About Me

Rabbi Chaim Coffman
Rabbi Coffman has helped people from all across the spectrum to prepare themselves properly for Orthodox Conversion to Judaism. His students admire his vast knowledge and appreciate his warm, personal attention and endearing sense of humor.
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Welcome to Rabbi Chaim Coffman's Blog!

I would like to thank you for visiting my blog, Beyond Orthodox Conversion to Judaism.

The conversion process can be a lengthy and daunting one to say the least and I want you to know that I am here to help you through it.

I have been teaching newcomers to Judaism for over a decade and over the last few years I have seen that conversion candidates really lack the support and knowledge they need to navigate the conversion process and successfully integrate into the Orthodox Jewish community.

I created my mentorship program in order to help make this whole experience as smooth and as painless as possible! (Can't do much about the growing pains, though ;)

Feel free to get to know me a little through the posts on my blog and visit the mentorship and syllabus page if you are interested in possible joining us.

I sincerely wish you all the best in your search for truth and spiritual growth.

Looking forward to meeting you,
Chaim Coffman

My Rebbe, Rav Moshe Sternbuch

In case you were wondering why I have all of these articles written by Rav Moshe Sternbuch, he is my Rebbe, and one of the gedolei hador (greatest Rabbis of our generation).

Rav Sternbuch fully endorses me and supports my mentorship program.

He is the address for all of my halachic or hashkafic (practical and philosophical) questions that I or my students may have.

The articles are based on his weekly talks on the Torah portion that the Rav gives in Jerusalem in his kollel. As a member of the kollel I get first dibbs on the photocopies and I type them up for my blog so you can all benefit from the Rav's erudition and insight.
Monday, March 4, 2013

Can a Conversion Ever be Revoked?

By Rabbi Chaim Coffman

After learning for many years, changing one's life, moving to a new community and finally finishing the conversion process and becoming a full-fledged Jew, how could that conversion be overturned? Was the conversion valid in the first place? Why could this happen?

Once a conversion candidate interviews with a beis din (rabbinical court) and they agree to work with them, the candidate is then off and running. Most beis din's will give the candidate books to read witha syllabus and hopefully set them up with a mentor that will be able to guide them.

The conversion candidate will be expected to follow the syllabus and learn the material and start implementing what halachos they learn in the areas of Shabbos, Yom Tov, Prayer, Kshrus and Blessings, After being in the community for at least a year and depending on the candidates level of learning and implementation, if the beis din feels the conversion candidate is ready then the beis din will convert them. If the beis din does not feel the candidate is ready, then it will take longer.

The day finally comes and the candidate is informed by the beis din that they are finished and ready for the mikveh to become a full-fledged Jew. After the conversion is done, this new Jew will continue learning and growing spiritually as was done before the conversion. If everything si done according to halacha, then there should be no problems after the conversion right?

While one is in the conversion process, one of the most important things is to make sure that the beis din you will go to will be recognized around the world. How does a convert candidate find out about these batei din? They will either find out through their mentor or their sponsoring rabbi.

Unfortunately what can happen is that either the new convert even many years later starts to slack off in mitzvah observance or gives up mitzvah observance altogether. The question that will then arise at that point is what happened during their conversion? Was it really valid in the first place? Who was the beis din that converted them?

This is how in one way a conversion can be questioned retroactively. Secondly, the beis din that did the conversion could have had some halachic issues when they did the conversion in the first place. this could have happened if one of the rabbis on the bies din is suspect or years later the beis din could have pmeritted things that maybe they should not have...

Another possible thing that could happen is that all beis din's do not have the same standards. While they should have and probably should coordinate between themselves, that is often not the case. This means that there may be different standards among the beis din's and may bring up questions about a person's conversion.

In any case, the situation is not an easy one and even if there is an issue, each candidate should be judged on theri own merit and not be judged by which beis din they came from since each case is different in and of themselves.


