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Template:JewishOutreach Conversion to Judaism (Hebrew: גיור‎, giyur) is a formal act undertaken by a non-Jewish person who wishes to be recognised as a full member of the Jewish community. A Jewish conversion is both a religious act and an expression of association with the Jewish people.[1] A formal conversion is also sometimes undertaken to remove any doubt as to the Jewishness of a person who wishes to be considered a Jew.

The procedure for conversion depends on the sponsoring denomination, and depends on meeting the ritual and other requirements for a conversion of that denomination, but a conversion in accordance with a process of a denomination is not a guarantee of recognition by another denomination.[2]

It is not necessary for a person to formally convert to Judaism in order to adopt any or all beliefs and practices of Judaism. In Judaism, such people are referred to as righteous gentiles (see, for example the character of Job). There are various groups that have adopted Jewish customs and practices. For example, in Russia, the Subbotniks have adopted most aspects of Judaism without formal conversion to Judaism.[3]

History of gerut


A male Jew by choice is referred to in Judaism by the biblical word ger (sometimes spelled guer, Hebrew: גר‎, plural gerim, sometimes spelled guerim) and a female convert is a giyoret. The word is related to the term "proselyte" which is derived from the Septuagint translation.

The word ger comes from the Hebrew root word gar (גר) meaning "to dwell" or "to sojourn [with]". In the Hebrew Bible "ger" defined as "stranger" or "sojourner."[4]

The Hebrew guer (in post-Biblical times translated as "proselyte") literally means "stranger" and refers to a non-Israelite who lived among the Israelite community. When the Torah commands compassion and equal justice for the ger, it is referring to these "strangers." But Rabbinic tradition interpreted the word ger as also referring to proselytes... (Angel 2005, p.17)

Angel's explanation of the literal meaning of "ger" as alien is borne out in biblical verses such as Lev 19:34:

As a citizen among you shall be the ger (the stranger) who lives among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were gerim in the land of Egypt—I am the Lord your God.

As Jews were not converts in Egypt, but rather strangers, the verse is an indication that the meaning of ger is "stranger". There is no place in the Hebrew Bible where the term ger is clearly used to refer to a convert . The closest thing in the Hebrew Bible to a gerut process is the circumcision undergone by the male stranger (ger) before eating the Passover offering (Exodus 12:48). Another passage which may be relevant to a process of gerut involves non-Jewish women captured in war. (Deut 21:10-14) Such women could be adopted forcibly as wives, through a set of rituals outlined in the Book of Exodus.

In the Talmud, ger is used in two senses: ger tzedek refers to a "righteous convert", a proselyte to Judaism, and ger toshav, a non-Jewish inhabitant of the Land of Israel who observes the Seven Laws of Noah and has repudiated all links with idolatry.[5] Today, ger refers to a Jew by choice.[6]


With the notable exception of some Syrian Jewish communities,[7] all mainstream forms of Judaism today are open to sincere converts,[8] with all denominations accepting gerim by their denominations. The rules vary between denominations.

For Rabbinic Judaism, the laws of gerut are based on codes of law and texts, including discussions in the Talmud, through the Shulkhan Arukh and subsequent interpretations. These rules are held as authoritative by Orthodox Judaism and Conservative Judaism. Jewish law is generally interpreted as discouraging proselytizing, and religious gerut is also discouraged. Rabbis are technically required to reject potential converts three times, and only if they remain adamant to then convert them.[2] This is on two grounds:

  • The laws Jews require of themselves are more stringent than they consider to be required of other nations; a person who would be considered derelict of religious duties under Jewish law could easily be, without change in action, an exceedingly righteous gentile.
  • Jews have suffered regular and often severe persecution throughout the ages; a proselyte is exposing himself to potentially mortal danger.

