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According to the Jewish Encyclopedia article on circumcision of proselytes , [23] in the 1st century CE , before the Mishnah was edited, the requirement for circumcision of proselytes was an open issue between the zealots and liberal parties in ancient Israel. Joshua argued that besides accepting Jewish beliefs and laws, a prospective convert to Judaism must undergo immersion in a mikveh. In contrast, R. Eliezer makes circumcision a condition for the conversion. A similar controversy between the Shammaites and the Hillelites is given regarding a proselyte born without a foreskin : the former demanding the spilling of a drop of blood symbolic of the Brit Milah, thereby entering into the covenant; the latter declaring it to be unnecessary.

In discussions about the necessity of circumcision for those born of a Jewish mother, lending some support to the need for circumcision of converts, the Midrash states: "If thy sons accept My Godhead [by undergoing circumcision] I shall be their God and bring them into the land; but if they do not observe My covenant in regard either to circumcision or to the Sabbath , they shall not enter the land of promise " Midrash Genesis Rabbah xlvi. Rabbah i. However, the opposing view is supported in the Babylonian Talmud : "A male convert who has been immersed but not circumcised, or circumcised but not immersed, is a convert.

He was going to get circumcised, but his mother, Helen, who herself embraced the Jewish customs, advised against it on the grounds that the subjects would not stand to be ruled by someone who followed such "strange and foreign rites". Ananias likewise advised against it, on the grounds that worship of God was superior to circumcision Robert Eisenman in James the Brother of Jesus claims that Ananias is Paul of Tarsus who held similar views, although this is a novel interpretation lacking support in mainstream scholarship and that God would forgive him for fear of his subjects.

So Izates decided against it. However, later, "a certain other Jew that came out of Galilee, whose name was Eleazar", who was well versed in the Law, convinced him that he should, on the grounds that it was one thing to read the Law and another thing to practice it, and so he did. Once Helen and Ananias found out, they were struck by great fear of the possible consequences, but as Josephus put it, God looked after Izates.

As his reign was peaceful and blessed, Helen visited the Jerusalem Temple to thank God, and since there was a terrible famine at the time, she brought lots of food and aid to the people of Jerusalem. The requirements for conversions vary somewhat within the different branches of Judaism, so whether or not a conversion is recognized by another denomination is often an issue fraught with religious politics.

The Orthodox rejection of non-Orthodox conversions is derived less from qualms with the conversion process itself, since Conservative and even some Reform conversions are ostensibly very similar to Orthodox conversions with respect to duration and content, but rather from that the convert was presumably not properly i. In general, immersion in the mikveh is an important part of a traditional conversion. If the person who is converting is male, circumcision is a part of the traditional conversion process as well. If the male who is converting has already been circumcised, then a ritual removal of a single drop of blood will take place hatafat dam brit.

Someone who was converted to Judaism as a child has an option of rejecting this after reaching the age of maturity, which in Judaism is age twelve for girls or thirteen for boys. In the United States of America, Reform Judaism rejects the concept that any rules or rituals should be considered necessary for conversion to Judaism. In the late 19th century, the Central Conference of American Rabbis , the official body of American Reform rabbis, formally resolved to permit the admission of converts "without any initiatory rite, ceremony, or observance whatsoever".

Thus, American Reform Judaism does not require ritual immersion in a mikveh, circumcision, or acceptance of mitzvot as normative. Appearance before a Beth Din is recommended, but is not considered necessary. Converts are asked to commit to religious standards set by the local Reform community. In actual practice, the requirements for conversion of any individual are determined by the Rabbi who sponsors the convert. Typically, Reform Rabbis require prospective converts to take a course of study in Judaism, such as an "Introduction to Judaism" course, to participate in worship at a synagogue, and to live as a Jew however that is interpreted by the individual Rabbi for a period of time.

A period of one year is common, although individual Rabbis' requirements vary. When the sponsoring Rabbi feels that the candidate is ready, a Beth Din may be convened. Other rituals such as immersion in a mikvah, circumcision or Hatafat dam brit , and a public ceremony to celebrate the conversion, are also at the discretion of the Rabbi.

