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All Roads Lead to Home

Aryeh Ehrlich and Rachel Ginsberg

He was a devout evangelist, a Christian youth leader, a marketing strategist, an editor at Wikipedia, and a teacher of Torah in Ohr Somayach. Listening to Yosef Sherman talk about his new life, it’s hard to believe that just a few years ago he was a lay minister in North Carolina — but why not? He was a chassidish avreich before he even became Jewish.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The morning of Erev Pesach is a tense time for everyone, but for the members of a certain Jerusalem beis din in 2012, it was downright confusing. Three dayanim sat facing a refined-looking chassidish avreich with a full beard and curly peyos, a long rekel and samet hat. The dayanim were ready to conduct the sale of Jerusalem’s chometz — but where was the non-Jew? “Actually,” says Yosef Sherman, “I was the non-Jew.” A year before, Joseph Joel (Yosef Yehudah) Sherman caught the beis din by surprise when he approached them for an appointment to convert. The dayanim didn’t quite know what to make of this yungerman who spoke a pretty good Americanized Hebrew and a smattering of Yiddish. Since when did chassidish avreichim have to convert? The dayanim, in the business of checking certifications of Jewishness, were left wondering if this candidate might be required to bring a document proving he was not Jewish. Sherman explained that both his maternal and paternal grandfathers had been Jewish, and thus he was able to become an Israeli citizen under the Law of Return. He showed them an array of letters from the rabbanim in Ohr Somayach where he had been learning Torah. Now he felt the time was right to officially join the Jewish people. But a year later, the dayanim were still in no rush. And anyway, as Pesach was approaching, they made him another offer — to be the goy for mechiras chometz. Sherman good-naturedly consented. Scholar and intellectual that he is, he says, “I saw it as an opportunity to learn about the laws of kinyanim up close.” That Pesach, says Sherman, “I scrubbed out my cabinets, kashered and covered the countertops with foil, and there wasn’t a crumb of chometz to be found. But in one corner were bags overflowing with documents that declared me the legal owner of an inestimable quantity of chometz belonging to thousands of the residents of Ramat Shlomo and Maalot Dafna, as well as the Jewish community in Tbilisi, Georgia— one of the rabbanim of the beis din served as an emissary for the local Georgian rav.

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