Becoming Jewish

The pros and cons and how to do it.

(Please note that if your mother was Jewish before you were born, whether observant or not, then by Jewish Law you are also Jewish, and you do not need to convert. Please contact an Orthodox Rabbi for guidance.)

So, you want to become Jewish. I applaud your goal.

Becoming Jewish is, as you realize, a significant and life-changing event. It is not a small matter by any means.

But before you start, consider a few things. When a Gentile wants to become Jewish, the Rabbis are required to try to dissuade him. Only the very sincere make it through the entire process. And the process can take a long while. It may not turn out to be easy.

Becoming Jewish means that most of what you were taught about spirituality until now will be irrelevant, and in many cases wrong. You must drop the religious beliefs taught you by whatever other religion(s) you once followed or read about. People sometimes ask me, «Can I convert to Judaism and still believe in Jesus?» The answer is no. This is not something negotiable in Judaism. Jewish doctrine about G-d is core and inviolate. Non-Jewish beliefs about G-d invalidate a conversion (and Jesus is a prime example of a non-Jewish belief about G-d, no matter what anyone tells you). So this could be a major change for anyone contemplating conversion to Judaism. If this is difficult for you, then you should not be considering conversion at all.

You must also accept the fact that it is Hashem’s Torah that defines what is right and what is wrong, what is spiritual and what is mundane, what elevates a person and what lowers him. Human beings do not make those determinations, and every such decision that a Rabbi makes is based on Torah precedent, i.e., established Jewish Law.

Your life style will also change, as well as the way you think about many things. Even the meaning of some words will change, especially if you have been Christian: words like «confession,» «heaven,» «patrilineal descent,» «Messiah,» «savior,» and others.

It also means that your relationships will change. Not all your friends will be happy that you’ve become Jewish. Worse yet, your family members might disown you, as often happens.

When your parents, your siblings, even your children, sit down to eat a meal, you will often not be allowed to join them. You won’t even be able to attend some of their joyous occasions. It is forbidden for a Jew to enter most non-Jewish places of worship. If your own baby sister gets married in a church, you will not be able to attend. If you have non-Jewish children from before you converted, you will not be allowed to attend any occasion they make in a church or any religious gathering. (If this occurs, make sure to consult with an Orthodox Rabbi before making any decision. There may be a solution.) Nor will you be allowed to celebrate Christmas or Hallowe’en, or any other religious holiday except the Jewish holidays.

And you will have to learn many rules. You will have to wear less revealing clothing all year round (which in the summer can make you feel hotter); you will have to be concerned wherever you go about the food you can buy and eat; you will have to make sure that you don’t carry anything in your pockets outside your home on the Sabbath, and many other considerations. You will need two sets of dishes, two sets of pots and pans (and at least one more set for Passover), and you will have to keep different types of food separate. You will have to wait six hours after eating meat foods before eating dairy foods. Judaism will guide your steps and your thoughts every moment of your waking life.

As a convert to Judaism, you will be a Jew — a full-fledged Jew. Think about the word «Jew» for a minute. It’s a title we bear proudly, yet it’s a word that comes from many mouths as a curse and insult. Of course, that’s silly. It’s like when a little boy thinks he’s insulting a girl by calling her «girl!» Not only is it not an insult, but it should be borne proudly and openly.

When I was thirteen years old, my friend and I were riding our bicycles through the side streets of Brooklyn, New York, when some Gentile boy (a little younger than us, it seemed) yelled at us jeeringly, «Jew!» I turned around and yelled back at him, «Thanks!» My friend almost fell off his bike laughing. I couldn’t — and still can’t — understand the attitude of that kid and people like him. I dress in what is an unmistakably Jewish style. I have noticeable payos (sidelocks, as per the Torah’s Commandment in Leviticus 19:27). I’m obviously not trying to hide the fact that I’m Jewish. Did he really think I’m embarrassed to be a Jew?

The answer is probably yes. Granted he was a kid, but it is a very prevalent attitude even among some adult groups. In the minds of many people who wouldn’t consider themselves racists or bigots, being a Jew is such a lowly thing that they are sure and positive that we must feel degraded about being Jewish. It doesn’t help to explain to them that we are proud of being Jews, because they can’t see any reason we should be proud of being Jewish.

These days most people don’t say things like that out loud anymore. But racism and anti-Semitism still exist, and Jews still suffer from it — especially converts. I have a friend who almost lost his job because he was a convert. No, it’s not what you think. His boss could never have gotten away with firing him because he had converted to Judaism. What happened was a coworker of his was a born-again Christian who felt that my friend should be punished for leaving Christianity to become Jewish. So he filed an accusation of malfeasance, or some such thing, and had my friend hauled before an inquiry panel, expecting him to defend two years’ worth of financial decisions from records and memory. This is no reflection on all Christians today. But bear in mind that there are some Christian groups (mostly fundamentalist Protestant, I am told) that work very heavily on missionizing to Jews, and I imagine that they probably dislike people they consider lapsed Christians.

