In 1977, two Orthodox rabbis -- Eliezer Berkovitz z"l and Steven Riskin -- came to Denver as speakers in adult education programs. Berkovits, a professor emeritus of Hebrew Theological College in Chicago, warned the Denver community that the "Who is a Jew?" issue was destroying Jewish unity. Riskin, who later became Shlomo Riskin and served as chief rabbi of Efrat, related passates from the Talmud and Rambam that dealt with conversion's lenient attitude concerning the applicant's commitment to observance of the mitzvoth or commandments. Both considered "mavericks" in the community, they had a great impact on Denver Orthodox Rabbi Stanley Wagner.
Within a few weeks of their talks, Rabbi Wagner called together seven Denver rabbis of all denominations determined to find a way to provide for a single, citywide conversion apparatus. A noble cause, even after the failure of the Denver Plan, Orthodox Rabbi Jerome Lipsitz commented, "Why have two separate types of Jews? ... We want to create a Jew all of us can recognize as a Jew." Clearly the effort was called for, but its basic concepts were set for failure.
The meeting with the rabbis resulted in the Denver Plan comprising the following process:
- potential converts would take a class over several months on the fundamentals of Judaism
- the classes would be taught by rabbis across the denominational spectrum of the Jewish community (let's call this holistic Jewish education)
- after the class, a panel of rabbis representing different movements examined the candidate
- participants would agree to basic Jewish observances (fasting on Yom Kippur, joining a synagogue, lighting candles on Shabbat and holidays)
- note: dietary laws and "keeping a Jewish household" were mentioned, but not a necessary commitment for conversion -- both practices were left "vague"
- if the panel found the candidate "fit for conversion," a beit din of Traditional rabbis would perform the conversion
We have no choice bu to draw the line, clearly, as to who is a Jew and who is not, as to what limits tand basic standards of elementary Jewish identity and personal conduct we must insist upon. ... It is time that Orthodoxy put the rest of the Jewish community on notice: no longer will 'Jewish unity' be bought at the expense of Jewish identity. For Klal Yisrael today, that is too high a price.
While compromise for the sake of unity can often make good sense, when dealing with basic principles of faith, 'compromise' is actually a sell-out. ... It is time that all Orthodox rabbis recognize that Reform and Conservative Judaism are far, far removed from Torah, and Klal Yisroel is betrayed -- not served -- when Orthodoxy enters in religious assocaition with them.
creation of panels of rabbis representing all three movements to prepare the candidates for conversion. The ritual conversion itself would remain within the province of the Orthodox rabbinate alone.
Note: There have been talks of doing a mass conversion of Russian immigrants in the vein of what it looks like when people take their U.S. citizen oath. I imagine the scene itself would be pretty powerful -- thousands of immigrants who have been living in the Jewish state taking an oath of Jewish citizenship and nationhood. But I'll talk about this some other time.