Idol Worship: Epikorsus and Anger

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch


“The rich shall give no more, and the poor shall give no less than half a shekel, with which to give the offering to Hashem, to atone for your souls” (30:15) 

            The rich man's large donation to charity is no dearer in Hashem's eyes than the poor man's small one, everything rather depends on the degree of devotion and self-sacrifice displayed by the donor; there is no justification for the rich man to feel superior to the poor man just because of the size of his donation.

            Every person had to donate an identical half-shekel amount to finance the korbonos to teach us that it is not the amount of a donation that counts, and also to emphasize that the resulting atonement was the result of the joint effort of the entire nation. For the same reason the amount specified was half a shekel, to indicate that each individual’s private donation could not be complete without being complemented by the donations of all the other individuals comprising the entire nation. Only then would be there be a complete shekel.

            However, the Mishna at the beginning of Masseches Shekolim says that an announcement was made on the first of Adar about bringing shekolim and also about kilayim. Since the shekolim, as we said, symbolize unity between all members of the nation, the Mishna counterbalances this by mentioning kilayim in the same breath in order to remind us that although unity is indispensable, the holy may not be intermingled with the profane, and we therefore cannot unite with epikrosim who detach themselves from the rest of the nation, because such "unity" would constitute kilayim (a forbidden mixture).

            The Baal Haflo’oh, who was the rov of Frankfurt, refused to count irreligious people as part of a minyan. When he was challenged about this policy in the light of the medrash that encourages sinners to be part of our public prayers, he replied that he had no objection to their joining our prayers once a kosher minyan had been formed, the point being that if the non-observant approach us seeking to make a connection, we must of course welcome them with open arms, but as long as they remain antagonistic towards us, we must maintain our distance.

Following in the footsteps of the LEVIYIM

“Whoever is for Hashem, let him come to me! And all the sons of Levi gathered around him” (32:26) 

            The Brisker Rov zt”l noted that it seems strange that only the Leviyim volunteered to participate in executing the death sentence on those who had sinned. Surely the whole nation had now witnessed that Moshe Rabbeinu was alive and well, so that the whole raison d'ĂȘtre for the golden calf had dissipated. Why, then, did only the Leviyim answer Moshe’s call?

            This teaches us, he replied, that if someone doubts Hakodosh Boruch Hu it is difficult for him to detach itself from his erroneous beliefs even if he is presented with proof of the false nature of his views. He added that people think that when moshiach comes everyone will become righteous overnight, but this is not so. We have to prepare ourselves for moshiach by connecting completely to Hashem. Without such a connection it will be difficult to dissociate ourselves completely from heretical thoughts even once moshiach comes.

            He also commented that the entire Jewish nation believed in Hashem, but only the Leviyim answered Moshe’s call, because only they believed in Hashem exclusively, only they had had no desire to join the erev rav, to have anything to do with them, or to approve their actions in their hearts. As Chazal say: anyone who acknowledges idol worship, it is as if he denies the entire Torah.

            Similarly, in our times, if someone seeks to unite with anti-Torah elements, it is as if he denies the entire Torah. We must not delude ourselves into thinking that only bnei yeshiva are at stake. As much as they wax eloquent about the Torah, in reality they wish to uproot it by enacting laws such as those pertaining to the secularization of marriages and conversions.

            Our very existence in this country is supernatural, and we have been witness to miracles both during peacetime and, in particular, in times of war, but we cannot take this for granted. We must beseech Hashem that He will continue to protect us in His mercy. In order for us to have clean hands in this respect, we must continue to resist any talk of compromises and dissociate ourselves completely from anti-Torah elements and their supporters.

“Only keep My Shabossos” (33:13) 

            The Torah mentions Shabossos in the plural. One Shabbos refers to the fact that we refrain from performing melochos, whereas the second Shabbos refers to the positive, active kedushah inherent in Shabbos based on which we strive to create an otherworldly experience, and to recharge our spiritual batteries, thereby sanctifying ourselves and this holiest day. Kedushah in this context means learning Torah, saying divrei Torah, singing zemiros and conveying fundamental messages to our children at the Shabbos table.

