Approaches to Intermarriage and Conversion Amongst Sephardic Hakhamim

Ben-Zion Uziel 1880-1953 Jaffa, Salonika, Tel Aviv, Palestine §

Having established that the court may and even must allow the wife to convert, Rabbi Uziel next deliberates on whether she would be permitted to properly marry her husband considering that Mishnah Yevamot 2:8, cited above, prohibits such a marriage ab initio. Rabbi Uziel cites a responsum by Rabbi Yaakov Shaul Elyashar (Rishon LeSion, 1893–1906) who argues that we can recognize their civil marriage and therefore consider this like an ex post facto case where the Mishnah rules that we do not force them to divorce. 30 Rabbi Uziel disagrees and writes that halakhah does not recognize civil marriage at all. Rather, Rabbi Uziel relies on the responsum of Rambam who permitted a man to marry his freed maidservant despite Mishnah Yevamot 2:8, since it is better that he violate a minor transgression than continually violating a major one. Rabbi Uziel concludes:

Rabbi Moshe Pardo (1810–1888) - Egypt §


The rabbi upon whom Rabbi Mani relied was Rabbi Moshe Pardo (1810–1888), who was born in Jerusalem, where he earned his Torah education and served as head of the rabbinical court. In 1870 he went to North Africa as an emissary, and on his way back from that mission was invited to serve as rabbi of Alexandria, a rapidly developing cosmopolitan port city with an increasingly varied Jewish population,[8] and filled that role from 1871 until his death.[9] A few months after arriving in Alexandria, Rabbi Pardo was asked about a Jewish man who had married a non-Jewish woman in a civil ceremony. The woman was pregnant, and the man asked whether, if his wife gave birth to a boy,

he would be permitted to circumcise his son. For this is an important commandment to him, even though he sinned and had intercourse with the daughter of an alien god, nonetheless he is a Jew and he wants his aforementioned son to be circumcised.[10]

After a detailed discussion, Rabbi Pardo rules that it is permissible and even a mitzvah to circumcise such a boy, despite his non-Jewish status. However, if he is born on Shabbat he cannot be circumcised on the eighth day, because circumcision of a non-Jew does not overrule Shabbat.[11] Rabbi Pardo then noted an alternate scenario that would make it possible to circumcise the child even if he were to be born on Shabbat:

In the case at hand, the mother herself wishes to become a Jewess. And clearly, if the mother should immerse herself and accept the commandments and become a Jewess, her fetus is like her and becomes fully Jewish, as explained in the Tur and the Shulḥan ‘Arukh (268:6): “A pregnant woman who converts, her son does not need to be immersed.” If so, it is clear that he may be circumcised even on Shabbat, since he entered the Jewish people when his mother immersed. So in the case at hand, where the woman wishes to convert and immerse and to accept the commandments, certainly the child will be entirely kasher, and he is a ger tsedek.[12]

The Jewish father can thus prevent the public unpleasantness that might occur if his son (now in his Gentile spouse’s womb) were to be born on Shabbat—by having the mother convert before giving birth. But are we allowed to convert this woman? Does the Shulḥan ‘Arukh not rule, writes Rabbi Pardo, that if a woman wants to convert “they check if she has cast her eyes upon one of the youths of Israel” and if so the court will reject her, and indeed in the case under discussion the woman

[s]eeks to enter under the wings of the shekhina only out of love for her husband to whom she is married. If so, on what grounds can we accept her and have her immerse and accept the commandments and thereafter be considered a Jewess?[13]

A central argument that Rabbi Pardo presents in his responsum is that a situation in which a Jewish man is cohabiting with a Gentile woman should be considered “a time of exigency,” and under such circumstances it is halakhically right to convert his partner even if she is explicitly seeking giyyur only “for the sake of a man.” The reason for this is, that when making a decision on her conversion the rabbis are ipso facto determining the future of her Jewish partner; if we reject her, we are by that very act repulsing her partner—

a Jewish man who, out of fear of God[’s retribution] for having relations with the daughter of a foreign god, has persuaded her to convert. We must not push away a Jewish man. We should employ any stratagem we can to draw him closer and not push him away. And no greater ‘‘time of exigency’ than this exists—as she is married to him and he cannot separate from her, and certainly would not obey us [if we reject her application to convert].