However, a rabbi convinced of the prospective ger’s sincerity may allow him or her to follow the process of gerut, and thus appear before an established three-judge Jewish religious court known as a beth din ("religious court") to be tested and formally accepted. A person who formally converts to Judaism under the auspices of a halakhically constituted and recognized Beth Din ("Court [of Jewish-Torah Law]"), consisting preferably of three learned rabbis acting as Dayanim ("judges"), but also possibly two learned and respected lay members of the community along with a rabbi, is issued with a Shtar geirut ("Certificate of gerut").[9]

Conservative Judaism takes a more lenient approach in application of the halakhic rules than Modern Orthodox Judaism. Its approach to the validity of a gerut is based on whether the gerut procedure followed rabbinic norms, rather than the reliability of those performing it or the nature of the obligations the convert undertook. Accordingly, it may accept the validity of some Reform and Reconstructionist geruts, but only if they include immersion in a ritual bath (mikvah), appearance before a rabbinical court (beit din) and, for men, circumcision (brit milah) or a symbolic circumcision for those already circumcised (hatafat dam brit).

The requirements of Reform Judaism for gerut are different. The denomination states that "people considering gerut are expected to study Jewish theology, rituals, history, culture and customs, and to begin incorporating Jewish practices into their lives. The length and format of the course of study will vary from rabbi to rabbi and community to community, though most now require a course in basic Judaism and individual study with a rabbi, as well as attendance at services and participation in home practice and synagogue life." Reform also note that "Reform, Reconstructionist and under certain circumstances, and Orthodoxy relies on the Bible for its original and intended guidelines.

Although an infant gerut might be accepted in some circumstances (such as in the case of adopted children or children whose parents convert), children who convert would typically be asked if they want to remain Jewish after reaching religious adulthood - which is 12 years of age for a girl and 13 for a boy. This standard is applied by Orthodox and Conservative Judaism, which accept halakha as binding.[10][11]

Karaite Judaism does not accept Rabbinic Judaism and has different requirements for gerut. Traditionally non-proselytizing, Karaite Judaism's long standing abstention from gerut was recently lifted. On 1 August 2007, the Karaites reportedly converted their first new members in 500 years. At a ceremony in their Northern California synagogue, ten adults and four minors swore fealty to Judaism after completing a year of study. This gerut comes 15 years after the Karaite Council of Sages reversed its centuries-old ban on accepting converts.[12]


The Amora'im who produced the Talmud set out three requirements for a gerut to Judaism (Keritot 8b), which must be witnessed and affirmed by a beth din:[original research?]

  • Circumcision (Brit milah or hatafat dam brit) for men[2]
  • Immersion (tevilah) in a ritual bath (mikveh) for both men and women[2]
  • Offering a certain sacrifice (korban) in the Temple (the Beit Hamikdash) - this requirement is deferred while the Temple does not exist until such time as it may be rebuilt.

The consensus of halakhic authorities also requires a convert to understand and accept the duties of the halakha, classical Jewish religious law. This is not stated explicitly in the Talmud, but was inferred by subsequent commentators.[13]

After confirming that all these requirements have been met, the beth din issues a "Certificate of gerut" (Shtar Giur), certifying that the person is now a Jew.

Early debate on requirement for circumcision

In the first century CE, before the Mishnah was edited and the halakah (Jewish law) settled, the requirement for circumcision of proselytes was an open issue between the zealots and liberal parties in ancient Israel.

R. Joshua argued that beside accepting Jewish beliefs and laws, a prospective Jew by choice must undergo immersion in a mikveh In contrast, R. Eliezer makes circumcision a condition for the gerut. A similar controversy between the Shammaites and the Hillelites is given (Shabbat 137a) regarding a proselyte born without a foreskin: the former demanding the spilling of a drop of blood of the covenant; the latter declaring it to be unnecessary.

The rigorous view is echoed in the Midrash: "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.). "The Sabbath-keepers who are not circumcised are intruders, and deserve punishment," (Midrash Deut. Rabbah i.)

Flavius Josephus in Jewish Antiquities,[14] chapter 2 recorded the story of King Izates of Adiabene who decided to follow the Law of Moses at the advice of a Jewish merchant named Ananias. 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 wouldn't 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) 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.

Modern gerut

Since the requirements for gerut vary somewhat within the different branches of Judaism, so whether or not a gerut is recognized by another denomination is often an issue wrought with religious politics. The Orthodox rejection of non-Orthodox gurut is derived less from qualms with the gerut process itself, since Conservative and even many Reform geruts are ostensibly very similar to Orthodox geruts with respect to duration and content, but rather the belief that a non-Orthodox Rabbi is not qualified to oversee and perform a gerut.[original research?]