In response to the tremendous variations that exist within the Reform community, the Conservative Jewish movement attempted to set a nuanced approach. The Conservative Committee on Jewish Law and Standards has issued a legal opinion stating that Reform conversions may be accepted as valid only when they include the minimal Conservative halachic requirements of milah and t'vilah , appearance before a Conservative Beth Din, and a course of Conservative study.

Proceedings of Committee on Jewish Law and Standards: — , pp. In general, branches of Orthodox Judaism consider non-Orthodox conversions either inadequate or of questionable halachic compliance, and such conversions are therefore not accepted by these branches of Judaism. Conversely, both Conservative and Reform Judaism accept the stringent Orthodox conversion process as being valid. Since , Haredi Orthodox religious courts in Israel have been rejecting conversions even from some other Orthodox rabbis, in addition to Reform and Conservative conversions, as not being stringent enough.

In , a Haredi-dominated Badatz in Israel annulled thousands of conversions performed by the Military Rabbinate in Israel. The Chief Rabbinate of Israel , which is the only state-recognized authority on religious matters, backed by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef , ruled against this, making the anullment legally invalid for purposes of Israeli law. There are two orthodox conversion programmes in Montreal. This program provides a way to convert according to the rigorous rules of Halachah while making the process more "user friendly" for non-Jewish individuals seeking a more "hands-on" or "modern Orthodox" approach.

All conversion candidates—who could include singles, non-Jewish couples and adoption cases—must have a sponsoring rabbi and undergo a rigorous screening process. Conversions stemming from both programs are recognized in Israel and around the world. The process requires one year of learning, circumcision for males , and the taking of the vow that Ruth took. In the s Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik and other members of the Rabbinical Council of America engaged in a series of private negotiations with the leaders of Conservative Judaism's Rabbinical Assembly , including Saul Lieberman ; their goal was to create a joint Orthodox-Conservative national beth din for all Jews in the United States.

It would create communal standards of marriage and divorce. It was to be modeled after the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, where all the judges would have been Orthodox, while it would have been accepted by the larger Conservative movement as legitimate. Conservative rabbis in the Rabbinical Assembly created a Joint Conference on Jewish Law , devoting a year to this effort.

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For a number of reasons, the project did not succeed. According to Orthodox Rabbi Louis Bernstein, the major reason for its failure was the Orthodox rabbis' insistence that the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly agree to expel Conservative rabbis for actions they took prior to the formation of the new beth din, and the RA refused to do so. In , Rabbi Harry Halpern , of the Joint Conference wrote a report on the demise of this beth din.

He writes that negotiations between the Orthodox and Conservative denominations were completed and agreed upon, but then a new requirement was demanded by the RCA: The RA must "impose severe sanctions" upon Conservative rabbis for actions they took before this new beth din was formed. Halpern writes that the RA "could not assent to rigorously disciplining our members at the behest of an outside group". He goes on to write that although subsequent efforts were made to cooperate with the Orthodox, a letter from eleven Rosh Yeshivas was circulated declaring that Orthodox rabbis are forbidden to cooperate with Conservative rabbis.

A number of rabbis were Orthodox and had semicha from Orthodox yeshivas, but were serving in synagogues without a mechitza ; these synagogues were called traditional Judaism. Over a five-year period they performed some conversions to Judaism. However, in the joint Beth Din was dissolved, due to the unilateral American Reform Jewish decision to change the definition of Jewishness. The move was precipitated by the resolution on patrilineality adopted that year by the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

This decision to redefine Jewish identity, as well as the designation of Denver as a pilot community for a new Reform out reach effort to recruit converts, convinced the Traditional and Conservative rabbis that they could no longer participate in the joint board They could not cooperate in a conversion program with rabbis who held so different a conception of Jewish identity. And furthermore, they could not supervise conversions that would occur with increasing frequency due to a Reform outreach effort that was inconsistent with their own understanding of how to relate to potential proselytes.

Specifically, in , the Central Conference of American Rabbis passed a resolution waiving the need for formal conversion for anyone with at least one Jewish parent who has made affirmative acts of Jewish identity. This departed from the traditional position requiring formal conversion to Judaism for children without a Jewish mother. Most notably, the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism has rejected patrilineal descent and requires formal conversion for anyone without a Jewish mother.

