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JDC Internaonal Centre for

Community Development

Conversion
in Judaism
Yerahmiel Barylka
JDC - Internaonal Center for Community Development Conversion in Judaism I Yerahmiel Barylka 2

Conversion in Judaism
Practically all Jewish community leaders worldwide or the country, or the Israeli rabbinate. Their children
receive requests from individuals and groups wishing often receive Jewish education and feel like Jews, attend
to convert to Judaism. These are individuals who, in one synagogues, celebrate the Jewish calendar festivities,
way or another, are related to the community, Judaism, have a family name easily recognized as Jewish, are
and Israel, or desire to resolve issues of their personal or considered Israelites by their Jewish and non-Jewish
family identity. friends, but are not accepted when they decide to get
Conversion requests are mostly from couples, one of married in their country of origin and / or the State of
whose members is not Jewish, who want to be recognized Israel.
as part of the people of Israel in the congregations, in On more than one occasion, unexpectedly, they are the
society and in community centers. But the realm of target of rejection and repudiation, open or covert.
conversions has opened up to many more souls, who The State of Israel allows the immigration of couples
would hardly have approached it several years ago. Each one of whose members is not Jewish, and their children,
of them comes with a different motivation. Reasons and people who have one Jewish ancestor, and grants
range from the discovery of faith in the G-d of Israel, and them full rights, except that of their religious identity.
their solidarity with the Jewish people and Israel, their Some people accept it, and hopeless, feel this does not
newly discovered Jewish ancestors, and through them affect their ethnic or religious identity. Others, feeling
the customs that remained a mystery within the family, despised, renounce their communities and oftentimes
to those who see conversion as a possibility to emigrate prefer to establish their families apart from their
to Israel, improve their income and better educate their group of belonging and reference. Others, many more,
children. silently endure what they perceive as discrimination
Few communities have managed to establish a system and rejection, powerless to explain to their children the
for converting to Judaism accepted by all its members, reasons for the vagueness of their social and religious
the rabbinical authorities of all sectors, and other status.
institutions of the city or country concerned. No universal rules are applied by community leaders,
Among the Jewish communities outside Israel1, we find who are usually divided when dealing with the challenge
that while some have a Beth Din2 that oversees these of exogamy4 which they perceive as a threat to their
cases, others only have preparatory courses for those social, ethnic and religious continuity.
who wish to convert, and a third type has no structure Among those who wish to become Jews, some refuse
at all; however there are rabbinical courts that belong to follow a conversion process that will require strict
to different movements in Judaism.3 Some communities adherence to Jewish religious norms. Others feel that
provide the preparation process, but the conversion being a Jew should not be determined by religious
culminates at another communitys Bet Din. authorities who do not share their views on Judaism. The
Some communities have opted for inviting courts of rabbis who demand compliance with the norms live in
Israeli rabbis to come to their countries, complete the the same city as others, who accept looser, easier, more
process and certify its validity. On the other hand, some forgiving rules, and do not abide by what is required
of the members of congregations, communities, Jewish from individuals belonging to movements that legislate
JCCs, and cultural and philanthropic organizations their own standards according to different parameters.
are Jewish converts or their offspring, who are not When these people stand before the Rabbinical Court,
recognized as such by other congregations of the city they face the dilemma of having to lie when required to

1. In most of the European countries there is an official rabbinate, generally Orthodox, in charge of the conversion process. In U.S.A., there is
separation of Church and State, therefore no official body exists, and any rabbi may perform a conversion according to their own philosophical and
religious belief and the group they belong to. In Latin America, in several countries and communities, converting individuals to Judaism is banned;
if they converted in other countries or communities they are not recognized or admitted in the community.
2. Rabbinical Court.
3. Some of the main groups in modern Judaism are: Conservative, Reconstructionist, Reform, Orthodox, and Secular Humanistic Judaism.
Within each of these groups, no standard criteria exist for conversion to Judaism.
4. See Barylka, Yerahmiel, Exogamia Diagnstico y Prevencin, Editorial Keter, Jerusalem, 2002.
JDC - Internaonal Center for Community Development Conversion in Judaism I Yerahmiel Barylka 3

fully implement religious precepts, or to substantially but are refused to allow to bury or conduct funerals for
change their way of life to a model unsuitable to them, at people who were not born of a Jewish womb or did not
least at that stage. They see that many of their relatives, convert before authorities that they recognize as valid.
and Jewish friends and neighbors, live like secular Jews, Community rules are not always in line with those of the
and their commitment to the community, Israel and the Chevra Kadisha6 responsible for the decision to include
Jewish religion is extremely limited, without any one members of the same congregation in the local Jewish
denying or questioning their identity. cemetery, or to exclude them.
The requirements and procedures vary from one The conflict exists not only between leaders of different
rabbinical court to another. Because of a lack of unified groups, but among governing board members, hesitant
criteria, converts do not always succeed in fulfilling one about the need to respect the decisions of the religious
of their fundamental desires as human beings. Adoptive authorities they appointed and retain.
families, who teach compliance with the rules that are At least 300,000 immigrants from the former USSR
fraught with details and thus difficult to understand countries live in the State of Israel. While some of their
when not seen and practiced under supervision, are not ancestors were Jewish, they are not under the rules of
always correctly chosen. the official rabbinate. Their children are circumcised
Court members pose questions to confirm converts after eight days, speak Hebrew well, serve in the Israel
feelings, which affect their privacy and cause them Defense Forces and die in its defense and that of citizens
embarrassment.5 Many women feel their privacy is and rabbis who do not fully accept them. These young
invaded because they must be seen by the judges people know that if they want to marry, they cannot do
while immersed in the ritual bath, dressed in a robe. so before the only recognized authority -the rabbinate-
They perceive a conflict with the rules of modesty they and if they die they will not be buried with their families
studied in the course that prepares them to convert, as or fellow soldiers.
one of the important requirements of Judaism. Among immigrants from Ethiopia there are two
Some communities set restrictive rules, ban conversions, groups: Beta Israel that followed the Jewish
or prevent converts offspring from participating in tradition for years, which makes some rabbis feel that
the community for several generations, justifying the they need a symbolic conversion7 or perhaps not, and
families refusal to accept strangers on the grounds the Falashmura8 who despite their Jewish origin,
that the latter will not fully accept Judaism. Restrictions converted to Christianity a century ago.
also hinder the adoption of children born to non-Jewish They have come to Israel willing to fully integrate into
mothers. And if these children want to be converted by the Jewish people. But there are several groups whom
their parents to integrate into the community, the rabbis most Jews do not even know of. Among them, the
demand assurances that their education and way of life Bnei Menashe,9 who live in northeastern India. The
will resemble those of the most observant Jews. members of the Shabbatnick, the Sabbatarian keep
The challenges of community leadership in Diaspora the Shabbat10 and identify with the Jewish people. The
countries do not end here, but surface at the time of such Shabbatnick, who immigrated to Israel in recent years as
persons death as well. When families want to bury them part of the major immigration from the Commonwealth
in a cemetery consecrated by the religious authorities, of Independent States, had to go through the entire