            Chazal (Masseches Shabos 118b) tell us that if we all keep two Shabossos properly we will be redeemed immediately. These two shabossos may be interpreted as referring to the Shabos of refraining from melochos and the Shabbos of actively creating the requisite kedushah.

neshomo yeseiro
   “And on the seventh day He ceased and rested [vayinofosh]” (33:17) 

            The gemara (Masseches Beitza 16a) expounds this as a comment made by a person when Shabbos starts: vay ovdo nefesh: “woe is to my soul, which has departed from me”. The gemara says this in the context of the neshomo yeseiro, the “additional soul” with which we are endowed and which departs on motzoay shabbos, so how can we understand this exposition in view of the fact that the possuk appears to be talking about Shabbos itself not motzoay shabbos?

            The Imrei Emes zt”l says that already upon the commencement of Shabbos a person should bear in mind that his neshomo yeseiro will only be with him for the duration of the Shabbos and he should therefore utilize it to the utmost for as long as he has it by refraining from forbidden or idle talk and endeavoring to infuse the holy day with kedusha.

            Alternatively, when Shabbos starts a person should take stock of whether he has given his neshomo its due during the week that has elapsed. If he has not, he bewails his neglect of it, and undertakes to dedicate more time during the upcoming week to learning Torah and generally catering to the needs of his neshomo.

clarity in hindsight
“You will see My back but My face shall not be seen” (33:23) 

            We have an annual Day of Judgment every Rosh Hashono and are also judged after we pass away, but it is only on the Final Day of Judgment, which will follow the chevlei moshiach and techias hamesim, that Hashem will reveal to us the reasons for our national and personal suffering, and for the rewards that have been allotted in this world and the Next World.

            For now we cannot see Hashem’s “face”, we cannot fathom the depths of His judgment, only after the Final Day of Judgment will we be capable of understanding the justice of all His deeds, only then will we “see” His “back”, only then will we understand in retrospect everything that happened to us.

beware of anger

“You shall not make molten gods for yourself. The Festival of Matzos you shall keep” (34:17-18).  

Rav Meshulam Igra zt”l was a famous Gaon who died in 1801. His shamash told the following story to the Chasam Sofer zt”l, who succeeded Rav Meshulam to the Pressburg rabbinate.

Rav Meshulam was very particular about personally handling the entire process of matzo production right from the first stage of ketziro (reaping). For example, he checked each wheat stalk himself to ensure that there was no suspicion of chimutz (fermentation). One erev Pesach Rav Meshulam left the house early to go to shul before Yom Tov started, and the maid found three matzos on the table. These were the matzos which Rav Meshulam had so painstakingly prepared for the Seder, but thinking that they were simple matzos she took them to make a dish with them.

Soon after that the Rebbetzen noticed that her husband’s matzos were no longer there, and she asked the maid if she knew where they were. When the maid told her what she had done with them, the Rebbetzen became very upset with her, and told her that her husband had spent so much time and effort on these matzos and he would now not have any matzos for the Seder. The Rebbetzen was in such a state that she fainted. A doctor was summoned and he told everybody not to worry, because the Rebbetzen would be all right.

When Rav Meshulam came home he was surprised to find a large crowd gathered in his house, and he became worried that something had happened to the Rebbetzen. When he was told about the preceding events, there was no change to his calm demeanor, and he did not say anything, but merely asked where the maid was. It turned out that she had become so frightened that she had run away, and had to be summoned. The rov told her that she must not worry, because what she had done had not been her fault, and he would just borrow three matzos from the neighbors. These matzos, he added, were perfectly kosher. The matzos and all the chumros I invested in them, he concluded, would not be worth anything if I now became angry because of them.

The Chasam Sofer was very impressed with this story, and was amazed at how Rav Meshulam  reacted to his maid’s conduct, even though he heard about the incident suddenly and without any warning.

According to the plain meaning “You shall not make molten gods for yourself” is a prohibition against idol worship, but the Zohar learns that it is an admonition against becoming angry, so these pesukim may be read as follows: you shall keep the Festival of Matzos meticulously and employ as many chumros as possible to ensure their kashrus limehadrin, but do not do so at the expense of becoming angry!


