Conversion to Judaism

Conversion to Judaism, particularly conversion to Orthodox Judaism, is a concern for the Institute for Jewish Ideas & Ideals as it greatly impacts the future of the Jewish people. Understanding the position of someone looking for a halachic conversion, taking their needs and challenges seriously, as well as knowing what historical and contemporary rabbic sources say on conversion is important for families and individuals alike.

Below are a selection of articles that the Institute has published over the years regarding conversion to Judaism.

Conversion to Judaism: Halakha, Hashkafa, and Historic Challenge

The Jewish community underwent cataclysmic changes during the course of the nineteenth century. While most of world Jewry was religiously observant in 1800, a large majority were no longer devoted to halakhic tradition by 1900. Nineteenth-century Orthodox rabbinic leadership had to cope with the rise of Reform Judaism, the spread of Haskala, the breakdown of communal authority over its members, the defection of Jews from Torah and mitzvoth-and from Judaism altogether. Read more

Thou Shalt Not Oppress the Ger

Most Jews do not appreciate the difficulties a convert faces within the broader Jewish community. Usually, the only stories that see publication are of the “happily ever after” variety. But most converts I have known, as well as myself, have a hard time of it—and nobody ever forewarns us because nobody else is sensitive to what occurs. The commandment to not oppress the ger seems to have been largely ignored, often in the name of preserving the purity of the Jewish people. For those of us who are halakhically Jewish, the situation is unjustifiable; where our situation is known, we are forever under suspicion that we are not “really” Jewish. Because of negative social experiences, many of us have chosen to go underground where at all possible; I predict that most of us will ignore the recent RCA geirus policy that the ger should make his/her status known in a community, which merely invites such experiences. I am writing to make the problem known, and to beg reconsideration on halakhic grounds of some common institutional policies. Read more

Acceptance of the Commandments for Conversion

In the State of Israel, the topic of conversion frequently emerges at the top of the country’s agenda. The successful immigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union, who lived for decades behind the Iron Curtain, created a complicated halakhic situation regarding the identities of some of these immigrants. According to the plain halakha, more than 300,000 of these immigrants are categorized as non-Jews, despite the fact that they descend from Jews (Jewish father, grandfather, etc.) There is no doubt that, in order to solve this problem, there is a need to convert these immigrants in consonance with Jewish law. Read more

Thoughts on the Conversion Crisis

The great 19th century American novelist, Herman Melville, observed: “Who in the rainbow can draw the line where the violet tint ends and the orange tint begins?....Where exactly does the one first blendingly enter into the other?”

The question can be expanded. Who can draw the exact line where religion has moved from being a spiritual and compassionate vision of life, to being a political entity bent on increasing its worldly power? When does a religious “establishment” cross the line from being an agent in service of God and humanity, to becoming a self-serving bureaucracy devoted to its own preservation? Read more

Empowering Local Rabbis: Revisiting the Conversion Issue

The Israeli government recently moved to decentralize the conversion system by allowing local courts to convert individuals on their own.

Ironically, as Israel moves away from centralization, here in America the Rabbinical Council of America is enthusiastically embracing it. The modern Orthodox rabbinical organization recently reaffirmed its commitment to its centralized conversion system, which it calls GPS (Geirus Policies and Standards). Under the system, the RCA accredits only those conversions conducted under RCA’s batei din, or rabbinical courts, using the GPS process. Read more

Pew, Continuity and Conversion

The October 2013 Pew Report underscored the fragility of the Jewish future in North America and has led to anguished discussions and debates regarding "continuity", i.e., how to reduce the number of Jews relinquishing Judaism and Jewish identification in favor of other options.

But given the nature of the American religious scene, as I will present below, it is simply impossible to assure Jewish continuity by such a strategy alone. Rather, only if a strategy of easing the path of conversion is joined with current educational efforts and programs do we stand a chance of achieving continuity. Read more

The Interrogation of the Convert "X" by the Israeli Rabbinic Courts

The authors are associated with the Center for Women's Justice, in Jerusalem, The Center represented convert "X" in her struggles with the Israeli rabbinic courts, and won the case on her behalf. This report of the proceedings is a stark reminder of injustices within the rabbinic court system in Israel, and the need for the public to work together to change the system dramatically. Read more

The Conversion Crisis Must Be Resolved Now!

For centuries, rabbis steeped in Torah and Halacha have served as the gatekeepers of the Jewish people. They have determined which non-Jews may join the Jewish people as converts.

Halachic literature provides a wide array of opinions and attitudes relating to conversion. In recent years, however, the more extreme views espoused by the Haredi rabbinic establishment have gained predominance — and those Orthodox rabbis who do not share these views have been increasingly marginalized. Read more

Who is Really a Jew?

What makes one a Jew? Being born to a Jewish mother? Converting to Judaism? Not really. It is living by the spiritual order of Judaism that makes one a Jew; living through the Jews of the past and with the Jews of the present and future. We are Jews when we choose to be so; when we have discovered Jewishness on our own, through our search for the sacred; when we fight the never-ending spiritual struggle to find God, realize that the world needs a moral conscience, and carry that exalted burden so as to save the world and provide it with a mission. Read more