5. See, Meguilat Gerut, by Vered Mor, Publisher Rubn Mas, 5770, a work that describes the experience of 23 women who went through the
conversion process. The second part of the book describes the experiences of the conversion courts judges.
6. Lit. the Sacred Congregation, in charge of providing burial services to community members.
7. Guiur Lechumrah is the one performed in cases of doubt about the religious identity of the convert. Although the process is more dynamic, it still
involves completing the basic steps: Immersing in the ritual bath, men must go through circumcision, and appear before an accepted court.
8. The Falash Mura were practically unknown until Operation Solomon, when a group tried to get on the Israeli planes and was rejected. The Falash
Mura insisted that they had a right to emigrate because they were of Jewish descent, but the Israelis saw them as non-Jews, since most of them
had never practiced Judaism and were not considered by Beta Israel as part of the community. Their leaders contended that they had been forced
to convert, but were still Jews. The Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) provided humanitarian assistance without taking part in the discussion
about their identity.
9. The Bnei Menashe are a group of over 9,000 persons living in the border states of northeastern India: Manipur and Mizoram. They contend they
are the offspring of one of the lost tribes of Israel.
10. Dr. Velvl Chernins research has shown that there are about 10,000 Subbotniks, living in several places like Russia, Ukraine and Siberia,
besides those living in Israel. (See The Subbotniks, published by The Rappaport Center for Assimilation Research and Strengthening Jewish
Vitality, Bar Ilan University Faculty of Jewish Studies, 2007 5767).
JDC - Internaonal Center for Community Development Conversion in Judaism I Yerahmiel Barylka 4

conversion process.11 However, even when the State accepted by the surrounding environment. They want to
was established, among them were people who had know and practice Judaism after study and experience,
held senior positions in Israel.12 learn how to use a Hebrew prayer book and understand
One of the most important groups wishing to become a the prayers, attend the synagogue, change their
part of the people of Israel are the descendants of Jews crockery and food, and study the Scriptures and their
expelled from Spain and Portugal who live some as interpretation, the music and ritual meals. However,
groups, including crypto-Jews13 in different countries their previous efforts are not devoted to spirituality but
of Latin America, Spain and Portugal. Several thousands to overcome procedural issues and learn what to answer
of them have kept Jewish habits and have married only to the Rabbinical Court that will certify the process.
into their own relatives or group members. This paper is an attempt to approach the subject
The common denominator of these groups is their on aspects relevant to its comprehension, and to
desire to convert and be universally accepted, and also provide instructional material for anyone wishing to
to determine who to turn to, in order to be recognized understand the controversies that arise in our times, not
as full Jews. necessarily motivated by differences in the application
Most are interested in taking up a deep and painful or understanding of religious norms or their underlying
spiritual exercise. They must abandon their customs and philosophy.
even leave their families and places of residence and be

Conversion in History
In the sources14 we find that Abraham, the first her offspring at least three kings: David, Solomon and
monotheist, converted men while his wife Sara Hezekiah. The Messiah, a descendant of David, will
converted women to Judaism. Already in the Exodus succeed Ruth, a convert whose process teaches us many
account we find people who joined the liberated slaves15 of the rules currently applied in conversion.
who were to receive the Tablets of the Law and enter The fact that the Scriptures expressly limited the entry
the Promised Land to adopt their religious and ethnic of some peoples to Israel16 tells us that the rest were
identity. Moses, who is described as a convert by the welcome.17 The rule that excluded those nations was not
Talmudic sages, got together with one of the daughters applied literally along history, and underwent several
of Jethro. Rachav, the woman who assisted the tribes reforms over time, one of which actually allowed the
of Israel in their entry into the Land of Israel, sheltered entry of Ruth.
them in her home in the city of Jericho, joined Judaism Interestingly, tradition says that descendants of
and married Joshua. Ruth the Moabite, whose story is notorious enemies of the Jewish people became part
told in the biblical book that bears her name, had among of it through conversion and, played outstanding roles

11. See decision of the Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar (2007) who decided that it could not be proven that the group was Jewish, but its
members are related to the Jewish people.
12. General Raful Eitan who acted in Israel has probably been the best known descendant of the group. He was the Commander in Chief
of the IDF, and Minister of Agriculture. Eitan was quoted as saying: My mother was a descendant of the Czars bodyguards, who like other
Subbotniks were Shabbat-observers Christian Cossacks. Their reason to come to the Land of Israel was Christian. Eitan then said that he had
been misinterpreted.
13. Crypto-Judaism refers to the groups that hide clandestine Jewish practices from members of other faiths. Marranos and Chuetas practiced
Judaism in private, and descendants of Crypto-Jews have been identified in many countries.
14. About the verse of Genesis 12:5 And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brothers son, and all their substance that they had gathered,
and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came. Says the
Midrash Bereshit Rab, Parash 39, that they did not take the persons, but converted them to Judaism: Said rabbi Eleazar ben Zimra, even if all
the creatures got together, they could not have created even a mvosquito or give it a spirit; thus the verse means that they converted them. And why
are the words in plural, when the verse starts in singular? To teach us that Abram converted men and Sarai converted women.
15. And a mixed multitude went up also with them... (Exodus 12:38). Exegete Rashi says that those were persons who converted to Judaism.
16. An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation
of the Lord for ever: (Deuteronomy 23:3).
17. You shall not abhor an Edomite; for he is your brother: you shall not abhor an Egyptian; because you were a stranger in his land. The children
that are begotten of them shall enter into the congregation of the Lord in their third generation. (OP. CIT., chapter cit. 7-8).
JDC - Internaonal Center for Community Development Conversion in Judaism I Yerahmiel Barylka 5

in history. Among the sons of the evil Haman are those The Talmud praises converts24 who in daily prayers are
who taught Torah at Bene Beraq, those of Sisera in equated to the righteous, the pious and scribes of the
Jerusalem, and the Tanaites Shemaya and Avtalion18 Jewish people, asking for mercy for every one of them.
descend from Senacherib. However, not at all times did Judaism warmly welcome
Onkelos, who translated the Scriptures into Aramaic, those who wished to join. Sometimes, simply because
texts that continue to be printed, read and studied today, of moments of weakness and lack of faith in the ability
was a convert.19 It is said that Rabbi Akiva,20 Rabbi Meir,21 to integrate them; on other occasions for fear about its
and Queen Helena,22 among others, descended from safety, and yet on others, believing that a barrier would
converts. The Scriptures present repeated expressions thus be established to stop the assimilation of foreign
of affection for foreigners and converts, who should be customs, and the loss of those who married outside the
treated properly, considered equals regarding obligations Jewish faith and then wished to insincerely regularize
and rights, and not be discriminated against.23 their status becoming a part of the Jewish people.

