Brooklyn,. NY – The Empire Of The Syrian Jews, And The Edict.

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    Brooklyn, NY – Geographically speaking, the Syrian Jewish community of Brooklyn — 75,000 strong and growing fast — inhabits an enclave running from Avenue I in the north to Avenue V in the south and stretching eastward to Nostrand Avenue from West 6th Street. But the community’s true boundaries are at once more expansive and more constricted.

    The SY’s, as the community members call themselves live in a self-created entrepreneurial and mercantile empire whose current sources of wealth are found everywhere from Coney Island to Shanghai. They are rich beyond the dreams of their immigrant forebears.

    Yet no matter how far they roam or how worldly and successful they become, the SY’s of Brooklyn are bound by an invisible fence known as the Edict — a rabbinical threat of excommunication so dire and so powerful that it has fixed the true parameters of the community for generations.

    The Edict was issued in Brooklyn by five Syrian rabbis in 1935. They had a simple goal: to preserve the age-old Syrian Jewish community in the New World.

    Read extended article [nytimes]

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    38 COMMENTS

    1. .
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      The “”gezaira” was signed by more than five Rabbis. It is sad that the ashkenzi community did not have the foresight and the baizim to enact a similar decree.
      The Syrians, as you can see, mean business.

    2. I’m not so sure that this edict is appropriate.

      Shortly before completing our yearly cycle of reading the Torah, we read “VaAhavtem es HaGer, ki Gerim Hayisem BiEretz Mitzrayim”.

      Granted that Geirus must be done properly, but to say that a Jew should be disowned if he marries any Ger is a bit harsh and does not seem in keeping with the above pasuk.

      The Syrians deserve credit for taking that step to preserve their untainted Jewish identity, but I would ask an Ashkenazi Rabbi for his opinion before (childishly) assuming that the reason it was not enacted is that Ashkenazim “didn’t have the betzim to enact a similar decree”.

    3. To anon. 12:20

      The edict was originally signed in 1935 by the five Syrian rabbis that headed the community at the time. They’ve since then had it reinstated 4 times or so since then, and the latest one was either this year or last year, and it was signed by way more than that, maybe like 50 or more.
      You can find it hanging in virtually every Syrian shul. Only the very worst would transgress it.

    4. Edict means A decree or law of major import promulgated by a king, queen, or other sovereign of a government.

      An edict can be distinguished from a public proclamation in that an edict puts a new statute into effect whereas a public proclamation is no more than a declaration of a law prior to its actual enactment.

      Under Roman law, an edict had different meanings. It was usually a mandate published under the authority of a ruler that commanded the observance of various rules or injunctions. Sometimes, however, an edict was a citation to appear before a judge.

    5. The Edict is racist and against the torah, no rabbi has the right to say converts (orthedox) are not accepted in their community, hashem gave everyone a bechira chofshis to choose which path he wanted to take and while the syrians might have stopped intermarriage they should come out with some type of edict against stealing and cheating in business as they are # 1 in the department

    6. The Edict only reaffirms the halacha.

      It is against halacha to convert someone who is involved in a relationship with a Jew. Conversion can only be done for the sake of heaven by one who is inspired to take upon oneself the yoke of Torah.

      What the Edict states is basically “you cannot eat cheeseburgers” or in this case “you cannot marry a non Jew”. It should not need to be stated in an Edict!!

      But unfortunately when the Syrian community came to the US, too many “Orthodox” Rabbis were performing conversions in order to kosher intermarriages. So in order to protect the community from assimilation, an Edict had to be signed stating that any member of the community who married a non Jew, EVEN if some “Rabbi” had performed a bogus non halachic conversion on the Gentile partner to kasher the intermarriage, that person and their offspring would not be accepted back into the community.

      The second part was to protect the community from having the Jewish partner try to slip his Gentile children back into the community by having bogus conversions performed on them.

      The Ashkenazic Rabbis do not have to enact an Edict now. The Israeli Rabbinate has done it for them. The Rabbinate’s ruling that NO Diaspora converts will be accepted is much more far reaching than the Syrian Edict.

    7. The article implied that the gezeira was made because the Syrians were made to feel inferior by the Ashkenazim…and so they took steps to show that they were proud of their yichus. Hence, their ban on marrying geirim, and thoroughly investigating prospective Ashkenaz spouses. Agree that geirim have to have to the right motivations, but this seems overly aggressive to me. I guess this means that R. Akiva or Onkelus couldn’t marry a Syrian.