In the case before us, the woman’s application for giyyur reveals her Jewish husband’s internally conflicted state. On the one hand, he is deeply attached to his Gentile wife, and if we require him to separate from her he will not obey us. On the other hand, this relationship arouses in him pangs of conscience, because of which he has convinced her to convert. If we reject her—we will in effect be rejecting his wish to resolve the conflictual situation he is in, and he will become even further alienated from his Jewishness. Our obligation to save him should drive us to take every possible halakhic action in order to “draw him closer and not push him away;” the specific meaning of this in our case is, that we should convert his wife in order to save him from a life intermarriage leading ultimately to assimilation.

The halakhic course of action that Rabbi Pardo specifies relies upon identifying the situation before us as she’at haDeḥaq (a time of exigency), that is, a situation of severe stress that requires going beyond standard halakhic norms. To enable the application of a wider range of norms in situations of exigency, halakhic literature established the rule “she’at haDeḥaq kedi’avad damei” (a time of exigency is like an ex post facto situation).[14] This means that in stressful or extreme situations, one can follow halakhic norms whose usual application is only ex post facto.[15] Specifically, since ex post facto the validity of a Gentile’s giyyur is not contingent upon the nature of her motivation, we should enable this woman to convert regardless of her specific motivation. By doing so, we are fulfilling our obligation toward our fellow Jew—her husband—which is: to take every possible halakhic action in order to “draw him closer and not push him away.” By accepting his wife (whose personal motivation is unworthy per se), we are saving him from a life of intermarriage leading ultimately to assimilation.

Rabbi Pardo cites several sources in support of his ruling. One of these is a fascinating case, clearly demonstrating that the two greatest rabbis of seventeenth-century Egypt advocated resolving intermarriage by converting the non-Jewish spouse and enabling the continuity of the existing family unit.[16] A shifḥa (non-Jewish female slave) belonging to “Reuven,” a resident of Egypt, was in another country, and Reuven ordered that she be transferred to him. On her way to Egypt, the ship was attacked by pirates, and she was captured. The pirates put her up for sale in a city that had a Jewish community, and in order to save herself from captivity she identified herself as a Jewess and was redeemed by the local Jewish community. Later on, she married a member of the community and they had children. When Reuven became aware of this, he turned to the rabbinic court in Egypt and informed them of this situation, declaring that he had despaired of his ownership of the shifḥa the moment he heard of her captivity. Now he asked the rabbinic court to chart a halakhic course of action that would bring about the best possible outcome for her, for her husband, and for her children:

He came to the rabbinic court and told the whole story and said: Know, gentlemen, that I have already given up on the value of this shifḥa and she is on her own. And I do not wish to cause the Jew who mistakenly married her to sin. See what ruling you can make for her so that she can be married in accordance with the religion of Israel, and no problem or stumbling block will be placed because of me before her husband and children.

Reuven is revealed here to be an honorable man who relinquishes any potential financial benefit that he might obtain from the situation that had developed. He understands that the Jew who married her did so mistakenly, after the captive shifḥa falsely presented herself as a Jewess. It nonetheless does not occur to him—nor to the rabbinic court—to accuse the woman of misleading the Jewish community into spending a considerable amount of money to redeem her from captivity, or for misleading her Jewish husband into marrying her while she was still a Gentile. It does not even occur to Reuven or to the rabbinic court that the situation should be resolved by cutting off the relationship between the (Gentile!) woman, her Jewish husband, and their (Gentile!) children. Quite the contrary: Reuven defines in advance the parameters of the suitable solution—enabling the couple and their children to continue their relationship in a halakhically viable way—even before he clarifies if this solution is possible. In other words, he assumes that since this is the suitable solution, then, once the rabbis recognize this to be the case they will certainly find the halakhic way to make it happen. And indeed, the two most senior Egyptian rabbis at that time—the rabbi of Cairo and the rabbi of Rashid—agreed. A thorough analysis of the mother’s halakhic status after Reuven relinquished his ownership led them to conclude that she was no more a shifḥa but rather a free Gentile woman; therefore, it was possible and fitting to convert her and her children, and to continue their family life with the Jewish man whom she married:

She should be converted by a rabbinic court—and if a rabbinic court already converted her, what they have done is done and she is fully Jewish. And if they still have not converted her, they should convert her now while she is living with her husband. And if before it became known that the marriage was a mistake she became pregnant and gave birth, the wife and her children[17] have the status of full gentiles. They should be converted together, and she will remain with her husband.[18]

And Rabbi Pardo comments:

[They wrote that] even though she now is living with her husband she can convert, and they were not worried by the fact that she does so out of love for her Jewish husband. [And he concludes:] The same holds in this case (emphasis mine, Z. Z.)

In other words, the Egyptian halakhic scholars, Rabbi haLevi and Rabbi Gershon (as well as “Reuven,” who relinquished his rights over the shifḥa) identified the situation of the Jewish man and his Gentile wife as a “time of exigency.” They therefore applied ex post facto halakhic norms and refrained from concerning themselves with the woman’s motivation. Moreover, identification of the situation as a “time of exigency” was done without taking into consideration the issue of guilt, that is: Who was responsible for creating this situation? Although the shifḥa knowingly misled the Jewish community and her Jewish husband, this did not prevent the rabbis from converting her and enabling her to continue living conjugally with her husband. Rabbi Pardo concludes that if this is what was decided in seventeenth-century Egypt, the same thing should be done in the case brought before him 200 years later: The Gentile woman and the children already born to her from her Jewish spouse should be converted, and they should continue living as before with their Jewish husband/father—but now they will all be Jews and this will be a “kasher” family unit.

This was not a one-time decision by Rabbi Pardo, but rather a policy he continued to follow also in later years. Rabbi Eliyahu Ḥazan, who served after Pardo as rabbi of Alexandria,[19] reports that he found documentation in the archive of the local rabbinate indicating that in the summer of 1876, a non-Jewish woman who had lived with a Jewish man for many years and given birth to several boys and girls, applied for giyyur. Not only did Rabbi Pardo accept her for conversion, but he also married her to her Jewish spouse on the very day she converted.[20] Obviously, Rabbi Pardo not only encouraged conversion as a response to intermarriage, he also waived the halakhic requirement for a period of discernment[21] before permitting the couple to marry. In the following section we shall see that Rabbi Eliyahu Ḥazan also considered it his responsibility to be inclusive and considerate toward Jews who were only marginally religious, even if that entailed changing synagogue praxis in a manner seemingly incompatible with the rulings of Rabbi Joseph Caro in the Shulḥan ‘Arukh.