Half-baked religion worse than no religion

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

            “Trepidation has taken hold of me, because of the wicked who have forsaken [ozvei] Your law” (Tehillim 119:53). The Vilna Gaon zt”l reads ozvei as ozrei: we are consumed with trepidation when the wicked seek to assist the Torah. Our erring brethren are currently claiming that the Torah is wonderful and unique, and that it merely has to be amended somewhat to make it acceptable to the whole nation. For example, we have to be flexible about the laws of conversion and marriage, so as to take into account the large numbers of halachik non-Jews, which were deliberately brought in from the former Soviet Union. Let us accept everybody with open arms, they say, without the need for them to undertake observance of mitzvos.

            “The proud have had me greatly in derision; yet I have not turned aside from your Torah. I have remembered Your laws which are of old, O Hashem, and have comforted myself” (Ibid 119:51-52). These people are deriding us for sticking to the Torah only, but we do not turn aside one iota from it. This is not the first time in our history that we face such challenges, but we find comfort in the Torah itself. As we said last week, The Torah is kept in the kodesh hakodoshim as a reminder that we cannot fathom its holiness, and any attempts to tamper with it are likely to have dire consequences.

            The Mizrachi (as they used to be known) are now showing their true face. Already many decades ago Rav Chaim Brisker zt”l saw through them. Once one of their rabbonim was supposed to talk in Brisk, but Rav Chaim was opposed to it. People could not understand him. The person seemed to be learned and have fine middos, but Rav Chaim compared the divrei Torah uttered by this person to kosher food cooked in a treif pot.

            Similarly, in the early days of the State, his son, the Brisker Rov zt”l, was vehemently opposed to a United Religious Front between the Aguda and the Mizrachi, even though other rabbonim praised the idea as one that would be likely to lead to harmony between the religious factions.

            They cloak their warped outlook with a veneer of religiosity, but in reality they want to uproot religion. Now that they are adopting an open anti-Torah platform and aligning themselves with an extreme anti-Torah party, Rav Chaim’s foresight is evident for all to see.

            Our response to all this is to beseech Hashem, who has presented us with this trial, that he will save us in His great mercy, but we must also educate our students about the essence of Torah. Rabbomim and roshei yeshiva must give the bochurim chizuk, and encourage them to pray properly, and they should also emphasize how dear they are in the eyes of Hashem, how the continued existence of the whole nation depends on them, and how vital it is that Torah remains the predominant feature of our lives and not a fleeting one.

            The Chazon Ish zt”l already said that we are more afraid of the "candies" offered by anti-Torah elements than by their decrees. Our duty is to remain steadfast in the face of various temptations being offered to bochurim and avreichim to lure them away from their learning. We must realize that nothing is sweeter than Torah, and any "candies" may appear to be sweet, but their end is bitter. In this period of parashas Zochor and Purim we must counteract the forces of Amolek by reinforcing our emuno and strengthening our hasmodo in learning.

            May we merit to welcome moshiach zidkeinu speedily and without suffering.


Donations and Efforts

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Give and receive

“And have them take for Me… ” (25:2). Rashi: for my sake

We would have thought that the purpose of mitzvos such as giving charity or donating objects to hekdesh is fulfilled irrespective of the motives of the donor, so what is the meaning of the midrash quoted by Rashi? Furthermore, the commentators wonder about the Torah’s phraseology:  why does it say "have them take for Me a donation” instead of "have them give Me a donation"?

When we observe the mitzvos of Hashem and donate money for the sake of His honor, we become worthy of receiving an abundance of blessings and success. That is why we "take" this Divine bounty in return for our donations, and the purer our intentions upon voluntarily giving away our possessions for the sake of Hashem, the greater will be the divine reward.

Rav Sternbuch was once speaking to a wealthy person and encouraging him to make a donation to poor talmidei chachomim. The person responded that he preferred to make a donation for a building that would commemorate his name for ever. Rav Sternbuch replied by citing Rashi here. Hashem wants us to give charity for His sake. If we do so, He will provide us with a heavenly and eternal "monument and memorial better than sons and daughters” and better than any memorial plaque.