    8. There is not and never was any ban on marrying any Ashkenazi person who is Jewish k’halacha.

      My mother is Ashkenazic, and I had no problem marrying a Syrian Kohen with a Syrian Kohen mother from a Rabbinical family. My kids have made shidduchim among first tier Syrian families.

      In the process of investigating shidduchim for my own kids I have found that upon looking three generations back (mother, her mother, her mother) that HALF of those Americans who identify as Orthodox Jews (both Ashkenazic and non Syrian Sephardic) are not Jewish k’halacha and would not be considered Jews in Israel.

      A child has to be born of a Jewish mother in order to be Jewish. If that mother is not born Jewish or has not undergone a conversion THAT IS HALACHICALLY ACCEPTED in communities around the world (ie Israel), then the child is NOT Jewish.

      Would you want YOUR son to marry a girl who is not considered a Jew in Israel? (YOUR grandchildren would also not be Jews in Israel and much of the rest of the world as well).

      Onkelot did not have any trouble convincing the Rabbis in Israel that his motives for conversion were pure and he was accepted by all.

      Rabbi Akiva’s FATHER was a righteous convert and Rabbi Akiva’s status as a born Jew was never in question.

      As children we did ask why, Rabbi Akiva’s father, who had willingly accepted the yoke of Torah upon himself, did not educate his son, even to teach him the Aleph-Bet?

    9. Anon 11:00 – Good post. But note that the article noted that half the Syrian community did not agree with R. Ovadia Yosef when he personally vouched for the pure motives and education of a particular georess. Again, this seems overly aggressive.

    10. The article did not tell the whole story about the incident in which Rabbi Ovadia Yosef was involved.

      Hacham Baruch Ben Haim,ztl, was the chavruta of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, back in their days at Porat Yosef Yeshiva. They remained close and dear friends for life and Rabbi Yosef had always the highest regard for Hacham Baruch ztl(and so did EVERYONE else).

      Hacham Baruch went to Rabbi Yosef and explained the details of the situation; that the girls father had intermarried, the girl herself was raised knowing this and she was attempting to use Rabbi Yosef as part of a fraud in order that she, a Gentile woman could marry a Syrian Jew and force the Rabbis to permit the intermarriage! Rabbi Yosef was also a victim of her fraud!!!

      When Rabbi Yosef found out the circumstances, (Rabbi Yosef did not come to Brooklyn for this purpose, the Rav was visiting the community anyway) the Rav was APPALLED by the situation and issued a statement in support of the Syrian Edict.

      That is how I remember it.

    11. It’s all very well to decide not to marry gerim; yichus is important, and gerim are not “kehal Hashem”. But anyone who describes conversion in general as “fictitious” is a kofer and a rasha.

      And no, it doesn’t matter whether a conversion is “accepted in Israel”. If a person has properly converted before a kosher beit din they are Jewish, whether you like it or not, and nobody has the right to reject them. It doesn’t matter whether they were in a relationship with a Jew, or whatever – those are considerations the beit din should take into account when considering whether to do the conversion, but once it’s been done it’s done and anyone who rejects the conversion is a kofer.

      Vaahavtem es hager is a mitzvah de’oraisa, and ono’as hager is an issur de’oraisa, just like eating chazzer. This is repeated something like 35 times in the Torah, so it’s actually more important than putting on tefillin, and worse than eating chazzer. Someone who treats a ger like this is a shoteh, rasha, vegas ruach, and all his learning and tzedaka is worth nothing.

    12. “It is against halacha to convert someone who is involved in a relationship with a Jew.”

      This is simply not true. You are making up a new religion. There is no such halacha. If you actually cracked open a few sifrei shu”t on the subject you’d know that it’s in fact up to the judgment of the beit din. Being in a relationship with a Jew is a strong reason to suspect a candidate’s sincerity, but the beit din has to consider all the circumstances, and if it decides that a conversion is justified then every Jew in the world is obligated to accept that decision even if they would not have made the same decision themselves. That is the halacha.

    13. I doubt that the SY’s give a crap about what the “frum world” thinks about them or what they do. They are totally independent and have a well planned infrasturcture which includes, shuls, mikvaot, RAbbis, yeshivot, bakeries, restaurants, neighborhoods, vacations spots and a langauge of their own. Forgot to mentions physicians, insurnance brokers, business brokers, hair salons etc..