This story is unusual only in the particulars, I fear. There are people out there (not necessarily religious people) who do not like it when non-Jews become Jews. And some of them may be close to you.

Anti-Semitism should not be considered dead at all. It still shows up in various forms and sizes. It doesn’t take a Holocaust to harm Jews. Lately the news has been buzzing with bigotry and racial incidents. Bigoted groups are growing in America. Some even call themselves «churches» and claim non-profit status. Many of these groups target Jews in particular.

When you join the Jews, you become equally responsible, and suffer with us together. When Jews have sinned, sometimes all the Jews take part in the punishment.

So, consider this: Judaism teaches that you do not have to become Jewish to go to heaven. The righteous of all nations merit a share in the eternal World to Come. The basics of it involve keeping the Seven Laws of the Children of Noah.

After the Flood, Hashem the Creator made a covenant, an agreement, with Noah and his children, involving seven commandments, along with details of the laws pertaining to those Seven Commandments. Those who keep the Seven Commandments and their details are Righteous Gentiles according to the Torah. Since they keep the «Seven Commandments of the Children of Noah,» they call themselves «Bnei Noah,» the Children of Noah. When a Ben Noah lives in Israel, the Torah refers to him as a «Gair Toshav,» a resident alien.

You might consider joining a group of Righteous Gentiles. There is a growing movement in the United States and other countries of what is called the Noahide or the Bnai Noah Movement. They have a presence on the Internet as well. You can find out more about them by visiting one of their Yahoo groups, at: Rachav’s B’nai Noah Group.

There are many advantages to this approach. As a member of the Bnai Noah (a man would be a ben Noah; a woman would be a bas Noah), you can be righteous and still eat pork. You can drive your car to the movies on the Sabbath; you can dress any way you want, and you won’t need two sets of pots, pans, and dishes. If you do any of this after you have become Jewish, you have sinned. And once you have become Jewish, the Torah says you are always Jewish, even if you stop believing.

If this hasn’t dissuaded you from converting to Judaism, read on.

Before anything else, I must warn you of this: do not announce or mention your intentions in a public forum over the Internet, such as a bulletin board or email list, or anything like that. If you do, you are likely to get dozens of emails from every sort of crank and idiot that exists on the Internet: from people giving you bad advice to fundamentalist Christians yelling at you for wanting to become Jewish. It isn’t worth the annoyance. I’ve had a number of people write me and tell me of such experiences happening to them, and I fully believe this happens. I have also received similar emails from Christians, just for speaking of such topics on my web site.

And now to the subject at hand.

First of all, be aware that the observance of Judaism is a joyous, fulfilling, and very elevating lifestyle. It is complete, and envelopes a person’s entire life. While I described it above in terms of its difficulties, these things are not at all inconvenient to those committed to Torah observance. They are, each and every one of them, an opportunity to fulfill the will of Hashem. A major requirement in Judaism is to fill our lives with joy, to serve Hashem with joy, and to constantly be grateful to Hashem that he gives us what we need to serve Him with joy.

And once you are Jewish, you can merit the highest of rewards in the World to Come.

So, if you are absolutely set on doing this, do it right.

There is only one way to become Jewish. Only one way. There are no improper ways that work. The one way is through an Orthodox-Jewish Beit Din (Court).

To begin, you need to find a Rabbi.

Most Rabbis are not qualified to work with potential converts, and there are some qualified Rabbis who are too busy to do it or are incapable for other reasons. So don’t be offended if the Rabbi you call pushes you off with what sounds like an excuse. The excuse may be real.

And when you find a Rabbi that works in conversions, he’s not going to make it easy for you, because Jewish Law says he must continue to dissuade you, and he will do so by various means. He may push you off a few times, he may not show up for scheduled meetings; there’s no telling what he will do to test your sincerity and perseverance. If you are sincere, don’t give up. Keep on politely calling or meeting with the Rabbi, until something happens. The Rabbi is following the Torah’s Law, so if you give up you can’t blame the Rabbi.

One question often asked me is «Can I become Jewish if I was ‘denomination X’?» The answer is «yes.» When you become a Jew, you leave behind whatever you were in the past. It does not matter if you or your parents were Hindu, Muslim, any sort of Christian, pagan, atheist, Native-American, Asian, African, French, German, or whatever you may have been. It doesn’t even matter if you were an anti-Semite. You shed your past like shedding a skin. As the Talmud says, it is as if you are a newborn.

Another person asked me if she should expect to be punished or chastised for having been a Gentile or a Christian. The answer is a very emphatic NO!

