Sunday, May 12, 2013

Book of gerim

Not too often do I write a review of a book, but the book which I want to recommend for my readers is special. It was published already more than half a year ago, but in the case of this book, if a review were to be written even ten or fifty years later it would still be relevant, for a book like this has not been written for at least a few hundred years—if ever.
“Bnei Avraham Ahuvecha – Gerim in Chassidic Thought,” by Dov ben Avraham, is a milestone in the topic of Jewish converts. It includes the best compendium of the writings of Chazal and Chassidic comments on those writings, and some contemporary stories of gerim, some of whom I have the privilege of knowing in person.
However, the title of the book may be somehow misleading, for as I wrote already, the sefer contains not only Chassidic thoughts on the topic of gerim, but also quotations from Tanach – scriptures, Talmud and later rabbinic authorities. While the Chassidic  interpretation of those earlier passages may give some fresh or alternative enrichment to the classic statements on the topic that have been known to people of Torah for generations, to see those old verses in one book is equally refreshing.
Without a doubt, the first part of Jewish society profiting from this book will be gerim themselves, as they can see their true position within Klal Yisroel and see themselves without either unnecessary complexes or overflowing pride. As always, the holy writings of the true leaders of People of Hashem put things in their right place. In his sefer, Rabbi Dov ben Avraham does everything to bring all the necessary information to achieve this goal, and as long as I know many other gerim than myself, it will help them to understand who they are and what their particular mission in the world is.
While I can imagine multitudes of gerim reaching for this unique sefer for the reasons described above, I strongly believe that there is another group among us who need this sefer even more than gerim – namely, all of the rest of the yidden.
I have to state it one more time: I believe with my whole heart that I joined the most morally advanced society; however, it is not a perfect society.
If someone thinks that the mitzvah of ahavas gerim – the proper relation to converts – was repeated 24 times in the Torah, or according to some other authorities, 36, without reason, a person like this is an apikores. No word, not a letter, not a dot or crown was written in the Torah without a reason, certainly not this most repeated mitzvah of all. While I have some thoughts which are still developing and which I would like IY”H to share in the future as to why this mitzvah is so discussed, I will not go to details in this essay. It shouldn’t be doubtful for anybody that there is something extraordinary about accepting the other—the different—and showing him or her special feeling and sensitivity.
I personally experienced, and I know  from my other gerim friends, that there is a huge number of religious Jews who will make an extraordinary effort to fulfill the earthly, social and spiritual needs of the ger. However, even many of them – the people with all good intentions  --  are operating on a rather superficial level, without a deeper understanding of what they are doing; thus sometimes their help, while initiated from positive feeling and need to fulfill the mitzvah, could turn into something completely the opposite, bringing sometimes deplorable results.
While loving the ger is a mitzvah like tefilin or lulav and esrog, if we do, G-d forbid, something wrong while doing those mitzvos, the damage is rather limited. But if the mitzvah of ahavas gerim is performed superficially and without understanding, the damage could be tragic. To those who, reading these words, will decide to restrain from doing this mitzvah to not cause harm, please know that making you aware of the problem doesn’t mean that you should stop doing good, rather that you should learn and do it the right way.
After writing all the above, I have to admit with sorrow that even among frum society there is plenty of nothing else than what I would describe as an anti-gerism. I will not attempt to prove my point here by bringing some of the stories which I and my family and many friends experienced. I would like not to make them public, but please take into consideration the fact that if such a lover of the chosen people as me issues such a statement, there is something in it. Once more – I joined the best, but not perfect, society.
While I don’t believe that this sefer possesses all the measures to repair this problem, I strongly believe that it can be a huge step for all who will read it.
The only question is whether will they consider it among all the political fiction or even lehavdil some classic positions in Jewish literature, which are without a doubt necessary, but no one is treating this specific topic as deeply as “Bnei Avraham Ahuvecha.”

Matys Weiser