The end of the joint Beth Din program was welcomed by Haredi Orthodox groups, who saw the program as illegitimate. Further, Haredi groups attempted to prevent non-Orthodox rabbis from following the traditional requirements of converts using a mikveh. In the Haredi view, it is better to have no conversion at all than a non-Orthodox conversion, as all non-Orthodox conversions are not true conversions at all according to them.

In and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir spearheaded an effort to find a way to resolve the impasse. They were planning to create a joint panel that interviewed people who were converting to Judaism and considering making aliyah moving to the State of Israel , and would refer them to a beth din that would convert the candidate following traditional halakha. All negotiating parties came to agreement: [ citation needed ].

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Many Reform rabbis took offense at the notion that the beth din must be strictly halakhic and Orthodox, but they acquiesced. However, when word about this project became public, a number of leading haredi rabbis issued a statement denouncing the project, condemning it as a "travesty of halakha". Norman Lamm condemned this interference by Sherer, stating that this was "the most damaging thing that he [Sherer] ever did in his forty year career". Rabbi Lamm wanted this to be only the beginning of a solution to Jewish disunity. He stated that had this unified conversion plan not been destroyed, he wanted to extend this program to the area of halakhic Jewish divorces, thus ending the problem of mamzerut.

In the issue of "Who is a Jew? Lamm told his listeners that they should value and encourage the efforts of non-Orthodox leaders to more seriously integrate traditional Jewish practices into the lives of their followers. They should welcome the creation of Reform and Conservative day schools and not see them as a threat to their own, Lamm said.

In many communities, Orthodox day schools, or Orthodox-oriented community day schools, have large numbers of students from non-Orthodox families. The liberal movements should be appreciated and encouraged because they are doing something Jewish, even if it is not the way that Orthodox Jews would like them to, he said. The committee recommended the establishment of a joint institute for Jewish studies, which would be a joint effort by all three streams of Judaism. The Committee also recommended that conversion proceedings themselves be held in special conversion courts, to be recognized by all denominations in Judaism.

The purpose of the proposal was to prevent a rift in the Jewish people, while at the same time bringing about a state-sponsored arrangement for conversion.

On September 7, , the government adopted the Ne'eman Commission Report. A year later, the Joint Institute for Jewish Studies was established, and since then it has been the official state operator of conversion courses in Israel, including the military conversion courses. A recent development has been the concept of annulling conversions to Judaism, sometimes many years after they have taken place, due to a reduction in religious observance or change of community by the convert.

This is unknown in rabbinic literature, where conversion is considered irreversible. Chuck Davidson , a Modern Orthodox expert on this conversion crisis explains "From the Middle Ages onwards, the greatest of the rabbis wrote explicitly that even if immediately after the conversion the convert goes off to worship idols, the person is still considered Jewish".

A situation of confusion and instability in Jewish identity in Israel was made worse when Haredi Rabbi Avraham Sherman of Israel's supreme religious court called into question the validity of over 40, Jewish conversions when he upheld a ruling by the Ashdod Rabbinical Court to retroactively annul the conversion of a woman who came before them because in their eyes she failed to observe Jewish law an orthodox lifestyle. This crisis deepened, when Israel's Rabbinate called into question the validity of soldiers who had undergone conversion in the army, meaning a soldier killed in action could not be buried according to Jewish law.

Following a scandal in which U. Rabbi Barry Freundel was arrested on charges of installing hidden cameras in a mikveh to film women converts undressing, the Israeli Chief Rabbinate said it would review the validity of all past conversions performed by Freundel, then quickly reversed its decision, clarifying that it was joining the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America in affirming the validity of the conversions.

In December an Israeli court decided that a conversion could be annulled. In his decision Justice Neal Hendel wrote: "Just as the civil court has the inalienable authority to reverse — in extremely rare cases — a final judgment, so too does the special religious conversion court. For otherwise, we would allow for judgments that are flawed from their inception to exist eternally.