Concepts about Conversion


The rules of Judaism establish that anyone born of a decision of a rabbinical court.
Jewish25 mother26 or converted to Judaism is Jewish. The Scriptures contain other notions related to the
The first notion is biological and does not depend on possibility of joining -in some way- the Jewish people.
the will of the newborn. Their identity is randomly One of them is Judaizing mitiahadim27 and the
defined. The second is the result of a unilateral act of other, the ger toshav,28 equivalent to a resident of Israel
will that is regulated and depends for its validity on the who agreed to abide by the seven commandments of

18. See Talmud Babylon, Gittin 57 b.


19. Onkelos, called Aquila in the Talmud of Jerusalem, who lived in the 1st Century AD, is the most outstanding translator of the Scriptures into
Aramaic. His name is quoted several times in the Talmud. He was thought to descend from a noble Roman family.
20. Rabbi Akiva, the son of Joseph is one of the most important Tanaites of the Talmudic period. He lived in 1st and 2nd centuries AD, and died,
tortured by the Romans, in 136. It is believed that he supported the rebellion of Bar Kochba whom he considered a Messiah. His name is quoted
over 1500 times in the Talmud.
21. Rabbi Meir was a leader after Bar Kochbas rebellion. Talmudic sources state that he descended from Emperor Nero. He was one of the closest
disciples of Rabbi Akiva. His wife Bruria was the daughter of Rabbi Haninah ben Teradion.
22. Helena was the queen of Adiabene and wife of Monobaz I. Their son Monobaz II converted with her to Judaism in 30 AD. She died 26 years
later and during her stay in Israel gave her goods to the people of Jerusalem.
23. He (G-d) does execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loves the stranger (ger), in giving him food and raiment. Love you
therefore the stranger: for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.(Deuteronomy 10:18-19). And if a stranger (ger) sojourns with you in your land,
you shall not vex him. But the stranger that dwells with you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were
strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your G-d. (Leviticus 19:33-34). And if a stranger sojourn with you, or whoever be among you in your
generations, and will offer an offering made by fire, of a sweet smell to the Lord; as you do, so he shall do. One ordinance shall be both for you of
the congregation, and also for the stranger that sojourns with you, an ordinance for ever in your generations: as you are, so shall the stranger be
before the Lord. One law and one manner shall be for you, and for the stranger that sojourns with you. (Numbers 15:14-16), You shall neither vex
a stranger, nor oppress him: for you were strangers in the land of Egypt(Exodus 22:21).
24. Said Rabbi Eleazar ben Pdat: G-d did not redeem Israel among the nations except to take in converts (Pesachim 87 b). Said Rabbi Shimon ben
Lakish, Converts are desired by G-d more than those who were at Sinai. Why? If those had not heard the voices, seen the torches and thunder, and
the mountains shaking and the sound of trumpets and horns, they would not have received the divine yoke. And he who saw nothing of the sort, comes
and approaches the Lord, and receives the heavenly yoke. Is there anything to be loved more than that? (Tanchuma Lech Lecha 6).
25. In the far-off past, the Jewish identity was defined by the fathers identity. Several examples of such cases appear in the Scriptures, the most
outstanding of them being: Yehudah the son of Jacob who took Bat Shua, who was Canaanite. Joseph, married Osnat, an Egyptian who was the
daughter of a pagan priest. Moshe, King David and their son Solomon, had children who considered themselves Jewish despite the fact that their
mothers were not. Apparently that situation persisted until the times of Ezra the Scribe (5th century before AD).
26. According to the Talmud, the rule is taken from Deuteronomy 7:3-4 Neither shall you make marriages with them; your daughter you shall not
give to his son, nor his daughter shall you take to your son. For they will turn away your son from following me, that they may serve other gods:
so will the anger of the Lord be kindled against you, and destroy you suddenly. Also see Ezra 9:2 For they have taken of their daughters for
themselves, and for their sons: so that the holy seed have mingled themselves with the people of those lands: yes, the hand of the princes and
rulers has been chief in this trespass. and Ezra 10:3 Now therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives, and such as
are born of them, according to the counsel of my lord, and of those that tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to
the law. Confirmed in the Talmud Babylon, Kidushin 68 b.
27. And in every province, and in every city, wherever the kings commandment and his decree came, the Jews had joy and gladness, a feast and
a good day. And many of the people of the land became Jews; for the fear of the Jews fell on them (Esther 8:17).
28. See M. Ed., M. A. Jed Michael Schatz, in Strangers among us: El Nakri, Ger Toshav, and Ger Tzedek in Devarim. Ger Toshav, which is
mentioned in the Torah simply as Ger, enjoyed many of the privileges of the native Israelites, and was bound to comply with many of the precepts
of the Torah, albeit not all of them, while living among the Israelites. He was defined, at least, as a non-Jew living within the Jewish community,
who abstained from idolatry (Talmud Babylon, Makot 9a).
JDC - Internaonal Center for Community Development Conversion in Judaism I Yerahmiel Barylka 6

Noah.29 In both cases these are people who were not sine qua non condition to accept the convert. Exegetes
fully integrated into Judaism as if they had been born of and hermeneutists agree that immersion in the ritual
Jewish mothers or converted according to the rules. bath and circumcision34 are mandatory prerequisites.
Those who went through the conversion process are The need to accept the precepts was discussed by
called in Hebrew ger30 and if female, gioret. The process the rabbis. Some argue that without the acceptance,
leading to integration is called giur. conversion35 cannot be performed, since it is the most
Religious rules consider that the people who went important prerequisite, others however believe it is not
through the giur are subject to all obligations and rights. essential.
Among them, marrying any other Jew, except a Cohen. A minor, or anyone who lacks the ability to decide and
Conversion is irreversible31 in principle. Converts who wants to convert, should be represented by a person of
change their mind about their decision would still be age in order to have access to conversion and confirm it
considered Jews according to the religious rules, even either actively or passively when reaching the religious
if they actively practice another religion. Children coming of age: twelve years and one day for girls and
conceived after the conversion will be considered thirteen and one day for boys.
Jewish, regardless of the wish of the family and their
own. This condition is shared with all the Jews born to a Role of the rabbinical court
Jewish mother. The act of conversion requires a three-judge court.36
The rule bans conversions performed against the will Besides the exegetical interpretation of the verse quoted
of the convert.32 Moreover, unlike other faiths, Judaism in the previous footnote, which proves such obligation, it
does not pursue mass conversions of people unwilling to seems to be so because the act of conversion has social,
be part of Israel. collective, and national consequences beyond the simple
Trends favorable or unfavorable to conversion changed personal fact determined by the individual who wishes to
in the course of history, and paradoxically our times join the Jewish people. As of that moment he is counted
seem to be characterized by tighter requirements for for the minyan, may marry a Jew, testify at trials, etc...
converts, and an unprecedented number of individuals Some see in this demand the need for a group of neutral
accepted by the rabbinical courts. experts, to check whether under the rules, the reasons
offered by the convert are legally valid.
The steps of the process
The conversion process includes, according to the Requirements
Shulchan Aruch,33 several steps: to immerse in the The Talmud narrates, Rabbi Chiya bar Aba said, Rabbi
ritual bath (mikveh), to circumcise the men, and if they Yochanan said, he will never be a ger until circumcised
already are, go through a mini-surgical procedure, and immersed in ritual water.37 The Talmud further
almost symbolic, to show bleeding in the area of the relates, The teachers taught that a foreigner who in
circumcision; present an offering, and accept Jewish our time wants to convert [to Judaism], is told: What
precepts. The presentation of the offering, impossible in have you seen that you come to convert? Do you not
our days since there is no Temple in Jerusalem, is not a know that in current times Jews are being persecuted,