In general, immersion in the mikveh is an important part of gerut. If the person who is converting is male, circumcision is a part of the gerut process as well. If the male who is converting has already been medically circumcised, then a ritual removal of a single drop of blood will take place.[15]

Pre-adulthood gerut

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.[16]

Reform Jewish views

In the United States of America, Reform Judaism rejects the concept that any rules or rituals should be considered necessary for gerut. In the late 1800s, 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 whatever." (CCAR Yearbook 3 (1893), 73-95; American Reform Responsa (ARR), no. 68, at 236-237.)

Although this resolution has often been examined critically by many Reform rabbis,[original research?] the resolution still remains the official policy of American Reform Judaism (CCAR Responsa "Circumcision for an Eight-Year-Old Convert" 5756.13 and Solomon Freehof, Reform Responsa for Our Time, no. 15.) Thus, American Reform Judaism does not require ritual immersion in a mikveh, circumcision, or acceptance of mitzvot as normative. Appearance before a Bet Din is recommended, but is not considered necessary. Converts are asked to commit to religious standards set by the local Reform community.[17]

Various forms of Liberal Judaism in Israel, the United Kingdom and other countries reject this approach. Many Liberal rabbis in these countries hold that it is necessary for a man to have a brit milah or brit dam, that both men and women require immersion in a mikveh, and that the gerut must only be allowed at the end of a formal course of study, before a Bet Din. This is a common view of many Reform rabbis in Canada and the United Kingdom, as well as a small but growing number of Reform rabbis in the USA.

Interdenominational views

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 geruts may be accepted as valid only when they include the minimal Conservative halachic requirements of milah and t'vilah, appearance before a Conservative Bet Din, and a course of Conservative study. (Proceedings of Committee on Jewish Law and Standards: 1980-1985, pp. 77-101.)

In suburban areas where there is not a very high Jewish population, cooperation between Modern Orthodox and Conservative rabbis is somewhat more common. Many Conservative rabbis report cooperation in joint geruts with both Modern Orthodox and Conservative rabbis.

In general, branches of Orthodox Judaism consider non-Orthodox geruts 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 2008, Haredi Orthodox religious courts in Israel have been rejecting gerut from other Orthodox rabbis, in addition to Reform and Conservative gerut, as not being stringent enough.[18]

Intra-Orthodox views

Orthodox Jewish groups are not unified, and different orthodox communities may hold themselves as more strictly correct in observance than others, or consider others' religious observances of inadequate strictness and validity.[2] As such, Orthodox rabbis often will not automatically accept each other's authority, which has led to a some reluctance in certain Orthodox communities to prepare and perform gerut.[2] Haredi Judaism advocates an ultrastrict gerut and observation of traditional Jewish law.

One of the groups promoting change is the Vaad HaRabbonim Haolami LeInyonei Giyur. They hold that Orthodoxy hasn't had a unified standard of conversion, and that many Orthodox gerut done in the last century are suspect. They criticise as being too lax the Chief Rabbinate of Israel; the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, Jonathan Sacks, and a number of other Orthodox rabbis. Many critiques are aimed at Modern Orthodox Jews, who they label as "so-called Orthodox". Orthodox rabbis who cooperate in any way with non-Orthodox Jews are labeled as "orthodox", in quotes with a lower case "o", while Haredi rabbis are called Orthodox rabbis, with no quotes and no lower case letters. (Eisenstein, About Cooperation with Conservative, Reform—and So-called Orthodox)

Since 2005, Chief Rabbi Amar of the Israeli rabbinate has been in talks with the Rabbinical Council of America. They tentatively floated a compromise: the RCA would draft a joint list of qualified beth dins authorized to perform gerut in the future, and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel would review the list; all gerut accepted by the RCA in the past and for a short period in the future will be accepted. As of May 2007, this agreement has not been accepted by Rabbi Amar. Rabbi Amar has demanded RCA rabbis on American Beit Din be approved by the Israeli rabbinate. Traditionally, Orthodox communal rabbis have refrained from implementing tests on colleagues from other regions. Rabbi Amar's novel requirement to vet RCA rabbis marks an evolution in diaspora and Israeli rabbinate relations. Rabbi Amar has also demanded more Haredi representation on Israel's conversion courts.[19] Meanwhile, within Israel, the status of converts is becoming more confused. Recently, an Israeli rabbi in Ashdod retroactively annulled an Orthodox conversion performed by another rabbi whom he regards as not complying with the halakha.