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Once undergone, a valid religious conversion to Judaism cannot be overturned. However, a Beth Din may determine that the conversion is void as it was never undertaken correctly in the first place. For example, if the rite of mikveh was performed incorrectly. In Israel's highest religious court invalidated the conversion of 40, Jews, mostly from Russian immigrant families, even though they had been approved by an Orthodox rabbi. It is an implicit judgment on the character and uprightness of the rabbis in that religious court.

For example, when Rabbi Barry Freundel was arrested on charges of voyeurism for filming women converts at the mikveh he supervised, Israel's Chief Rabbinate initially threatened to review and possibly invalidate the conversions Freundel had been involved in approving.


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A crisis between American and Israeli rabbis was averted when the Chief Rabbinate agreed that all conversions completed by Freundel would be considered valid. Judaism is not currently an openly proselytizing religion. Judaism teaches that the righteous of all nations have a place in the afterlife.

In view of the foregoing considerations, most authorities are very careful about it. Essentially, they want to be sure that the convert knows what they are getting into, and that they are doing it for sincerely religious reasons. However, while conversion for the sake of love for Judaism is considered the best motivation, a conversion for the sake of avoiding intermarriage is gaining acceptance also.

There is a tradition that a prospective convert should be turned away three times as a test of sincerity, though most rabbis no longer follow the tradition. Halakha forbids the mistreatment of a convert, [60] including reminding a convert that he or she was once not a Jew. However, despite Halakha protecting the rights of converts, some Jewish communities have been accused of treating converts as second-class Jews. For example, many communities of Syrian Jews have banned conversion and refuse to recognise any Jewish conversion, including those done under Orthodox auspices possibly influenced by sects in Syria like the Druze which do not accept converts.

Damage conversion

According to Orthodox interpretations of Halakha , converts face a limited number of restrictions. A marriage between a female convert and a kohen members of the priestly class is prohibited and any children of the union do not inherit their father's kohen status. While a Jew by birth may not marry a mamzer , a convert can. Rabbi Akiva was also a very well known son of converts. The Talmud lists many of the Jewish nation's greatest leaders who had either descended from or were themselves converts. In fact, King David is descended from Ruth , a convert to Judaism.

Ruth —22 In Orthodox and Conservative communities which maintain tribal distinctions, converts become Yisraelim Israelites , ordinary Jews with no tribal or inter-Jewish distinctions. Converts typically follow the customs of their congregations. So a convert who prays at a Sephardi synagogue would follow Sephardi customs and learn Sephardi Hebrew. A convert chooses his or her own Hebrew first name upon conversion but is traditionally known as the son or daughter of Abraham and Sarah, the first patriarch and matriarch in the Torah, often with the additional qualifier of "Avinu" our father and "Imenu" our mother.

Hence, a convert named Akiva would be known, for ritual purposes in a synagogue, as "Akiva ben Avraham Avinu"; in cases where the mother's name is used, such as for the prayer for recovery from an illness, he would be known as "Akiva ben Sarah Imenu". Talmudic opinions on converts are numerous; some positive, some negative. A quote from the Talmud labels the convert "hard on Israel as a scab". Many interpretations explain this quote as meaning converts can be unobservant and lead Jews to be unobservant, or converts can be so observant that born Jews feel ashamed.

The term "Jew by choice" is often used to describe someone who, with no ancestral connection to the Jewish people, chose to convert to Judaism. It is often contrasted with such terms as "Jew by birth" or "Jew by chance". The practice of conversion to Judaism is sometimes understood within Orthodox Judaism in terms of reincarnation. They also feel that it is a stronger, more affirmative term that better describes the active choice they have made to adopt a life-changing path.

Both terms are commonly used to describe those who embrace Islam as adults after having been raised in or practicing a different faith system. In broad usage, the word "convert" is perhaps more appropriate because it is more familiar to people, while "revert" may be the better term to use when you are among Muslims, all of whom understand the usage of the term.

Share Flipboard Email. Updated September 21, The Prophet Muhammad once said: "No child is born except upon fitrah i. It is his parents who make him a Jew or a Christian or a polytheist. Either way, it is always a cause for celebration when a new believer finds their faith:. Those to whom We sent the Book before this, they do believe in this revelation. And when it is recited to them, they say: 'We believe therein, for it is the Truth from our Lord. Indeed we have been Muslims from before this.