Terumo from money
  “… a donation [terumo]… (ibid)

Separating terumo is not only a mitzvah in its own right, but we thereby also "fix" the remaining produce. The possuk refers to terumo to tell us that the mitzvah of tzedoko may be compared to the act of separating terumo from produce, since when we make a donation to the mikdosh or charity we thereby fix and elevate the money remaining in our possession, and can thereafter legitimately use it as a divine gift. Conversely, when we fail to set aside appropriate amounts to charity our possessions acquire a status equivalent to produce which has not been tithed.

Someone who has internalized the fact that when he gives away "his" possessions, he is not parting with anything belonging to himself, but rather transferring an object actually due to the recipient, for example when he makes a donation to an oni who is entitled to his ma’aser kesofim, will do so with a totally different attitude and will, in turn, enjoy manifold blessings.

PURE donations

“… from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity, you shall take My donation” (ibid)
The Zohar hakodosh on parashas vayakhel says that before the sin of the golden calf donations to the mishkan were accepted also from the erev rav, as it says "from every person", whereas after the sin their donations were no longer accepted, as it says: "Moshe called the whole community of the bnay yisroel to assemble”, and not "every person".

It may be assumed that even before the incident of the golden calf the erev rav did not behave impeccably, but as long as they did not act conspicuously and remained subservient to the Jewish nation it was permitted to take donations from them. However, once they actively transgressed and incited the rest of the nation to do so, their donations were no longer acceptable.

Even when his yeshiva was in great financial trouble, Rav Moshe Schneider zt”l refused to accept donations from mechalelei Shabbos (people that don't keep shabbos)  arguing that this would have a detrimental effect on the spiritual level of the students, and that, to a large extent, the students’ success depended on the purity of the financial resources supporting the yeshiva, because when we accept donations from resho’im this increases their power of evil and has a negative impact on the whole Yeshiva. Instead, the Grodzinski Bakery, which was owned by religious Jews, agreed to donate all the bread that had not been sold by the end of the day to the yeshiva.

On another occasion it became public knowledge that a religious Jew had obtained his wealth through fraudulent means. When Rav Schneider heard this he was adamant that no donations would be accepted from this person either. Rav Schneider did not budge from his principles, and in the end even his opponents had to acknowledge that he was a man of truth.

Reward based on effort
“And this is the donation that you shall take from them: gold, silver, and copper… Shoham stones and filling stones for the ephod and for the choshen” (25:3, 7)

The Ohr Hachayim hakodosh wonders why the Shoham stones, which are more valuable than gold and silver, are not mentioned first. He replies that these precious stones had been brought to the Jews miraculously in clouds, and since they had been attained without any effort or financial sacrifice specifically for the purpose of being used in the mishkon, the Torah saw fit to enumerate the gold and silver first, because since they had been obtained from the Egyptians and the owners donated them with self-sacrifice they were dearer in Hashem’s eyes.

Similarly, the self-sacrifice of a poor man who donates one dollar to charity may be dearer in Hashem's eyes than the deed of a wealthy person who donates 1000 dollars effortlessly. It says “from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity” to emphasize that the jov, generosity and self-sacrifice accompanying the act of giving are the main components of the mitzvah of tzedoko.   

 The same holds true with regard to any mitzvah. Hashem investigates the hidden recesses of every person’s heart and mind to determine the extent to which he has had to overcome difficulties in order to succeed in his Torah learning or observance of mitzvos. The genuine importance of each yid depends on the extent to which he has been successful in overcoming such trials.

   “And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst” (25:8)

Nothing is more elevated than Hashem, and yet He still "lowered Himself" so that the shechino could kivyochol dwell in the mishkon. We too should learn from this by way of a kal vachomer not to find it beneath ourselves to interact with those who have not been fortunate enough to receive a Torah education or with people who do not comport themselves the way they should despite having received a good education. Instead of denigrating them we should endeavor to bring them closer to avodas Hashem.

talmidei chachomim  
   “And you shall overlay it with pure gold; from inside and from outside you shall overlay it” (25:11)

The gemara (Masseches Yomo 72b) says that this possuk teaches us that a talmid chachom whose external wisdom belies his character (literally: whose inside is not as his outside) is not a real talmid chachom. However, since the oron itself was made of wood and covered with gold, so that its interior was also not the same as its exterior, this gemara seems difficult to understand.