29. The Seven Precepts of Noah are considered binding by humankind. (See Sanhedrin 56). They determine that courts of justice will be
established and ban idolatry, blasphemy, murder, incest, theft, and eating meat of live animals.
30. Probably a word of ugaritic origin, referred to immigrants, see Gur in Even Shoshan.
31. A recent decision of the Rabbinical Court of Jerusalem declared conversions invalid retroactively, which gave rise to major controversies and
was subsequently rejected by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.
32. A rational individual is not converted against his will (Conf. Rashi, Yevamot 48 a).
33. The name of the compilation of religious Jewish standards. Its author was Yosef Karo, born in Toledo, in 1488, four years before the eviction of
the Jews from Spain by the Catholic Monarchs. He died in 1575.
34. See Genesis 34:22: Only herein will the men consent to us for to dwell with us, to be one people, if every male among us be circumcised, as
they are circumcised.
35. See Maimonides, Isurei Biah, chapter 14, Halachot 1-2.
36. The Talmud, in Yevamot 47a, assumes through Rabbi Yehuda that a convert who went through the rabbinical court, is ger but if he self
converted, is not considered ger. From the verse: And I charged your judges at that time, saying, Hear the causes between your brothers, and
judge righteously between every man and his brother, and the stranger that is with him. (Deuteronomy 1:16).
37. The ten-male quorum, mandatory for certain segments of the collective religious services.
JDC - Internaonal Center for Community Development Conversion in Judaism I Yerahmiel Barylka 7

oppressed, despised, harassed and tormented? If he says, (Ruth) was steadfastly minded to go with her, then
I know and am unworthy of being (part of the Jewish she left speaking unto her44... We are forbidden,
congregation), they accept him immediately and notify she said from passing the limits of the Shabbat45
him of some of the lighter and some of the strictest Where you go, I will go. Meeting alone is forbidden,46
precepts. He is instructed on the mistake of [neglecting where you lodge, I will lodge.47 We were given six
the laws of] the gleanings,38 the forgotten sheaf,39 the hundred and thirteen commandments. Your people
hidden corner and the tithe of the poor.40 He is told about shall be my people48 Idolatry has been banned.
the punishment for [violating] the commandments, and ... And your God my God. Courts were given four
also: Know that in the past you ate fat without suffering forms of capital punishment Where you die, will I
the punishment of excision (caret)41 and violated the die.49 Two cemeteries were available to the courts.50
Shabbat without being stoned,42 but if you eat fat now And there will I be buried And seeing (Naomi) that
you will be punished with caret, and if you violate the (Ruth) was so steadfastly minded, etc. If he accepts,
Shabbat you will be stoned.43 And just as he is informed he is circumcised immediately. Why? Because
about the punishment for violating the commandments, obedience to the commandments should not be
he is told about the rewards for abiding by them: You delayed.
should know that the future world has been created only
for the righteous, and that in these times, Israel cannot Teaching the precepts and comming
bear too much wellbeing or too many sorrows. However, to comply
not too much insistence is employed, or excessive detail In the conversion process, as the Talmud teaches,
provided. If he accepts, he is immediately circumcised... converts were notified on two occasions about the
Two scholars stand at his side and inform him about some commandments. The first one when informed that they
of the looser and some of the most severe requirements. would be accepted; the second, at the time of immersion
After immersing in the ritual water and emerging from it, in ritual water. This was initially done before a court
he should be considered Israelite in all respects. When it of three members and during daytime. But if he was
comes to a woman, the other women submerge her in the circumcised or immersed in front of two judges and at
water to the neck and from outside two scholars inform night, and in case the immersion was due to the desire to
her of some of the minor and some of the most severe be purified (from other ritual impurities without the will
commandments... to convert through this ritual) he would be considered
ger and allowed to marry Israelites, except for the
The Biblical source of the procedure notification of the precepts that prevents the process
The Talmud itself goes on to explain the foundations from continuing if not in front of three scholars.51 The
of conversion rules. Rabbi Eleazar said: What verse first notification seems to have an educational and
is it based on? It is written: When Naomi saw that instructive purpose.