    14. Who is qualified to sit on a Beit Din l’giur?

      According to the Israeli Rabbinate and most of our Sages throughout history, only a Dayyan is qualified to sit on a Beit Din l’Giur. (That would be THREE Dayyanim L’Giur to comprise a qualified Beit Din L’Giur).

      In the US, the vast majority of “conversions” have been signed by those unqualified to sit on Batei Din L’Giur. (Conservative Rabbis, soferim, mohelim, 1 year smicha from BT programs).

      The Israeli Rabbinate has decided that there ARE no qualified Batei Din L’Giur in the US, a conclusion arrived at after reviewing thousands of US conversion certificates. The Rabbinute offered to qualify US Rabbis who had done conversions in the past with the stipulation that any Rav who qualified would have his gerim accepted as Jews in Israel. I was told that only a handful of US Rabbis even tried and NONE could qualify!!

      Torah observant Jews are not obligated to accept the halachic decisions of Reform and Conservative because these movements and their decisions have no basis in Torah.

      The Israeli Rabbinate has ruled (on the basis of the thousands of US Gerut and their RABBIS they they reviewed) that the same is true of many of the “Orthodox” Rabbis in the Diaspora.

      Anyone who is interested in learning about the Rabbinate’s decision should discuss this with a representative of the Rabbinate. Many of the Rabbis who do halachic investigation for the Rabbinate travel to the US frequently and there are also telephones.

    15. Who really cares what the zionist Israeli “Rabbinate” said, likes, or recognizes. They are irrelevant to the vast majority of Jews.

      That being said, there are an unfortunate number of so-called “Orthodox Rabbis” who freely convert insincere candidates. It is highly questionable whether these “geirim” are in fact truly Jewish.

      Of course a sincere ger converted by a competent Orthodox Rabbi in America is 100% a Kushere Yid.

    16. My great grandfather, Haim Tawil, was the chief Syrian Rabbi at the time the edict was signed in 1935. He was the main signator. I would like to point out that the edict does not say that gerim are not Jewish. Maybe they are, and maybe they are not. Either way we don’t accept them. As a result, our community is intact and growing. The reality is that converts, in general, weaken a jewish community. In the ashkenaz world men often marry non-jews and convert them. The non-jewish woman converts in order to marry the man. Then ashkenaz Jewish women have no one to marry. In the Syrian world, this rarely happens. This was nipped in the bud in 1935.

    17. I cannot understand why a Ger who was converted according to Halachah shouldn’t be accepted by the Syrian community as a Jew.

      Are the Syrians so insecure in their Jewish education that they perceive kosher Geirim as a threat to their community?

      If so they should work on their Chinuch, not on ostraciing Geirim.
      Hashem loves the Geirim and so should every kosher Jew.

    18. The Takana does NOT prohibit a marriage between a Syrian and one who was converted k’halacha.

      It does not prohibit marriage between a Syrian and the children of a convert who was converted k’halacha.

      What it DOES prohibit is re-entry into the community after a marriage between a Syrian and a gentile who some Chaim Yankel “rabbi” converted for $5k. And it prohibits the marriage between a Syrian and the children and grandchildren of such unions.

      In all of my life I have met exactly TWO who did NOT convert in order to marry a Jew. TWO from among hundreds of mostly women I have met who were converted in order to marry a Jewish man.

      And yes, as a shadchan, I cannot tell you how many times I have heard bochurim tell me that “if they can’t find a skinny, gorgeous, girl who will put up with all of their shtick, they will just “convert” a Gentile girl who will do anything for them because she doesn’t know better.

      Maybe some of the Rabbonim should look at the number of unmarried Litvishe girls and equate that with the number of Gentile women they have converted to marry Jewish men.

    19. The big question really is “what is a ger/convert?”

      Halacha (for Ashkenazim, Sephardim, and Hasidim) is pretty much the same when it comes to the concept of converting someone who wishes to marry a Jew: It’s forbidden. Halacha is also the same when it comes to being paid to convert someone: forbidden

      So, what happens if a particular Rabbi thinks that’s unfair and proceeds to perform a conversion for a woman who is converting to marry her Jewish boyfriend, and collects $10K for “teaching” her along the way? Is this a conversion or is it not?

      Since the conversion was executed in violation of the Halacha, the person has not actually become a Jew. Sort of like if your US Citizen next door neighbor decides to issue the oath of Citizenship to her Mexican worker,or if the Mexican worker applies for Citizenship with phony credentials. It’s void.