Footnotes §

  • [8] In the century preceding 1937, “the Jewish community of Alexandria was radically transformed. Numbering in the hundreds at the beginning of the nineteenth century, it reached ten thousand by the end of the century … [leading to] diversity in the social composition and cultural orientation of Alexandrian Jewry.” See: Tomer Levi and Norman Stillman, “Alexandria—Colonial Era,” EJIW, 1 (2010), p. 136.
  • [9] On Rabbi Pardo see: Shlomo Ḥazan, Hama’alot Li-Shlomo 196a–b (1894); Efraim Ben Daniel Levy ‘Toledot Hameḥaber,” Responsa Tsedeq u-Mishpat, pp. 7–8 (Moshe Pardo, 1982).
  • [10] Meqabtziel vol. 13 (1989), 9–18. The responsum bears the date 26 Menachem Av 5631 (Parallel to the date 15.8.1871). I thank Rabbi Haim Amsalem for directing my attention to this source.
  • [11] For a discussion of the different positions held by halakhic scholars with regard to the circumcision of a boy born to a Jewish man from a Gentile wife, see: Zvi Zohar, Ve-lo Yiddaḥ Mimennu Niddaḥ 297–298 (2012), and the sources mentioned there.
  • [12] Meqabtziel (above, note 10), 16.
  • [13] Meqabtziel, ibid.
  • [14] Rabbi Pardo cites his renowned grandfather, Rabbi David Pardo (Venice 1719—Jerusalem 1792), who wrote: “It is explained in the words of the posqim of blessed memory in several places, and especially in Yoreh De’ah in the matter of religious prohibitions (issurim), that she’at hadeḥaq and bedi’avad are equal. Whenever something is [normally] permitted ex post facto, in a time of exigency it is permitted even a priori” (Rabbi David Pardo’s statement is printed in Responsa Brekhot HaMayyim, 133c).
  • [15] Entziklopedia Talmudit volume 7 column 406 (1947): “A situation that “cannot be fixed”—is considered ex post facto, and is permitted even a priori.” This is stated inter alia by the Taz on Yoreh De’ah 91(b). The Taz relies upon Rabbi Moshe Isserles, who wrote in Torat Ḥattat 17:4 that “A time of exigency…. is like ex post facto.”
  • [16] Responsa Darkhei No’am, Yoreh De’ah, responsa 14-15. In these two responsa relating to the same case, the author (Rabbi Mordekhai haLevi, chief rabbi of Cairo, died in 1684) and his colleague Rabbi David Gershon (head of the Rashid Rabbinic court) reached an identical conclusion.
  • [17] It is striking that Rabbi Mordecai HaLevi uses this phrase that originates in Exodus 21:4, with regard to a markedly contrasting situation. That verse refers to a Gentile slavewoman who cohabited with a Jewish slave [‘eved ‘ivri]. No permanent union is recognized as having been created, and thus when the slave’s term of servitude ends, “the wife and her children” remain in possession of the master who originally purchased her. Here, on the other hand, the master (“Reuven”) relinquished his ownership, and “the wife and her children” will “belong,” after the giyyur, to her Jewish husband—with recognition granted to the family unit originally formed when the woman misrepresented herself as Jewish.
  • [18] Darkhei No’am, section 14, above note 148.
  • [19] And whose views on inclusiveness vs. partially assimilated Jews are discussed immediately below.
  • [20] Neve Shalom, 49a (1894).
  • [21] This is a period of time in which a couple are required to refrain from sexual relations, to enable determination if the woman had been pregnant at the time these months began. In the context of giyyur, months of discernment can serve to determine if a baby born about seven or eight months after the giyyur already existed in the mother’s womb at the time of the conversion (and if so, the newborn child will be a Ger Tsedek), or if the pregnancy began after the giyyur, in which case the newborn child is a “seed sown in holiness.” About “months of discernment,” see Ve-lo Yiddaḥ Mimennu Niddaḥ (above note 11), pp. 257–260.

Eliyahu Hazan (1848–1908) - Alexandria, Egypt §

Rabbi Eliyahu Hazan (c. 1848–1908), who served as Chief Rabbi of Alexandria (1888–1908), wrote that in cases when a Jewish man lives with a non-Jewish woman, sometimes having children together, the regular policy in Alexandria by his rabbinic predecessors was to allow the woman to convert. Rabbi Hazan explains that they relied on the responsum of Rambam and “if that is what our Rabbi said in his time, all the more so in this era of freedom and emancipation that causes, in our great sins, the destruction of all religions.” [58]

Rabbi Refael Aharon ben Shimon (1848-1928), Egypt §

Rabbi Refael Aharon ben Shimon (1848–1928), the Chief Rabbi of Egypt (1891–1921), cites Rabbi Hazan and adds that in such cases, “we look the other way and accept them” [59] in order to save the man from sinful relations, to purify his future seed, and to save the husband from losing his religion. [60]

Zeharia haCohen (1898 - ) - Yemenite to Israel §


Rabbi Zehariah HaCohen (b. 1898) was a sage born in Yemen, who immigrated to Israel and became Rabbi in Nehalal. He dealt with the issue of non-Jewish immigrants to Israel who were married to Jews, and who were not living a strictly religious lifestyle. Should such people be accepted for conversion? Among his concerns, Rabbi HaCohen worried about consequences of not converting these intermarried people. How would they become integrated properly into Jewish Israeli society? What would be the status of their children? He wrote: “We cannot demand that the proselyte observe all the 613 precepts at a time when most of those who are resettling him are themselves far from observing this number or even part of it…. How can we demand the proselyte to observe the Sabbath and the dietary laws etc? Such would be saying: do as I say, but not as I do!” Rabbi HaCohen believed that conversions should be performed for the non-Jewish spouses. The hope was that children of these marriages would learn more about Judaism in school, and that they would influence their parents to become more observant religiously.[21]