Someone who knows that people consider him to be a talmid chachom is obligated to sanctify the divine name by behaving in the way described by the Rambam (Hilchos Dei’os, beginning of chapter 5). All his private and public actions as well as his speech will be in conformity with the elevated status expected of him. People expect him to behave in a superior manner, symbolized by the external gold covering, and also to be replete with yiras shomayim and midos tovos, symbolized by the internal gold covering.

However, in his private thoughts he lives with the awareness that he is nothing more than wood, since his deeds, speech and thoughts are still in need of much improvement in light of his true potential for greatness. Such a person is indeed following the path of a true talmid chachom: although his internal dialogue with the Creator is “wooden”, and reflects a genuine anovo, his external behavior, which is witnessed by onlookers, is appropriately gilded. His inside is like his outside in the sense that both of them are in conformity with the path a genuine talmid chachom is supposed to follow.        

who supports who?
   “And you shall bring the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, to carry the ark with them” (25:15)

Chazal tell us (Masseches Sosto 35a) that notwithstanding the poles, the oron miraculously carried its bearers on its own. This teaches us that although it appears as if the donors for Torah causes support the Torah, in reality the reverse is the case: the Torah supports them, and their donation is the catalyst for receiving blessings from Hakodosh Boruch Hu.

Similarly, the yisroel appears to be supporting the kohen with terumos and ma’asros, but Hashem instructed the kohanim to bless the nation in order to teach us that all the abundance enjoyed by the rest of the nation is in fact received via the kohanim.

Nowadays, too, bnei Torah enjoy the same status as kohanim (see the Rambam at the end of Hilchos Shmita Veyovel) and those who support them are in reality supported by the bnei Torah. If our erring brethren realized that their material welfare stems from the lomdei Torah we would not be in the situation we are currently in.

In any case, it is clear that instead of priding himself for his generosity, a person who makes donations to Torah causes should rather be grateful for the opportunities presented to him for receiving Hashem’s bounty.

Tampering with the Torah
   “And you shall place the ark cover over the Ark of the Testimony in the Holy of Holies” (26:34)

It seems difficult to understand how the luchos inside the oron could have served as a testimony when they were stored in the kodesh hakodoshim, which everyone except the kohen godol on Yom Kippur was forbidden to enter.

Throughout our history there have been people who have argued that the Torah has to be adapted to the times. Sometimes such people really appreciate and honor the Torah, and feel that by adapting it to the needs of their generation they are protecting it, so to speak. However, their actions lead to very grave changes in such areas as the laws of conversion, chupa and kidushin.

The Torah is kept in the kodesh hakodoshim as a reminder that we cannot begin to fathom its holiness, and any attempts to tamper with it are likely to have dire consequences.

toil to receive siyata dishmaya

“The menorah shall be made of hammered work” (25:31) Rashi: “By itself”.

This Rashi may be understood in light of the Vilna Gaon’s explanation of the statement "if you have toiled and found, then believe”. He says that this does not mean that a person enjoys the fruits of his labor, as is the case in other areas, but rather that even after a person has toiled in Torah he can only acquire a proper understanding of it the way one finds a lost object [meziahyogato umozoso], by way of a divine gift.

On the other hand, a precondition for meriting such siyata dishmaya is to first toil in one’s studies. That is why the menorah, which symbolizes the Torah and mitzvos, first had to be made of hammered work, and, then, after all the toiling, was constructed by itself.

A yeshiva bochur upon first entering his yeshiva, or a ba’al teshuva who sees a talmid chachom, may become disheartened at the magnitude of the task facing them. How can they possibly begin to master the whole Torah? The answer is that if they utilize their abilities to the utmost, that is all that Hashem asks for, and He will reward them with corresponding siyata dishmaya to complete the task.