      The (in)famous Takana is pretty clear….conversions that have been done for marriage aren’t accepted. It happens to be the Halacha, so really there should be no need for it.

      The question on this blog should not be whether the Takana is proper. The question should be why it is controversial that it states that Halacha should be followed.

      If the Syrians issued a Takana against eating Cheeseburgers, there wouldn’t be an outcry because everyone knows Cheeseburgers are forbidden. Well, forbidding conversion for marriage is EXACTLY the same.

    20. Who is qualified to sit on a Beit Din l’giur? According to the Israeli Rabbinate and most of our Sages throughout history, only a Dayyan is qualified to sit on a Beit Din l’Giur.

      You are either an am haaretz or a liar. This is a load of garbage. You are making up a new Torah. Talk about Reform and Conservative – you are the reformer, with your new dinim that you make up, as if you were smarter than Chazal and all the Rishonim and Achronim.

      There is no such requirement known to halacha. Any three kosher Jews can make up a beit din legiyur.

      Even in the times of Chazal, when real smicha existed, a bet din shel hedyotot had the power to convert people, and what they did was done. A person converted by such a “bet din” was considered just as Jewish as one converted by Moshe Rabbenu and the 70 zekenim.

    21. Halacha (for Ashkenazim, Sephardim, and Hasidim) is pretty much the same when it comes to the concept of converting someone who wishes to marry a Jew: It’s forbidden.

      That is not so. The beit din must consider all the circumstances, and decide whether the giyur is justified. An existing relationship with a Jew is a strong point against conversion, but if the beit din decided to do it anyway nobody has the right to challenge it.

      So, what happens if a particular Rabbi thinks that’s unfair and proceeds to perform a conversion for a woman who is converting to marry her Jewish boyfriend, and collects $10K for “teaching” her along the way? Is this a conversion or is it not? Since the conversion was executed in violation of the Halacha, the person has not actually become a Jew.

      That does not follow logically. Even if the rabbi shouldn’t have done the conversion, how does it follow that it’s not valid? You need to learn some more; take down a shulchan aruch and learn hilchot gerim, follow it up in the gemara and the rishonim, learn some modern shu”t on the subject, and you’ll be entitled to open your mouth.

      1. A beit din is entitled to convert someone who is engaged to a Jew, if they think that in all the circumstances it’s the right thing to do.

      2. Even if the beit din was wrong, and they shouldn’t have done the conversion, what they did is done, the person is now a Jew, and nobody has the right to insult him by calling him a goy. You can criticise the beit din all you like, but the ger is a ger.

      3. The only pasul conversion is if the dayanim were pesulim le’edut (e.g. non-Orthodox “rabbis” who are kofrim be’ikar), or if there really was no kabalat hamitzvot at all.

    22. “or if there really was no kabalat hamitzvot at all”.

      I would like to see one of these women whom these “rabbis” “convert” to marry a Jew give up Xmas, NOT take their kids to Church, NOT eat treif or keep ANYTHING!!

      I have not yet met ONE who did not lead a double life. And I have known a LOT of them.

      “Converts” for marriage have no intention whatsoever of becoming Jewish, they are only interested in doing whatever it takes to marry a Jewish man.

    23. Anon 3:51, you are simply lying. There are hundreds of sincere gerim all around us, including ones whose original interest in Judaism was sparked by a relationship with a Jew, and they keep all the mitzvos, better than you do. They are 100% Jewish.

      And even if some time later they should ever lapse from observance, they would still be 100% Jewish, and would be no worse than any Jew who goes off.

      You probably don’t even realise how many gerim there are in your own shul, since they don’t always announce it from the rooftops; especially the women, who don’t get aliyos.

    24. “You probably don’t even realise how many gerim there are in your own shul,”

      I realize it and I also see the same women around town half naked or driving past my street as I walk with my kids on Shabbos.

      Every one of these “converts” represents a Jewish woman who could not marry a Jewish man because he was permitted to intermarry. I am painfully aware of the growing numbers of Jewish women in the 20s, 30s and 40s who cannot marry because too many “Rabbis” are kashering intermarriages via bogus conversions. In my shul more than a third of the women “converted” in order to marry a Jew. And this is sadly not uncommon in most of the US.