Moshe haCohen (1874 - 1950) - Djerba & Teverya §

Article 1 §


Rabbi Moshe HaCohen, born in Jerba, immigrated to Israel in the 1950s and became a dayyan in the rabbinical court in Teverya. He, too, was concerned about the many Jewish immigrants to Israel who had non-Jewish spouses. These couples and their children needed to be integrated into Israeli society as Jews. Yet, many of them resided in places where religious laws were not observed-they ate forbidden foods, desecrated the Sabbath etc. Even after conversion, there was little likelihood that these converts would be religiously observant. Should they be converted anyway? Rabbi HaCohen ruled that they indeed should be converted. He explained that kabbalat hamitzvoth “does not mean that [the convert] must commit himself to observe all the commandments. Rather, it means that he accepts all the commandments of the Torah in the sense that, if he transgresses, he will be liable for such punishment as he deserves….And if so, we do not care if at the time he accepts the mitzvoth he intends to transgress a particular commandment and accept the punishment. This is not considered a flaw in his acceptance of the commandments.”[22]

  • [17] See Mishpetei Uziel, E.H., Jerusalem, 5724, nos. 18, 20, 22. For a discussion of R. Uziel’s views on conversion, see my book, Loving Truth and Peace: The Grand Religious Worldview of Rabbi Benzion Uziel, Jason Aronson, Northvale, 1999, chapter 7.
  • [18] Mishpetei Uziel, 5698, no. 26.
  • [19] These concerns are raised in the following sources: R. Shlomo Kluger, Tuv Ta’am Ve’da’at, vol. 1, no. 230; R. Shalom Shvadron, Responsa Maharsham, vol. 6, Y.d. 109; R. David Zvi Hoffman, Melamed leHo-il, Y.D. 85.
  • [20] Rabbi Unterman discusses this issue in “The Laws of Conversion and their Practical Application,” Noam, vol. 1, 1971.
  • [21] Cited in Baruch Litvin, Jewish Identity, New York, 1965, p. 62.
  • [22] Cited by Sagi and Zohar, Transforming Identity, p. 230.
  • [23] As quoted in the Jerusalem Post, May 18, 2007.
  • [24] Asei Lekha Rav, vol. 1, no. 23.

Article 2 §


Rabbi Moshe Hakohen (1906–1966), a leading Rabbi in Tunisia and then in Tiberias, similarly allowed women who were married to Jewish men to convert even when they were living in secular towns and it was clear that they would not be observant. He explains that according to the Rambam, acceptance of the mitzvot does not mean a commitment to observe them but rather accepting that one is responsible to observe them and will be punished for violating them: “Even if at the time of his acceptance of the mitzvot he intends to transgress some of them, nevertheless he accepted that if he transgresses he will be punished and is a valid convert.” [61] Many more Sephardic Rabbis followed this lenient approach including Rabbi Hayim Yosef David Azulai (Jerusalem, 1724–1806) [62]

Additional Rabbis §


  • Rabbi Haim ben Yaakov Palache (Izmir, 1788–1869) [63]
  • Rabbi Yaakov Shaul Elyashar (Rishon LeSion, 1817–1906) [64]
  • Rabbi Mas‘ud Hakohen (Morocco, d. 1950) [65]
  • Rabbi Hezekiah Shabtai (Salonika and Aleppo, 1862–1950) [66]
  • Rabbi Ovadia Hedaya (Aleppo and Jerusalem, 1889–1969) [67]
  • Rabbi Yosef Mesas (Morocco and Haifa, 1892–1974) [68]
  • R. Hayyim David Halevi (1924–1998),69 to name a few. [70]

Each of these Rabbis cites those before him and all of them trace their reasoning back to the Rambam’s responsum.

