov Weiss was opposed to voiding conversions carried out by a valid beit din (Minhat Yitzhak, vol. 6, no. 107):
אם היה הגירות נעשה בפני בי”ד כשרים היינו מוכרחים לומר שהבי”ד בדקו היטב בשעת מעשה וראו שמקבלים בלב שלם, ע”כ אף שראינו שאח”כ אין מחזיקין במה שקבלו עליהם אמרינן דהדרו בהו ויש להם דין ישראל מומר
The rabbis at Kollel Eretz Hemdah were asked from Karlsruhe, Germany, about people who convert and continue to violate Shabbat and act no differently than before the conversion. In other words, they fooled the Beit Din. Are they to be regarded as converts? The reply is that while le-hatkhilah one cannot convert people unless they accept to observe the Torah
אי-אפשר לבטל את הגירות של גרים שנתגיירו בבית-דין אורטודוקסי, אף על פי שלא היו כנים בבית-הדין ולא קיבלו על עצמם באמת לקיים את כל מצוות התורה, כל עוד שבאמת הם רוצים להיות יהודים, ורוצים להשתייך לעם ישראל.
As mentioned already, this is a matter that will have to be decided by the halakhic authorities. But I think that what I have written so far is sufficient to establish that there has been a great deal of distortion regarding this issue, often by well-meaning people. (In particular, I noticed that a number of writers, including talmidei hakhamim, have mistakenly claimed that the Bah is the only one to say that the Rambam didn’t require kabbalat mitzvot be-diavad.)
What is important to remember is that it is not just some modern Orthodox and religious Zionist rabbis who oppose the revoking of a conversion, but no less a figure than the Tashbetz. If today’s authorities disagree, that is their right, but it is simply wrong for haredi leaders to say that conversions have always required absolute commitment to mitzvah observance, and that lacking such commitment the conversions were always regarded as having no validity. As is often the case, there are different traditions. The adherents of the stricter approach are attempting to recreate the past, as if there has been only one approach. In fact, there is an even more radical view found in the rishonim. I refer to the Meiri’s position that be-diavad one can convert without a beit din. That is, following circumcision one can then accept the Torah and immerse all by oneself, and ex post facto it is a valid conversion. …..
Finally, let me say something about RCA’s agreement with the Chief Rabbinate that all conversions already recognized by the RCA will be accepted in Israel. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that the Chief Rabbinate can deliver on this. That is because, as we have seen in the latest controversy, the dayanim are not bound by the Chief Rabbinate’s agreements. The Chief Rabbinate can accept a convert for its own purposes, but local dayanim have the autonomy to issue their own rulings, as we saw Rabbi Sherman do.
Furthermore, there is no guarantee that the agreement with the Chief Rabbinate will be upheld for a more fundamental reason: It violates the conscience and halakhic standards of the haredi world, which is currently taking over the religious court system. Let me explain what I mean. Many people who converted through RCA rabbis did not become completely observant. Some didn’t become observant at all. (I have already mentioned that this was the case with haredi rabbis as well.) If a dayan feels that such a conversion is invalid halakhically, the fact that the Chief Rabbinate made an agreement that all RCA conversions from previous years will be accepted is irrelevant. An agreement of this nature cannot override halakhah. So the dayan in question will be forced to reject this conversion no matter when it took place.
To show how difficult the situation can become, take a look at this article from Yated Neeman that appeared a few years ago. I think we can get a good sense from it where we are heading with regard to conversion, and why the only solution is to have two separate court systems dealing with this matter. Yes, it is true that people converted by the Religious Zionist courts might not be accepted by the haredim, but so what? In the unlikely event that one of these converts or their children will want to marry a haredi, they can undergo a second haredi conversion. This is hardly a big deal, and certainly not reason enough for the Religious Zionists to entirely abandon their vision of halakhah, all in order to satisfy the haredi demands for a “single standard,” which by definition always means the haredi approach.