    25. if there really was no kabalat hamitzvot

      Milhouse,

      That is the key. There is a cottage industry amongst certain so-called “Orthodox Rabbis” who not only accept, but solicit (itself a big no-no) converts who clearly are not kabalas hamitzvos.

      I am not saying they are a majority of converts, but they do exist unfortunately. And many of this group of so-called “geirim” did so for marital purposes. (Others did it for a variety of other reasons.)

    26. I like the generalized statements here. 8:26 – since when have you befriended Sephardim? Notice it speaks of Syrian and not other types. Believe you me, ask a Moroccan how he loves the Syrian, and ask the Syrian about the lowly Moroccan. You get the idea. Do any of you know any Gerim? I do and can safely say these are the most Ehrlicher Yidden. They truly love their new lives and live according to Halachah because of choice, not because they grew up with it. It’s nothing short of incredible.

    27. Accepting a Ger is a d’oraysa. But there is also such thing as a hora-ah sha-ah. I mean we don’t blow shofer on Shabat Rosh Hashanah and that is also d’oraysa.

      Our Syrian Rabbis made the edict to prevent people from intermarrying. There have been cases of true converts who married into our community and are fully accepted.

      The proof is in the putting – how much of a problem is intermarriage by Syrians – you can count them on one hand. How about by Ashkenazim? It is not racist – it is self preservation. And it was not at all made in response to being subjugated by the Ashkenazim as someone suggested – it was purely a matter of preservation.

      It is interesting reading that article and seeing how the author bends the truth to frame his thesis. I mean – free education? Where was I when they were giving that out.

      I got the sense from the article that many SY’s don’t really want the decree, but that it is imposed as some kind of Khomani-ism. That is preposterous! I never met anyone who was against the decree, except for possibly boys like the poor lost soul interviewed in the article.

    28. Received this via email today from the President of Sephardic Community Federation:

      Some of you have read the article that appeared in this past Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. As you are aware, the article was inaccurate and contained blatant misstatements about our community and our religious traditions.

      Clearly, many of the quotes, especially those of the anonymous guide, do not represent the view of our community.

      If anyone has any questions they can call SCF at (646) 452-5522.

    29. A few other members of the Syrian community, including myself, read and discussed the article. There is an abundance of truth in the writing. There were a few things that were embelished a bit, but above all everything was quite on point and noone was really shocked what they were reading, only shocked that it was written. Although I do not agree with the edict, I beleive it is a good thing for this community being that there is a large group of people who get wrapped up in the secular world and if were allowed would easily marry a nonjew and lose all the values of a Jewish life. The community should be proud of the edict, however they should be embarressed that in the past they did not keep it themselves. It was stated that the only accepted converts are the ones who were sincere from the past, this is NOT true. There are a few cases in which weddings were either mistakingly performed or “paid off” (large donations) and these people live in the community with no problems. It is upsetting that because of reputations and status people are able to be considered converts, when in fact true converts are disregarded. After making such a strong edict, this community should be able to stand by it and attempt to fix the many other issues that may be dehumanizing the future generations.

    30. (Shabbat is over in my part of the world)

      Folks, I am a potential ger tzedek who has started his orthodox conversion at a recognized Beth Din. I am not converting in order to marry a Jewish girl. In fact, if there is one fear I have relating the conversion (apart from the brit milah) is the fact that I may never find an observant Jewish woman, “modern Orthodox” or haredi, that will marry me.
      Regarding the Syrian takkanah, we may find it not appropriate, but it´s the way of their community. This means to me that, once I convert, I will not daven at a Syrian synagogue. That´s it.

    31. Um. I have to comment that I currently work for someone who is not Jewish and is still a Christian and who is married to a Jewish woman of this community (a 2nd marriage for both. Her first husband was a Cohen by the way) I have never heard of a “religious” woman doing something like this and being part of the community with no problem as she is involved with a camp in Deal NJ and the non Jewish husband has his own place but on the weekends he sometimes goes to Deal or Brooklyn to be with his wife.

      I didn’t know what to make of this and first though maybe it was Jews for Jesus or something but from things my own boss has told me I find out that she belongs to a very insular community that has practices that certainly are not mainstream and yet she has been married to a non-Jewish man for years and is a proud member of the community that brags about being against conversion but I guess has no problem with their own women marrying non-Jewish men. Their hatred of other Jews look at the result that I see with my own eyes and my boss clearly has perverse agenda’s to be married to this woman that isn’t good for the Jewish people.

      The extremism is really something

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