Footnotes §

  1. Hayyim ve-shalom, 2:108. 326 Richard Hidary
  2. See above, n. 30.
  3. Pirkhe kohen, Even ha-Ezer, 10. See Amsalem, Zera Yisrael, 201–203.
  4. Divre Hizkiyahu, Yore De‘ah, 2:1. See Amsalem, Zera Yisrael, 203. Rabbi Shabtai served as Chief Rabbi of Aleppo, 1909–1927, before moving to Jerusalem. See further at Yaron Harel, Between Intrigues and Revolution: The Appointment and Dismissal of Chief Rabbis in Baghdad, Damascus and Aleppo 1744–1914 (Jerusalem: Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi, 2007) (Hebrew), 280–305. On his visit to Brooklyn, see Joseph A.D. Sutton, Magic Carpet: Aleppo-in-Flatbush, Th e Story of a Unique Ethnic Jewish Community (New York: Th ayer-Jacoby, 1979), 131.
  5. Yaskil ‘avdi, Yore De‘ah, 3:16.
  6. Osar ha-mikhtavim 2:765 and 830, and Mayim kedoshim, Yore De‘ah, 108.
  7. Aseh lekha rav, 3:29. See also Edrei, “Ve’en,” 193–194.
  8. See further at Yosef, “Ba‘ayot ha-giyur bi-zmanenu,” 24; and Amsalem, Zera Yisrael, 198–209.

Stringency (Minority Opinion) §

Yishak Ibn Walid (1777-1870) - Tetuan, Morocco §

Rabbi Yishak Ibn Walid (or Bengualid, Tetouan, 1777–1870) does allow a non-Jewish woman in a relationship with a Jewish man to convert but prohibits the couple from marrying.71

David Hakohen Scalli (Oran, 1861–1948) §

Another notable exception is Rabbi David Hakohen Scalli (Oran, 1861–1948) who not only prohibits converting a woman living with a Jewish man but even invalidates such a conversion ex post facto.72 He explains that the Rambam only permitted such cases ex post facto if the court found out about her ulterior motives after the conversion, but if they knew that before the conversion then she remains a Gentile and should be “pushed away like the Azazel.” Rabbi Scalli continues with a long vitriol against insincere conversions. He adds that young men are marrying non-Jews every day because they know they can always come to the Rabbi later who will accept their conversion. If only these young men “would see that conversion would be prohibited for them they would be deterred and stop themselves from coming close to them and would not come to this point for they would see that bitterness will come in the end when they are pushed away and their sons will not be circumcised and they will not be buried in their cemeteries.” [73] Rabbi Scalli further worries about all of the young Jewish women who cannot find anyone to marry on account of so many men marrying out. His advice to these women: “be-makom she-ein anashim, hishtadel lehiyot ish – In a place where there are no men, try to be a man” and instead of waiting for a man to seek you out, you should be proactive like a man and seek them out.

Footnotes §

  1. Vayomer Yishak, Even Ha‘ezer, 155.
  2. Kiryat Hanah David, Yore De‘ah, 2:17–19. See also Amsalem, Zera Yisrael, 198–199, and Divre Hizkiyahu, Yore De‘ah, 2:1, p. 9.
  3. Kiryat Hanah David, Yore De‘ah 2:17.

Approaches to Intermarriage and Conversion Amongst Ashkenazi Poseqim §

Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky, Lithuania (1863-1940); Vilna, 1922-1939 §

It appears that this law - that if a non-Jew who wishes to become a proselyte accepts all the mitzvot _except for a single detail of rabbinic law, we do not accept him – only applies where he stipulates that he does not accept [that one detail] and that it should be permitted to him by right. In such a case, we do not accept him, for conditions may not be attached to conversion, and there is no half conversion. If, however, he accepts upon himself all the _mitzvot, but he intends to violate [a certain law] to gratify his appetite, this is not regarded as a deficiency in his acceptance of the mitzvot. (Responsa Achi’ezer, III, no. 26).