38. Talmud Babylon, Yevamot 46 b.


39. See Deuteronomy 24:19: When you cut down your harvest in your field, and have forgot a sheaf in the field, you shall not go again to fetch it: it
shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow: that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.
40. See Deuteronomy 26:12: When you have made an end of tithing all the tithes of your increase the third year, which is the year of tithing, and
have given it to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that they may eat within your gates, and be filled.
41. The punishment of caret appears in several places of the Scriptures. (See Exodus 12:19, Leviticus 7:27, Op. Cit. 20:20-21, Numbers 19:13
and 20, Talmud Babylon Moed Katan 29 a, Kritut 2 a, Shabbat 25 b).
42. Stoning is one of the four capital punishment modalities established in the Talmud.
43. The four ways of executing the death penalty that appear in the Talmud are currently not applicable and, according to the Talmudic text, were
applied on an exceptional basis in the times of the Sanhedrin.
44. Ruth 1:18.
45. The rule establishes that on Shabbat one is not allowed to walk a distance longer than two hundred cubits from the boundary of the area of
residence.
46. A man and a strange woman shall not meet in a closed or isolated place.
47. Op. Cit. 1:16.
48. Op. Cit. 1:17.
49. Op. Cit. 1:17.
50. To bury the victims of the death penalty, according to the severity of the crime.
51. See Shulchan Aruch, Iore Dea, artcle 268, paragraph 3.
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The movaon of the convert - its value existing exogamous couples, they seek a way to repair ex
It is prescribed that before the acceptance the convert post facto, accepting more easily the integration of the
must be investigated to find whether there is a reason non-Jewish spouse through more accessible conversion
that prevents him from entering Judaism.52 There are procedures.57 The reason that opposes both positions is
various opinions in the classical rabbinical literature the question of whether to save another person from
as to the relationship that should exist between the sin, you can commit a blunder or not.58
converts motivation and his acceptance. One of Some rabbinical authorities facilitate conversion
them restrictive 53 ties the validity of the act to the without the certainty of compliance with the precepts,
motivation. Another, more permissive, determines that following several principles of jurisprudence and the
motivation is important in the decision to perform the philosophy of religion. Among them, the one expressed
act of conversion,54 but, in the absence of a motivation, in the Scriptures: It is time for you, Lord, to work:
or if it were flawed, the ensuing validity is not affected. for they have made void your law,59 and in times of
A third one states that the motivation of the convert need, it is considered as valid as if already made. In
is irrelevant in the whole process and its subsequent a social milieu in which most Jews are not observant
validity.55 of the precepts, the relative who converted sees no
In our days the theme again becomes current and reason to be compelled to observe religious rules. For
opinions about converts motivations are almost those rabbis, saving him from the possibility of being
invariably maintained. Some communities do not accept idolatrous justifies any effort, i.e., what is important
converts, whatever the reason for the conversion or the they say is that he not be a pagan.
court that certifies the process.56 The most important When dealing with the issue of conversion, Professor
reason is that it prevents the children of its members Yeshayau Leibowitz (Riga 1903 Jerusalem 1994), despite
from out-marriages. Through outright prohibition, his liberalism and opennesson many issues, is stricter
young people who wish to remain in the family than the generally accepted precept. Every conversion
community are forced to choose a partner of their own not performed in the Heavenly Name is invalid from the
faith. At the other end are those who believe that given religious point of view... the massive industry of converts
the tendency of young Jews to marry outside Judaism, who had relationships with Jewish women, or non-Jewish
and the need to maintain the number of Jews, reduced women who were in relationships with Jews, is an ethical
by the Holocaust and the current low birth rate among and religious abomination, that turns Judaism into a
Jews, they should try to retain those who have not laughingstock and an object of ridicule.60
lost their last contact with their origin and faith. As for

52. Perhaps for economic reasons, or a governmental position, or for fear of something bad happening, if he has laid eyes on an Israelite Woman
or a young Jew? See Maimonides, Isurei Biah, Chapter 13, Halacha 14 and Shulchan Aruch Iore Dea, article 268, paragraph 12.
53. See Yevamot 24, b The man who converts because of a woman, and the woman who converts because of a man, and he who converts
because of a royal table or the slaves of Solomon, are not converts; those are the words of Rabbi Nehemiah, who said; the converts of lions (the
Samaritans who converted out of fear, see II Kings 27:25) just like the converts of dreams (because they had a nightmare or in its interpretation
they were told to convert to Judaism) and the converts of Mordechai and Esther, (for the fear of the Jews fell upon them) are not converts (See
Esther 8:17); converts are only those who convert in current times. (When the situation of Jews is better).
54. See Yevamot 24 b, The rabbis taught that in the times of Messiah no converts will be accepted. Nor were they accepted in the times of David
and Solomon. Said Rabbi Eliezer: What is the source?- Isaiah 54:15 Behold, they may gather together, but not by me: whosoever shall gather
together against thee shall fall because of thee. However, in verse 76 b, Rabbi Joseph stated: And Solomon made affinity with Pharaoh King of
Egypt, and took Pharaohs daughter (1 Kings 3:1), and had her convert, in times when David and Solomon did not allow converts. This because
they converted to approach the royal feast, but Pharaohs daughter did not need that. From that we learn that her conversion was not objected
despite the fact that it had been performed for allegedly incorrect reasons.
55. In the sources we find (Shabbat 31a) the case of a non-Jew who walked by a study house and heard the description of the kingly attire of the
high priest, and decided to convert to Judaism to be chosen Cohen Gadol. Shamai rejected him angrily, but Hillel converted him, taught him the
Torah until he realized he would never be chosen for that position. Hillels position is that even in the case of an erroneous or impossible motive,
someone may be converted and accepted.
56. Among them are the communities of descendants of the city of Aleppo in Syria, the major ones are in Israel, United States, Mexico, Brazil,
Argentina and Panama.
57. Living with a person of another sex outside the wedding rules is considered a violation of the rules of Judaism. If the non-Jew converted, the
situation could be normalized. The question that has come up in late years is whether saving a person from such violation is an obligation that must
be actively exercised, converting the non-Jew if he agreed, or not do it.
58. The source of the discussion is in Shabbat 4 a, A person is not told to sin to save a fellow man from a violation. See comment in the Talmudic
Encyclopedia, Volume 1, pages 575-578.
59. Psalms 119: 126.
60. Quoted in Sagi, Avi, The Jewish-Israeli Voyage, Culture and Identity, Shalom Hartman Institute, 2006, page 189.
JDC - Internaonal Center for Community Development Conversion in Judaism I Yerahmiel Barylka 9

It is virtually impossible to separate the cultural and social his consent, to the extent that he does not specifically
reasons of those who distinguish between metaphysical express his refusal to respecting the precepts.
or sociological causes to guide their choice.
A different line of thought is that of deputy and Rabbi The conversion of the son of a Jewish
Chaim Amsellem61, who compiled the jurisprudence father and a non-Jewish mother
of recent centuries, and states that it is not necessary Another issue that arises today is whether you can or
to investigate the motivation of the convert prior to should facilitate the conversion of a child whose father
his conversion, nor is it necessary for him to commit is Jewish, and his mother non-Jewish but does not want
to adopt certain behaviors. In his book Zera Israel he to convert.65 In this case, there is prima facie certainty
quotes Rabbi Ovadia Yosef62, who after defining the that the child will not be educated under the rules of
sage as one who has his eyes in his head, and can see the Judaism because his mother is unacquainted with, and
future consequences of an action, quotes the Talmud in uncommitted to them.
Sanhedrin, which narrates that Timna63, the daughter Various rabbinical authorities of our time believe it is
of Kings, wanted to sincerely convert and become part better to facilitate the mothers conversion, for her
of the Jewish people, but on being rejected, came to teachings to the children not to oppose those of her
Eliphaz who converted her despite the rules and took husband.66 They even apply the principle of Zera
her; and Amalek who descends from them, relentlessly Israel,67 the seed of Israel which includes all those
persecuted the Israelites, because he felt that Timna whom the Halacha does not include as Jews68 because
should not have been rejected. The Torah states that they were born to a non-Jewish woman, but descend
people should not be rejected; That we must bring from a Jewish ancestor or parent.69 In the Talmudic
together, and that we are bound to attract others. period70, rabbis even brought up the possibility that
The work of Rabbi Chaim Amsellem implies that the non-Jew descended from the lost tribes,71 so as to
he accepts, according to the sources,64 to allow the facilitate or justify their conversion.
conversion of a child without demanding that he The massive influx to Israel of former USSR immigrants,
respect the precepts, and when that child becomes of whose religious identity was unclear, triggered a series
religious age, as long as he does not refuse to comply it of rabbinical rulings seeking their full integration into
is understood that he has expressly consented. In other the Israeli society. These rulings have had a major
words, a person could be converted without asking for impact on rabbinic jurisprudence in Diaspora countries.

