A friend from YCT (Yeshivat Chovevei Torah) transcribed Rabbi Drukman's speech. There's little things he left out but this is the gist. I apologize for all the Hebrew if it's hard for people to understand. This is hot off the presses. And as soon as I get some more sleep to make up for staying out late discussing this with fellow converts, I will write my feelings on the talk.
HIR / YCT / IRF
ר' חיים דרוקמן
„שיר המעלות ... היינו כחולמים“
אבן עזרא - גאולה כחלום הוא, it's "unbelievable"
רד"ק בשם אביו - כל הגלות השייגמר יעוף כחלום רע
מאירי - למשך כל הגלות חלמנו על הגאולה
ר' דרוקמן - כתלמיד החולם בשיעור, נס נפלא קרה ואינו מבחין בו
This is the same problem as we have with the issue of Conversion.
We live in the age in which the נבואות of קיבוץ גלויות are being realized, but we don't see what's going on!
Today we have a new type of גרים which never existed before.
There used to only be two types of גרים —
1. A Non-Jew who was disappointed in their previous way of life, and found truth in Judaism —these are גרי־הצדק.
2. Starting about 200 years ago, the doors of the ghettos opened and assimilation started; intermarriage started, and so some wanted to come convert and be Jews.
But the third type of גרים that we have today don't belong to the previous two types —this third type is unique. (list of typical Ashkenazic family names)
We're taught that when a Non-Jew comes to convert, we're supposed to ask them why they want to be converted —but these are obvious, they want to be complete Jews! Their fathers were Jews! And the Russians were persecuted for decades; the government did everything to take away from them every detail of Jewish life.
In חנוכה we talk about how the Greeks didn't allow us to do ברית־מילה, but the Russian government didn't even allow any מילה (word) of Hebrew.
In those situations, Non-Jewish women who married Jews suffered for it just like the Jews did!
So we need to help these people be complete Jews.
Over 20 years before the gates of the USSR were opened, ר' אונטרמן who was the chief rabbi of מדינת ישראל stood in Jerusalem and said that ‘we are going to expect a great aliyá from Russia; and many of them will need גיור and we must deal with them kindly after all the troubles they went through.’
We demonstrated for Russian Jews —and who demonstrated? Most of them were religious youth! And we knew that once they arrive they'll need to be converted. So we definitely are supposed to help them become complete Jews.
We should have done it 18 years ago, when the aliyá from Russia started.
Then it would have been much simpler in all aspects.
But even now we can't say that it's too late —we have to do whatever we can to become complete Jews.
There are now 80,000 incomplete Jews 18 years old or younger, most of whom were born in Israel. If we don't solve the problem now, there will be a horrible problem of intermarriage in the next generation, since these are native Israelis who are just the same as everyone else.
So we have to do whatever we can in order to help them.
QUESTIONS FROM THE AUDIENCE
Are they being helped?
Part of it having been easier 18 years ago was that at this point you have to encourage them to convert —they don't feel any need, because they're citizens like everyone else. So those who come to convert really want to be Jews, and we need to encourage the others.
Is there concern that conversions that have already been done can be undone?
According to the הלכה, there is no such thing as ביטול גיור. Anyone who has been converted —even if they go and worship idols, they're still considered Jews. There is a small circle in Israel that unfortunately don't accept exactly the רמב"ם and the שולחן־ערוך, and they think you can nullify conversions.
Practically speaking, in Israel there are 7-9 municipal rabbinates who won't register any converts for weddings. So if someone can't get registered in one, people can go to a different rabbinate.
What is your opinion of the רבנות הראשית?
RḤD works together with the רבנות הראשית. The רב ראשי in charge of גיור is רב עמאר, and they work together with no problem.
What are the halakhic issues surrounding קבלת מצוות?
A גר must accept the Torah and מצוות.
About 100 years ago, ר' חיים עוזר גרודזינסקי, the chief rabbi of Vilna, wrote about it. In his book אחיעזר he said that the גר needs to accept תורה ומצוות in principle, but if practically- speaking the גר cannot yet fulfill everything, they can still convert. The only time they can't convert is if they reject categorically any of the מצוות. But if they accept it, even if they're not ready to put it into practice, they can still be a גר.
And this was what he was saying about any גר (not the special cases we have today), including intermarriages! So קל־וחומר we can apply his logic to our גרים. And ר' אונטרמן said we should take this אחיעזר and apply it to the Russians.
Is there any sort of expedited or alternate convertion process for people who already believe they have Jewish status and are familiar with Judaism? If not, should there be?
The way of being converted is that everyone passes an אולפן that takes about 10 months, studying what Jewish life is. Then each and every one gets a religious family that ‘adopts’them for שבתות and חגים, to see Jewish life practically. And then after 10 months of learning and connection, they come to בית־דין. Someone who already knows what they need to know, can convert earlier.
Are there special problems faced by American converts who make aliyá?
They need to be connected to a congregation here for half a year before aliyá; then they get everything any Jew gets according to the Law of Return.
If a baby is converted at adoption, is that looked upon differently?
Babies are converted על דעת בית־דין.
There are a few demands on the adoptive parents, but baby conversion is easy.
What do you think of the Eternal Jewish Family organization?
They are all חרדי rabbis.
From our perspective in the States, it looks like the רבנות הראשית is becoming ḥareidiized. Do you see a possibility of change in the future? How do you think change can be brought about, and how could we support it?
Generally speaking that's true. But it depends on what issue. In terms of גיור, we work together with ר' עמאר no problem, though we don't always see eye to eye. In other aspects — for instance שמיטה and היתר־מכירה —in the end, the רבנות appointed rabbis to handle it even in those local rabbinates that refused.
What in Israel is being done about גיור, and what can we do to support change?
We are supposed to continue with what we're doing with all our efforts, and מלאך טוב will answer אמן afterwards.
Would you recommend to a prospective convert in the USA to go through one of the few rabbis who are accepted here for conversions?
It's a problem.
Maybe the rabbis here should demand that it shouldn't be like that.
You mentioned that there are 80,000 Non-Jews 18-years-old or less; so there are probably hundreds of thousands of all ages. From what I understand, the system can convert at maximum 3000 a year. If the process isn't going to be expanded, it makes a dent but hardly solves the problem.
Also, people don't have good feelings about the chief rabbinate. So when you said that they're not waiting on line to come convert, maybe they're intimidated by the רבנות — so unless there's going to be a fundamental change in the Chief Rabbinate to make it more welcoming, and a system that can handle tens of thousands, there will end up being many Russian churches in תל־אביב! When these people go looking for God, they won't find it by us and will go looking someplace else!
RḤD definitely agrees.
Idealistically- speaking, you're right.
But there are things that he can't change.
Can't invent a whole new Rabbinate, but can do whatever he can.
After 24000 of רבי עקיבא's students passed away, he taught 5. Even though 5 could not replace 24000, he resolved to do whatever he could.