It is important that you understand another fact. If you want to have a proper conversion to Judaism, it must be done through Orthodox Rabbis. By Jewish Law, any conversion done by any other means is invalid. This is no small matter.

According to Jewish Law, there are certain legal criteria for conversion, and there are numerous legal criteria stating who is permitted to convert and who is not. If someone converts outside of the Torah’s Laws, he is a convert outside of the Torah’s Laws, but the Torah Law itself will not consider him or her a convert to Judaism. The Torah commands us not to change the Laws of the Torah. Whoever changes those Laws, is outside of Torah Law. All the more so, anyone who creates or joins a movement whose very nature denies the eternal nature of the Torah’s Laws.

Therefore, it is important to find an Orthodox Rabbi who is willing to help you convert.

There are a number of ways to find a Rabbi. You can start by looking in your local phone book under «clergy,» or under «synagogues.» If this doesn’t help, look for a local Chabad House. Chabad is a world-wide organization dedicated, among other things, to helping Jews find their way back to Judaism. They will also often help potential converts, but they do not seek to do this.

If you cannot find a Rabbi in your phone book, you can also search over the Internet. (See some links below.)

One place to look is at the Union of Orthodox Congregations web site. There you will find a partial list of synagogues throughout the world. Try one near you. Perhaps someone at one of those synagogues can direct you to a Rabbi who can help you.

If you find a Rabbi over the Internet, and you develop an e-mail relationship, do not rely on that alone. It is important to meet your Rabbi face to face. You will also have to begin taking lessons and classes, and slowly start joining a congregation, when your Rabbi tells you it’s time to do that. (Read my article, «Your First Visit to a Synagogue.»)

You will also need to get involved with an Orthodox-Jewish family, because that is the only possible way to internalize Judaism. Judaism cannot be learned entirely from books, and in was never meant to be. So get yourself invited to homes for the Sabbath. Read my wife’s article «The Kindness of Strangers,» to learn more about how to do this..

It is impossible to properly fulfill Judaism unless you are part of a Jewish community and congregation. Unless yours is some kind of unusual circumstance (and I can’t imagine what sort of circumstances those might be), your Rabbi will insist that you move to a neighborhood with a Jewish presence, where you will have easy access to an Orthodox community, a synagogue, kosher food, Rabbinical advice, and many other necessities of Jewish life.

You will have to study a great deal. And then you will have to study more. And when you have converted, you will have to keep studying constantly. Get used to that, because Torah study is the hinge upon which all of Judaism swings. Judaism demands ongoing and constant study of Torah and all aspects of Judaism. The Study of Torah is in itself one of the Commandments of the Torah, and applies to every Jew: scholar or unlearned. There is, thankfully, no end to Torah study, and one must keep growing and broadening in Torah study for as long as one lives. And your Torah study should not be limited to the abstract. Your Torah study should also have some bearing on your relationship with Hashem, whether it be by enhancing your Love and Fear of Hashem, or by enriching your performance of the Commandments, by improving you relationship with other people, or by improving your self-discipline and devotion to Hashem through the Commandments and Laws, or in any other sense that is related to Judaism. The Torah must be a part of you, move within you, be the one guiding force in your life.

For this to happen, it will always be necessary for you to have a close relationship with an Orthodox Rabbi. The reason for this is not because you are or will be a convert. It is required for every Jew, whether born to it or converted to it.

It will also be necessary to schedule regular study periods. This is also a necessity for every Jew, except for mothers who are overwhelmed with taking care of their children. And even they must study at least a little periodically. It is most preferable to attend regular classes, or to study with a personal study partner. Ideally, you should have a combination of both.

When your Rabbi feels you are ready for conversion, he will test you on the materials he gave you to study. Then he will bring you before a Bais Din (also pronounced Beit Din), that is, a Jewish Court, and set up an appointment schedule. The Rabbi may still try and dissuade you a bit, and the Bais Din certainly will try. When they are satisfied that you should be converted, and that you are sincere, they will set up the actual arrangements. The actual arrangements will also involve going to a mikvah, and for men circumcision as well.

Men who are already circumcised undergo a ceremony known as «Hatafas Dam Bris.» This means that a small drop of blood is taken during the Bris ceremony.

There are one or two conversion procedure guides available online.
One can be found in the files section of the Orthodox Conversion to Judaism Yahoo list, which is an online support group for Orthodox-Jewish converts and for those seeking to convert to Orthodox Judaism. I strongly recommend joining this group. Among many other good resources, they have a file called «Beis Din Conversion Syllabus.» This is the syllabus for the Jewish Court in Sydney, Australia, and will not be precisely the same as the syllabi at all other Jewish Courts, but using this will give you what you need to know.

I also recommend Rabbi Aryeh Moshen’s The Gerus Guide. It’s a very extensive and detailed step-by-step guide through the entire process that helps you learn just about everything you need to know to convert.