Under Immigrant Absorption Minister Ze'ev Boim's plan, power would be distributed more widely than at present. According to Erez Halfon, director general of the Absorption Ministry, the current system's "rabbinical courts are intimidating converts as well as rabbis by setting unreasonable requirements." The reform proposes unifying institutions that deal with gerut under one administrative umbrella, and doubling the number of rabbinical judges who review gerut.

Some Sephardic Orthodox rabbis, particularly those of Judeo-Spanish descent, take a more liberal view of gerut than the majority opinion. For instance, the first Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, Benzion Uziel, held that gerut should be accepted, if not strongly recommended, in the case of an intermarried couple who will continue to live as man and wife regardless of whether the non-Jewish spouse converts. Rabbi Uziel reasoned that it was preferable to convert the non-Jewish partner, regardless of the partner's reasoning for converting, than to permit the Jewish partner to continue transgressing by living with a non-Jew in a spousal relationship. Today, advocates for Rabbi Uziel's opinion include Rabbi Marc D. Angel of Shearith Israel (the Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue) in New York, but very few if any other Orthodox rabbis.

In 2008, the Haredi-dominated supreme Rabbinical Court in Israel annulled thousands of gerut performed by their Modern Orthodox Religious Zionist counterparts in Israel. These converts, ostensibly now unable to marry, be buried in Jewish ceremonies, or have recognized Jewish children, may have to re-convert under Haredi auspices. This controversial ruling is unprecedented in Jewish history.[20]

Canadian Orthodox gerut program

There are two orthodox conversion programmes in Montreal. One is made up of a Bet Din (Jewish Court) of congregational member rabbis from the Rabbinical Council of America, Montreal region (RCA). 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. The second program is supervised by the Jewish Community Council of Montreal, the Vaad Hair.

All gerut candidates – who could include singles, non-Jewish couples and adoption cases – must have a sponsoring rabbi and undergo a rigorous screening process. Gerut stemming from both programs are recognized in Israel and around the world.

Karaite Views

As of 2006 Karaite Jewish University began to accept converts to Karaite Judaism. The process requires one year of learning, circumcision (for males), and the taking of the vow that Ruth took.

כִּי אֶל-אֲשֶׁר תֵּלְכִי אֵלֵךְ, וּבַאֲשֶׁר תָּלִינִי אָלִין--עַמֵּךְ עַמִּי, וֵאלֹהַיִךְ אֱלֹהָי.בַּאֲשֶׁר תָּמוּתִי אָמוּת, וְשָׁם אֶקָּבֵר; כֹּה יַעֲשֶׂה יְהוָה לִי, וְכֹה יוֹסִיף--כִּי הַמָּוֶת, יַפְרִיד בֵּינִי וּבֵינֵךְ.

For where you go, I will go; and where you live, I will live--your people are my people, and your God is my God. Where you die, will I die, and there I will be buried. YHWH do so to me and more also--if anything but death parts you and me.

Attempts to resolve the "Who is a Jew?" issue

1950s: Proposed joint beth din

In the 1950s 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 America. 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.

For a number of reasons, the project did not succeed. According to Orthodox Rabbi Bernstein, the major reason for its failure was the Orthodox rabbis insisted that the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly expel Conservative rabbis for actions they took before this new beth din was formed, and the RA refused to do so.[21] According to Orthodox Rabbi Emanuel Rackman, former president of the RCA, the major reason for its failure was pressure from haredi Orthodox rabbis, who held that any cooperation between Orthodoxy and Conservatism was forbidden. In 1956, Rabbi Harry Halpen, of the Joint Conference wrote a report on the demise of this beth din. He writes that negotiations between the Orthodox and Conservative 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.[22]

1978-1983: The Denver Program

In Denver, Colorado, a joint Orthodox, Traditional, Conservative and Reform Bet Din was formed to promote uniform standards for conversion to Judaism. 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 750 conversions to Judaism. However, in 1983 the joint Beth Din was dissolved, due to the unilateral American Reform Jewish decision to change the definition of Jewishness.[23]

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 ...the national decision of the Reform rabbinate placed the Traditional and Conservative rabbis in an untenable position. 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.[23]

The end of this 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 mikvah. 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.[24]

1980s: Proposed Israeli joint beth din

In the 1980s Orthodox Rabbi Norman Lamm, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva University, along with other American and Israeli Orthodox rabbis, worked with Conservative and Reform rabbis to come up with solution to the "Who is a Jew?" issue. In 1989 and 1990 Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir spearheaded an effort to create a solution to the "Who is a Jew?" issue.

A plan was developed by Israeli Cabinet Secretary Elyakim Rubenstein, who negotiated secretly for many months with rabbis from Conservative, Reform and Orthodox Judaism, including faculty at Yeshiva University, with Lamm as Rosh Yeshiva. 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:

(1) Conversions must be carried out according to halakha
(2) the beth din (rabbinic court) overseeing the conversion would be Orthodox, perhaps appointed by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, and
(3) there would be three-way dialogue throughout the process.

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". Rabbi Moshe Sherer, Chairman of Agudath Israel World Organization, stated that "Yes we played a role in putting an end to that farce, and I'm proud we did." 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." [25]

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.[25]

1997: Neeman Commission Proposal

In 1997 the issue of "Who is a Jew?" again arose in the State of Israel, and Orthodox leaders such as Rabbi Norman Lamm publicly backed the Neeman commission, a group of Orthodox, Conservative and Reform rabbis working to develop joint programs for conversion to Judaism. In 1997 Lamm gave a speech at the World Council of Orthodox Leadership, in Glen Springs, N.Y., urging Orthodox Jews to support this effort.

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. "What they are doing is something, and something is better than nothing," he said in his speech. "I'm very openly attacking the notion that we sometimes find in the Orthodox community that `being a goy is better'" than being a non-Orthodox Jew, he said in an interview.[26]

Consequences of conversion

Once undergone, a religious conversion to Judaism is irreversible (from a Jewish perspective), unless there are convincing grounds to believe that the convert was insincere or deceptive during the conversion process. In such cases, a beth din may determine that the conversion was void.[27]

Relations between Jews and proselytes

Judaism today, unlike Christianity and Islam, is not normally an openly proselytizing religion: unlike certain sects of those religions, it teaches that the righteous of all nations have a place in the afterlife.[28] However, due to the rate of Jewish intermarriage, most branches of Judaism, including the Orthodox, recognize the need for a conversion outreach program to the non-Jewish spouse in an effort to keep all children from such unions within the Jewish faith.

There is a requirement in Jewish law to ensure the sincerity of a potential convert. This is taken very seriously, and when played out against the background of the foregoing considerations, most authorities are very careful about it. Essentially, they want to be sure that the convert knows what he is getting into, and that he is 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 preventing intermarriage is gaining acceptance, also.[29] 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.[30] Neither the Rabbinical Council of America nor the Rabbinical Assembly, the leading American Orthodox and Conservative organizations, suggest taking this action in their conversion policies,[31][32] with the CCAR and URJ actively opposing its practice.[33][34]

Halakhic considerations

Halakha forbids the mistreatment of the convert, including reminding a convert that he or she was once not a Jew.[35] and hence little distinction is made in Judaism between those who are born Jewish and those who are Jewish as a result of gerut. However, despite Halakha protecting the rights of gerim, 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.[36]

According to Orthodox interpretations of Halakha, converts face a limited number of restrictions. A marriage between a female ger 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 marry a mamzer.[37] Converts can become rabbis. For instance, Rabbi Meir Baal Ha Nes is thought to be a descendant of a proselyte. Indeed, the Talmud lists many of the Jewish nation's greatest leaders, who had either descended from or were themselves gerim. In fact, King David is descended from Ruth, a giyoret (feminine of ger). (Ruth 4:13-22) In Orthodox and Conservative communities which maintain tribal distinctions, converts become Yisraelim (Israelites), ordinary Jews with no tribal or inter-Jewish distinctions. They traditionally become part of the tribe of Judah.[38] 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 ger 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".[39]

Talmudic opinions on gerim are numerous; some positive, some negative. A famous quote from the Talmud, labels the convert "Hard on Israel as a blight." Many interpretations explain this quote as meaning converts can be unobservant and leading Jews to be unobservant, or converts can be so observant that born Jews feel ashamed.[40]

"Jews by choice"

The term "Jew by choice" is often used to describe someone who converted to Judaism, and is often contrasted with such terms as "Jew by birth" ("Jew by chance").

For purely rhetorical purposes, some polemicists elicit that every Jew is a Jew by choice, because the worldwide Jewish community is so small and the pull of assimilation is so great. So it is very easy for someone who was born Jewish to abandon Jewish traditions and customs in adulthood, absent a conscious choice to stay Jewish. This perspective is not part of Jewish law or social custom.

For purely philosophical purposes, a convert is not considered by many to be a "Jew by Choice" at all. In fact, many traditional Jews take offense not only at the word "convert" but also at this more politically-correct term. The reasoning for this is the notion that everyone has a Jewish soul, and that those who were not born Jewish, and elect to go through the conversion process, have returned to the nature of their soul through true teshuva. Therefore, this person is not to be known as a convert, or any derivation of the term.


In recent decades, there has been a renewed Jewish conversion interest with some descendants of Anusim, Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity or Islam. Since many of these descendants lack satisfactory proof on their status of being a kosher Jew, conversion has been a growing option for them to return to Judaism.[41]

See also


  1. Judaism 101: Jewish Attitudes Toward Non-Jews
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 BBC - Religion & Ethics - Converting to Judaism
  3. Russian Saturday!
  4. Bible Encyclopedia: Stranger
  5. Ger Toshav - A Look at the Sources for Contemporary Application:A Proposal for Intermarried and other Allies in our Midst
  6. gerut/f/ger.htm Converts - gerut to Judaism
  7. The New York Times article
  8. My Jewish Learning: Jewish Attitudes Toward Proselytes
  9. Who is a Jew? - Art History Online Reference and Guide
  10. Robinson, George. Essential Judaism: A Complete Guide to Beliefs, Customs and Rituals. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000. ISBN 0-671-03480-4, pgs 229-232.
  11. What is Conservative Judaism?
  12. Karaites hold first gerut in 500 years. 2 August 2007, JTA Breaking News.
  13. gerut.html gerut
  14. book 20[dead link]
  16. Conversion to Judaism Resource Center
  17. Q & A - Urj
  19. gerut,_The_Chief_Rabbis_And_The_RCA.html gerut, The Chief Rabbis And The RCA,Editorial Board
  20. gerut, The Chief Rabbis And The RCA
  21. Bernstein, Louis (1977). The Emergence of the English Speaking Orthodox Rabbinate. Yeshiva University. 
  22. Proceedings of the CJLS of the Conservative Movement 1927-1970 Vol. II, p.850-852.
  23. 23.0 23.1 Wertheimer, Jack (1997). A People Divided: Judaism in Contemporary America. University Press of New England. 
  24. Fifth Anniversary of the Mikveh of East Denver, Hillel Goldberg
  25. 25.0 25.1 Landau, David (1993). Piety & Power. Hill & Wang. p. 320. 
  26. Nussbaum Cohen, Debra (December 5, 1997). "Orthodox leader speaks out on Jewish unity, breaking long silence". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 
  27. Conversion to Judaism in Jewish law ... - Google Books
  28. Jewish Beliefs on the Afterlife - ReligionFacts
  29. Conversion to Judaism in Jewish law ... - Google Books
  30. "BBC - Converting to Judaism". 2006-07-20. Retrieved 2008-09-25. 
  31. "Geirus Policies and Standards that will Govern The Network of Regional Batei Din for Conversion" (PDF). 2007-04-30. Retrieved 2008-09-25. 
  32. "Rabbinical Assembly: conversion resources". Retrieved 2008-09-25. 
  33. "CCAR: Guidelines for Rabbis Working with Prospective Gerim". 2005-02-02. Retrieved 2008-09-25. 
  34. "Union for Reform Judaism - Converting to Judaism: Questions and Answers". Retrieved 2008-09-25. 
  36. The Sy Empire
  37. Lindemann vs. Myers
  38. Welcome to The Tribe, historical timeline, who's who of current cohen-Levi families
  39. Changing Your Name Upon Religious Conversion | UK Deed Poll
  40. Daf Yomi
  41. [1][dead link]

Further reading

Marc D. Angel (2005). "Choosing to Be Jewish, K'Tav Publishing.

External links

bg:Гиюр cs:Gijur pt:Conversão ao judaísmo ru:Гиюр yi:גיור