61. Amsellem, Chaim, was born in 1959 in Oran, Algiers, and has lived in Jerusalem since age 10. He is a rabbi and a justice mediator in Rabbinical
Courts. He was elected to the Israeli Parliament representing the party Shas. His learned work has raised discussions among contemporary rabbis.
Some of the titles are, Zera Israel, and Makor Israel (Jerusalem 2010).
62. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, (1920, Iraq), Chief Rabbi of Israel, is considered one of the major religious legislators of the religious Jewish law of
this century. His responses, published and commented, have been distributed among Jewish scholars worldwide and are accepted mainly by
Sephardic rabbis. He follows the Sephardic jurisprudence, but is respected by many Ashkenazi rabbis because of the breadth of his knowledge.
63. See Sanhedrin 99b, Genesis 36:12 And Timna was concubine to Eliphaz Esaus son; and she bore to Eliphaz Amalek: these were the sons
of Adah Esaus wife.
64. Tosafot commentators of the Talmud-, in Sanhedrin 68 b.
65. Rabbi Esriel Hildesheimer, (Germany 1820-1899), [quoted in Conversion to Judaism and The Meaning of Jewish Identity, by Avi Sagi and Zvi
Zohar, The Bialik Institute, Jerusalem, The Shalom Hartman Institute], considered that the court converting in such cases would be punished for
all the converts violations if it had known beforehand that he would not respect the rules after his conversion. On the contrary, rabbi Mordechai
Halevi Horowitz (Germany 1844-1910), considered that the convert alone is liable for his faults.
66. The Chief Sephardic Rabbi Ben Sion Meir Jai Uziel (1880-1953), who held his position between 1939 and 1953 thought that the conversion of a
non-Jewish woman in an exogamic marriage should be facilitated. See Responsa de los Fallos de Uziel a Preguntas de nuestro Tiempo, article 64.
67. Some rabbis demanded the conversion of individuals born to a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father, educated by the father. (See Chidushei
Yom Tov Algazi, Bechorot 47a). The Rabbinical Court of Appeals decided against such principle. See 5730/79. See also Corinaldi, M., in Preguntas
acerca de la Identidad Juda, La ley del retorno, Derecho Prctico, 2001, page 197.
68. The source is the verse And the son of an Israelite woman, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the children of Israel: and this son
of the Israelite woman and a man of Israel strove together in the camp, Leviticus 24:10.
69. Rabbi David Tzvi Hoffmann (1843, Austria-1921, Berlin) even accepted the conversion of a woman married to a Cohen, stating that their
children had to be integrated into Judaism despite the express prohibition of marriage between a Cohen and a convert.
70. The Mishnah and Talmud period lasted 600 years, and among its major works are the Babylonian and the Jerusalem Talmud. The period
started during the Roman domination and ended with the Muslim conquest at the beginning of the 7th century. In that lengthy period, the Jews were
under pagan regimes (1st to 3rd centuries), in 324 with the victory of Constantine, the land of Israel became part of the Christian Eastern Roman
or Byzantine Empire. In those days, the courts and jurisprudence of Israel lost their supremacy against those constituted in Babylon.
71. Rav Asi considers that if a non-Jew took a Jewish woman as his wife, the recognition is doubtful, since it could be the descendant of the ten
tribes that took non-Jewish women. See Rashi in Yevamot 16 b.
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Isaiahs prophecies72 seem to have prompted that were excluded from the congregation, or excluded
thought. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef said in a ruling that those themselves with their behavior.
immigrants could be recognized as Jews through their Today, most Jews do not observe religious precepts,
own declarations. And, after thanking the Almighty for and practically the vast majority of them live in Israel.
having freed them from seventy years of Communist Their fate is that of the Jewish people, no distinction
rule, he added that many questions arise regarding exists between observant Jews and those unconnected
this immigration because, apparently, many non Jews to traditions. Nevertheless, the State of Israel secular
profited from it and joined the Jewish immigrants to authorities granted the rabbinical leaders power to resolve
escape economic hardships in the Soviet Union. It the issue of the nations individual and collective status,
should be made clear that those who wish to register expressing their decision that this be simultaneously a
as Jews are considered trustworthy, even in the case religious and national issue. However, this does not mean
they cannot produce any supporting documents. And that the patterns used to integrate Jews to their religion
their testimony suffices, or at most, credible witnesses have changed.
should be presented to prove it. According to the rule, Jews not living in Israel are closer to the national identity of
immigrants from Russia who declare to be Jewish, are the peoples in which they were born or educated than to
trustworthy; however, if there were reasonable grounds that of their ancestors, or contemporary Israelis. They do
to believe that their statement was false, a thorough not share with Israelis the language or the civil standards,
investigation should be undertaken,73 and in that case a nor necessarily do they resort in family matters to the
conversion process should ensue. religious authorities of their country of residence.
This makes an agreement among various sectors even
Entering the ethnic group or the Jewish more difficult regarding what should be the common
religion? ground for those born as Jews and those who wish
Proposal for civil or secular conversion to Judaism. to join the group and, therefore, what rules and valid
The geopolitical changes of recent years have not procedures for carrying out the conversion should
influenced Jews enough to abandon the classic apply.
discussions of whether they are part of a religion, a It is therefore not surprising that the thinkers of Secular
people, a nation or an ethnic group. The discussions even Humanistic Judaism,74 which assumes that social and
seem to have progressed, despite the fact that other religious traditions must be accredited by each person
groups and nations, affiliated with post-modernism, individually, and should not be accepted as a matter of
state they have overcome such dilemmas. faith, seek other ways to integrate into Judaism those
After thousands of years of history, along which Jews who so desire. To them it is undeniable that human
considered themselves as a national, tribal and even problems must bring up creative and humane responses,
family unit that shared the same religious principles, they conversion being one of them. From this perspective,
continue to inquire about their identity. Until relatively the conditions for performing a conversion, as required
recent times, people and religion were overlapping by the different religious sectors, cannot be the only
concepts; thus converts joined both the people and the answer to the needs of people seeking to join Judaism.
faith, without question. There was virtually no difference That model does not resolve the identity of those who
between these notions. do not feel that the Jewish religion, and compliance with
In ancient times, those who did not accept the Jewish its rules, can become a common purpose with the Jewish
regulatory criteria, i.e. taking part in community life, people or the State of Israel. Thus, they participate in the
responding with solidarity to other sectors of the discussion of whether the Jewish people are an ethnic
people, and adhering to Jewish tradition and faith, group, a nation, a faith or a religion with its precepts.