Moshe Feinstein (1895-1986) - New York, NY §

Convert consider working on an upcoming Yom Tov, for fear that they would be fired §

It stands to reason based on the implication of certain passages that if a proselyte accepts all the mitzvot, but tells the court that while he accepts all the mitzvot, he knows that he would not be able to stand the test and suffer martyrdom were he coerced to violate a prohibition, for which one is required to suffer martyrdom rather than violate – this is regarded as acceptance of the mitzvot. For she accepted the obligation to observe the mitzvot when she can, namely, when she is not being coerced otherwise. The fact that she will violate a prohibition is because she does not have the strength to stand the test, even though she would like to observe the mitzva and not commit a transgression… It stands to reason that the same law applies in the case where he says that he will not be able to stand the test of financial loss. (Responsa Iggerot Moshe, Yore De’a, III, no. 108)

A Woman who Underwent Conversion by Conservative Beth Din §

The Iggerot Moshe has another novel position regarding conversion. In the course of a discussion regarding a woman who underwent conversion before a Conservative court, the Iggerot Moshe writes as follows:

Furthermore, there is room to say that the fact that her husband, for the sake of whom she underwent conversion, desecrates the Sabbath and acts in a wanton manner regarding various prohibitions, causes her to think that there is no real obligation to observe the mitzvot. Thus, she is like a proselyte who converts [to Judaism] while among idolaters, whom the Gemara in Shabbat (68) says is regarded as a convert, even though he still practices idolatry. The reason is that he accepts to be like all the Jews, this being regarded as acceptance [of the mitzvot], even though he knows nothing of the mitzvot. For knowing the mitzvot is not indispensable for conversion… Therefore, even though the court told her that she must observe the Sabbath, she thinks that this is merely an added adornment, but even one who does not observe the Sabbath or the like, she mistakenly believes to be a kosher Jew. (Iggerot Moshe, Yore De’a, I, no. 160)[8]

Yisrael Be’eri (1911-1972) Belarus?? §

Note: I am not sure this is the correct biographical info above.

Rabbi Yisrael Be’eri who writes:

“Kabbalat mitzvot does not mean that the proselyte must accept upon himself to observe the mitzvot, rather it is the entry of the convert into Judaism, which has commandments, and he (the convert) agrees to be a Jew like other Jews who are obliged to observe these commandments, even if they (i.e., many Jews) don’t observe them … But it (kabbalat mitzvot) does not mean that the convert commits to observe the commandments. Therefore even if he himself (the convert) knows that he will not be observant, and it is also clear to us (the rabbinic court) that he will not be observant and has no intention of being observant … this too is considered kabbalat mitzvot.”

Yosef Rozin (the Rogatchover Gaon) Rogachev and Vienna §

“The meaning of accepting the mitzvot is that the convert must accept upon himself the conversion … that is, he must agree to the conversion; it must not be against his will.”

Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (1910–1995) Jerusalem §

Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach who writes:

“Regarding the act of conversion, the desire of the proselyte to convert is absolutely necessary. Consequently … the conversion court asks him if he wants to convert, as that (the desire to convert) is (the definition of) kabbalat mitzvot.”

Isaac Shmelkes §

…Rabbi Yitzhak Schmelkes of Lvov penned a revolutionary responsum in 1876. He ruled regarding non-Jewish women who convert in order to marry non-observant Jews: “a person who converts and accepts the yoke of the mitzvot but does not intend in his heart to observe them – God desires the heart, and he is not a convert” (Responsa Bet Yitzhak , Part 2, No. 100, parag. 9). In other words, a convert must declare that he will observe all the mitzvot (which is questionable – see below) AND he must have the full intent in his heart to do so.

This approach has no precedent in 1800 years of halakhic discussions about conversion. Indeed, Rabbi Schmelkes was aware that his ruling contradicts the well-known halakhic principal that “devarim shebalev einam devarim” (things of the heart are not things). It is also clear from a baraita (Shevuot 29a and 39a) that we do not take into account the inner kavanah (intent) of a person who takes an oath.

Rabbi shmelkes stated explicitly in his comments that this opinion was not the law in the Talmud, but he argued that during the Talmudic era, unlike today, even if a convert did not completely accept the commandments upon himself, we could be certain that he would ultimately become part of a religious community, and there was therefore no reason to push him away.

-Secularism in Question - Jews and Judaism in Modern Times p 251 (click “Search Inside”, if the book’s page does not directly load)

The full writing of by Rabbi Schmelkes (Beit Yitzchak, Yoreh Deah 2:100) can be found here:

To Add: §

More sources from here: