The acceptable parameters for conversion to Judaism have occupied the community’s imagination for the past few years, with scholars arguing whether there is any room to convert someone who has no intention to observe Jewish law. Prominent in the discussion is the view of Maimonides, who according to some validates post facto the conversion of a non-observant individual. Lost in this debate is the view of R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, to many the leading rabbinic scholar of the mid to late twentieth century.
Here is what he wrote about Maimonides’ view in Kol Dodi Dofek, translated as Fate and Destiny: From the Holocaust to the State of Israel (p. 91 n. 24):
Maimonides, in Laws of Forbidden Intercourse 13:17, states: “A convert who was not examined or who was not informed about the commandments and the punishments [for transgressing them], but was circumcised and immersed in the presence of three laymen, is deemed a [valid] convert.” I once heard from my father and master [R. Moshe Soloveichik] of blessed memory, that Maimonides does not mean to say that a person who converted with the intention of not observing the commandments is deemed a valid convert. Such a notion would subvert the entire concept of conversion and the holiness of Israel, which exhausts itself in our obligation to fulfill God’s commandments. Maimonides’ position is that the acceptance of the commandments, unlike immersion, does not constitute a distinct act in the process of conversion that would require the presence of a court. Rather, acceptance of the commandments is a defining feature of the conversion process that must be undergone for the sake of fulfilling the commandments. Therefore, if we know that the convert, at the time of immersion, is willing to accept the yoke of the commandments, the immersion effects conversion even though there was no special act of informing the convert about the commandments and his consenting to fulfill them, since the convert intends to live the holy life of an observant Jew.