72. Lift up your eyes round about, and see: all they gather themselves together, they come to you: your sons shall come from far, and your
daughters shall be nursed at your side. (Isaiah 60:4), Who are these that fly as a cloud, and as the doves to their windows? (Op. Cit. 60:8), and
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy on their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and
sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 35:10).
73. Responsa Iabia Omer, part 7, 70, 1. This decision was also accepted by the Special Court for the Oversight of Religious Identity, of the Chief
Rabbinate in Jerusalem. See Decisions of Jerusalem, clarification of Jewishness, 1, pages 17-31.
74. Secular Humanistic Judaism has shifted from a philosophical trend to a new and active Jewish movement. Currently there are a few dozen
communities in the U.S., Israel, Europe, Australia, and some Latin American countries that consider themselves part of the movement.
JDC - Internaonal Center for Community Development Conversion in Judaism I Yerahmiel Barylka 11

From a different perspective, Rabbi Yaakov Fink75 has the countries of the Jewish Diaspora, a non-Jew who
argued whether the convert, committing to comply married or wishes to marry a Jew and join their family
with the precepts, becomes a Jew or, whether because and their group, without fulfilling the rules, is offered no
he converted to Judaism, he commits to comply with other alternative. Its aim, they say, is to approach those
the precepts. In other words, if by converting he joins with no religious sensitivity, who do not wish to lie to the
an ethnic group,76 in this case the Jews, and therefore rabbis in the conversion process, pledging to behave in
must comply with its regulations, or perhaps, the a way at odds with their lifestyle, which they will then
change of status from non-Jew to Jew, is the byproduct not fulfill.
of his commitment to respect the commandments. The members of Secular Humanistic Judaism in Israel
Upon entering the Jewish religious group he becomes do not want the rabbinate to deal with conversion,
a part of the Jewish ethnic group. Whether the Jewish marriage and divorce. They aspire to a complete
group drew its features from the pact it signed with division between state and religion, and a separation of
God or the Torah grants the status of identity, those conversion to Judaism and naturalization, and receiving
who join by performing mitzvot, become part of citizens rights, or becoming a citizen.
the group. The consequences of this discussion are Today, they say, we are in our country, Israel. We are the
practical rather than philosophical, since the question majority; ministers, legislators, judges, police, military
that emerges is whether the acts of circumcision and and the educational system and culture is ours. The
immersion are more important, and compliance with immigrants assimilate into the Israeli identity. Children
the precepts is uncalled for. In the opinion of major learn to sing and play in Hebrew, and incorporate the
contemporary rabbis, a voluntary commitment to meet holidays of Israel, its joys and sorrows for the wars. They
the requirements is not necessary for the convert to be grow as Israelis and serve in the Israeli Defense Forces.
bound by them. This obligation derives from the change Hence, in practice they are Jews, even if they were not
in identity. They argue that the covenant at Sinai was born as such and did not convert.
signed with the whole group and not individually with In a country with democratic aspirations, the principle
its members.77 of the Elders of Israel must be applied: A family that
For Secular Humanistic Judaism, the term conversion assimilated into Judaism is part of it and all families will
is no longer appropriate; the concept of adoption in be legitimate in the future, and he who challenges them
the Jewish family is preferred. If conversion describes does so extrapolating his own ineligibility.79
a religious albeit mystical act involving the exchange of The issue is further compounded because in Israel there
a set of beliefs for another, and often accompanied by are those who seek a correspondence between the
a transformation ritual, they prefer to avoid the term. countrys citizenship laws, the Law of Return and the
Voluntary integration to the Jewish culture and the desire rules of conversion to Judaism. Under the Law, a Jew is
to belong, suffice to become part of the Jewish group. one who was born of a Jewish mother or converted and
Rabbi Peter H. Schweitzer78 holds an affirmation ceremony has no other religion. The rights granted to Jews, such as
to reduce the hurdles that prevent access to Judaism. citizenship, are granted to their son or daughter, wife, and
That line of thought welcomes all those who are not grandson. Many of the immigrants who arrived in Israel,
Jewish according to the Halacha. They claim that secular particularly from the former USSR countries, are citizens
conversion should be an option because not everyone under the Law of Return, which grants them full civil
who converts does so worrying about the religion. In rights, but following the same rule, their spouses, children

75. Fink, Yaacov, Judasmo y conversin, published in Noam, 14 (5731) page 17. Rabbi Fink, originally from Germany, lived many years in
Argentina, and then moved to Haifa (Israel) to hold a major rabbinical position.
76. An ethnic group may mean that its members share an identity. In many cases the language is the prevailing factor that identifies an ethnic
group. But there are others that relate to, or define an ethnic identity. Sharing a history, habits, family and clan identities, and marriage rules and
practices, classifications by ages and other agreements on their obligations, and patterns and inheritance rules, are some of the common ethnic
factors that define or distinguish a people. There are numerous examples of peoples that speak different languages but consider themselves as
a single ethnic group.
77. Among those who think so are two outstanding rabbinical figures who were Chief Rabbis of Israel, i.e. Rabbi Shlomo Goren and Rabbi Eliahu
Bakshi Doron.
78. Was the leader of New York City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism and one of its highest representatives.
79. See Talmud Babylon, Kiddushin 71a.
JDC - Internaonal Center for Community Development Conversion in Judaism I Yerahmiel Barylka 12

and grandchildren are not Jews. If they want to be, they movements courts. No decision was issued on
should go through the Orthodox conversion process. conversion processes carried out in Israel. This decision
A ruling by the Supreme Court of Israel recognizes paved the way for providing citizenship rights, but has
non-Orthodox conversion for the purpose of the Law no bearing on the question of marriage and divorce,
of Return but, since marriage and divorce fall under the which remain in the hands of Orthodox rabbis. For
jurisdiction of the rabbinical courts, its effects only apply them the only possible solution is to go through
to citizenship. another conversion before the Israeli courts, or rule
Most converts to Judaism in the United States and their family rights according to the civil law, and marry
other countries have gone through the process of the abroad.
Conservative and Liberal (Reform) movements rabbinical Thus, the integration into the Jewish ethnic group,
courts, which grants them the citizenship, although they when not done after conversion processes, allows new
are not considered Jews by the family law courts of the Jews to feel integrated into the groups they belong to,
State of Israel. without being fully recognized as Jews by the Israeli
The Supreme Court of Israel decided to recognize non- family courts.
Orthodox conversions for the purpose of the Law of Even for those who believe that the commitment to
Return.80 The Courts decision was issued in May 1995, meet the rules is not mandatory for conversion, the
recognizing the fifteen appellants as Jews, by seven traditional process conducted by recognized courts
votes to four, even though the conversion process remains a pre-requisite for full acceptance of the
had taken place outside the boundaries of Israel convert in the State of Israel.
before Reformist (Liberal) or Masorti (Conservative)

80. Acquisition of Israeli Nationality through the Israel Nationality Act that applies to people born in Israel or residing in that country, as well as
those wishing to settle there, regardless of race, religion, creed, gender or affiliation policy. Citizenship can be obtained by: Birth, The Law of
Return, Residency, and Naturalization.
Acquisition of Citizenship by Birthright is granted to:
1. Persons born in Israel to a mother or father of Israeli citizenship.
2. Persons born outside Israel, if a parent kept their Israeli citizenship, acquired either by birth in Israel under the Law of Return, by residence or
naturalization.
3. People born after the death of a parent, if the deceased father was an Israeli citizen by virtue of the conditions listed in paragraphs 1. and 2. at
the time of death.
4. Persons born in Israel, who never had any other nationality, who are subject to the limitations prescribed by law and who have applied for citizenship
between 18 and 25 years old, or have been residents of Israel for five consecutive years prior to the date of submission of their application.
Acquisition of nationality under the Law of Return
In establishing the State of Israel, its founders proclaimed ... the restoration in Eretz-Israel the Jewish State, which would open wide the gates of
the homeland to every Jew ... In compliance with this principle, upheld the State of Israel to Holocaust survivors, refugees from countries where
they resided, as well as many thousands of Jews who came to settle in Israel by choice. The Law of Return (1950) grants every Jew, whoever
he is, the right to come to Israel as an Oleh (Jewish immigrant to Israel) and acquire Israeli citizenship.
For purposes of this law, Jew means a person born of a Jewish mother or has converted to Judaism and is not a member of another religion.
Israeli citizenship is in effect at the time of arrival or the acquisition of a Certificate of Oleh. A person may declare, within three months, not
wanting to acquire citizenship. An immigrant certificate may be denied to people who:
1. Are engaged in activities directed against the Jewish people.
2. May endanger public health or safety of the state.
3. Have a criminal past that could endanger public welfare.
Since 1970, the right to immigrate under the protection of this law was extended to the children and grandchildren of a Jew and their spouses.
The purpose of this amendment is to ensure the unity of the families in which there has been a mixed marriage, does not apply to people who
were Jewish and converted of their own free will to other religions.
Acquisition of Nationality by Residence
The Nationality Act contains a special provision for former citizens of British Mandatory Palestine. Those who remained in Israel since the
establishment of the state in 1948 until the enactment of the Nationality Act of 1952, become Israeli citizens by residence or by return.
In 1980 an amendment to the Act was added in order to include more possibilities of acquiring citizenship by residence.
Acquisition of Nationality by Naturalization
An adult can acquire Israeli citizenship by naturalization at the discretion of the Minister of Interior and provided it meets certain requirements, namely:
1. The person must have resided in Israel during three of the five years preceding the date of submission of the application;
2. Is entitled to reside in Israel permanently and has settled or intends to settle in Israel.
3. Has given up their previous nationality, or has shown the will to become an Israeli citizen.
The Ministry of the Interior may exempt an applicant for some of these requirements.
JDC - Internaonal Center for Community Development Conversion in Judaism I Yerahmiel Barylka 13

Epilogue
This work is based on rabbinic and exegetical sources for the secular sectors that do not need its message, or
seen in the light of Orthodox Judaism, the one adopted the more observant sectors led by their own rabbinical
by the State of Israel to clarify issues on religious authorities. It has limited influence.
identity. However, the Israeli law empowers the Chief Rabbinate
It is easy to note that there is no consensus on findings, to rule in conversion cases. Its influence is also very
proceedings or their practical application, and their limited in worldwide Jewish communities that do not
arguments are dynamic and have changed over the abide by its decisions on conversions in their own
course of Jewish history. territories, with a few exceptions.
Judaism is not monolithic, nor had it been in the old times. Nowadays, heated discussions are ongoing that result
Rabbinical Courts take into account the situation of on one hand in stricter requirements and, on the other
the persons who resort to them, their circumstances in a desperate search for solutions. Many of these
and place of residence. The rulings follow different discussions are not based on faith or religion, but on
traditions, depending on the judges, their training and issues of Israeli domestic politics or others, who aware of
stance regarding the various schools of jurisprudence. the discussions, take the opportunity to gain influence in
In a not too distant past, Rabbinical Courts were their own countries.
influenced by external events, ruled by the authorities of This paper aims to present the stances of various
the place where they had settled, and where the Jews rabbinical authorities and the Responsa82 for readers to
religious or secular authority had no role. form their own opinion, and contributes elements for
The existence of different exegetical schools that gave the debate to be more productive and allow anyone who
rise to contradicting and chronologically simultaneous wants to be part of the Covenant to be accepted after
responses, sometimes even in the same cities, was a completing the procedures that still need to be further
blessing in the course of history, since it greatly enriched explored.
the case law that later became the standard or the Despite the relative acceptance of the Chief Rabbinate
custom accepted by the majority, in a process that in of Israels authority in our days, it is clear that because
certain areas lasted several centuries. With regards to most of the Jews of the world live there and because it
conversion in present times, the same comment does rules in more cases than anywhere else on the planet,
not apply. its approaches will be used to further construe the
Converts in good faith, eager to fully integrate into procedures and establish guidelines that will ultimately
Judaism, go through ceremonies that approve them as be accepted by most of the Rabbinical Courts. In a few
Jews only in the geographical jurisdiction of that court. years, solutions may be found that, after setting in
In Israel, courts appointed by the Chief Rabbinate reject will be accepted in this dynamic and changing process
converts approved by the Rabbinical Courts of the Israel grounded on hermeneutics, exegesis and jurisprudence.
Defense Forces81 and even retrospectively overturn
conversions by other courts, not only creating legal
uncertainty but also affecting the spiritual sensitivity of
Yerahmiel Barylka
these people.
The Chief Rabbinate of Israel is an institution created Jerusalem, Menachem av 5770
by the State. The opinion of its members is not binding August 2010

81. See ut supra.


82. Responsa (Latin, plural of responsum, responses) is the set of written decisions and rulings of scholars to the questions they are asked. In Hebrew
they are called Sheelot uTeshuvot: questions and answers and include the resolutions of those accepted as experts in Jewish law along 1,700 years.
JDC - Internaonal Center for Community Development Conversion in Judaism I Yerahmiel Barylka 14

About the author


Yerahmiel Barylka, an Orthodox rabbi, educator and community advisor, was born in Argentina in 1943,
and currently lives in Israel. He was the principal at Jewish schools in Argentina and Mexico, and in Israel he
led several Keren Kayemet Leisrael areas and departments. He has published several books, among them:
Exogamy Diagnosis and Prevention, Selected Topics on Judaism, and The Jewish Prayer. For over ten years he
was the Middle East correspondent for the Mexican network Nucleo Radio Mil and currently publishes in Israeli
and Latin American journals.

Copyright JDC, Yerahmiel Barylka, 2010

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