You can also receive a geirut procedure manual from the National Council of Young Israel’s Department of Rabbinic Services, by calling 212-929-1525, extension 285. I have not seen this manual, but it is mentioned by the Geirut Commission.

Again, let me remind you that the process of conversion will be a long and difficult one, requiring a great deal of study. You will have to learn to read Hebrew, for one thing. (For an amazing page with many links to Hebrew pages, emails, and online classes, visit the Hebrew Resources website. Also, you can call 1-800-44-Hebrew for free classes in Hebrew. I am told they are very good, and they have an excellent reputation.) There are also a great many good books in English (until you are proficient in Hebrew) to study about Judaism. Unfortunately, there are also many bad books out there. Consult with your Rabbi (or another expert) about each book.

The study of Jewish history is good, but probably not paramount. (Biblical History should be learned, at least the highlights, as some of it is rather basic.) Jewish Law and Ethics is probably the most important study. You should also study the Chumash (the Five Books of Moses) with a good translation, until you have learned Hebrew. A good combination for study is Rabbi Kaplan’s The Living Torah (a fairly good translation of the Chumash — definitely one of the best in existence, maybe even the best) along with a five-volume set called The Midrash Says. (For a store I personally know and trust, visit Tiferes Stam Judaica.)

Above all, one of the most fundamental rules in Judaism is respect and honor for the Rabbis and Halachic authorities. Any book that is not firm in that focus is to be completely rejected. This is a problem with many popular books these days, particularly books by Joseph Telushkin.

It is very important to make sure that the author of any book you read is Orthodox, and that the author represents authentic Halachic Judaism. Books by people like Harold Kushner will send you in the wrong direction. The theology and philosophy of Judaism is equally as important as the fulfillment of the Commandments. Someone who fulfills all the Commandments yet has incorrect beliefs about G-d and mankind, is not fulfilling the Torah and Judaism. This is one reason why so much Torah study is necessary even before you convert.

A large chain of retail stores has the motto:»An educated consumer is our best customer.» This is true about Judaism as well. The more you know about Judaism, the better you can fulfill it.

And the better you fulfill it, the more you have fulfilled yourself.


For databases with names of Rabbis and synagogues, try these links at the bottom of my wife’s article.

They Say You Can’t Choose Your Family…

A letter I received:

Dear Sir,


I am considering conversion to Judaism, but I have two questions.

First, my husband does not believe in G-d, though I do. Is it possible to still convert or do I need to choose between him
and my religion?

Second, I understand from talking to and meeting with other Jewish people that family is an essential part of the Jewish
community. I cannot have children. Is that going to make me unwelcome or an outcast?


My Answer:

I have often said that a true friend does not make you choose between friends.

The first thing to realize is that there really is no need per se for you to convert at all. You could (more easily, in fact) just be a Noahide and attain a portion in the World to Come without conversion. You need not choose at all. And indeed, in your situation, it is what I would advise. Hashem does not ask you to choose between Judaism and your husband.

However, should you choose to convert to Judaism, that would make you a Jew, and thus fully obligated to keep all the Commandments and Laws of the Torah. One of those Laws forbids us from being married or living with a non-Jew.

Once Jewish, you, just like me, and just like every other Jew, would be forbidden to be with a non-Jewish spouse. This is why I would suggest that you do not convert. I see no reason for you to destroy your family life. And you have no obligation to convert to Judaism. As I wrote above, one does not need to be Jewish to merit a portion in the World to Come.

Therefore, I suggest that you check out the Noahide movement. If you keep those Seven Laws and their details, you are what Hashem asks of human beings, and you need do no more to go to Heaven. See the link below.

In my opinion, people should never put themselves into situations where they have to choose between loves. If you love your husband and he loves you, stay with him and love him all the more. G-d does not enjoy dividing families. Sometimes it becomes necessary, and in such cases it often must be done, but — only if it must be done.

As to your other question, which was whether you would be shunned or treated as a pariah because you cannot have children: that is not the case. There is no reason to believe this. There are, sad to say, many, many people today — Jews as well — who have difficulty having children. Some are helped via medical means, or perhaps other means I’m not aware of, but many have not been able to benefit from these means, unfortunately. Whether a person can have children is entirely up to G-d. People with this sad difficulty do what they can, since we are required to do so. But ultimately, even after all the effort people put into these things, it’s all in G-d’s Hands.

The point I’m making is that we all know this, and everyone knows this problem exists, in Jewish society as well. There are people who belong to Jewish support groups for this issue, and there are organizations that try and help people solve the issues, to offer financial assistance for medical treatments, etc.

Admittedly, it might be hard to live in a society that is so child-oriented when one has no children. People do it, but many people feel the emotional pain all the more so because they live in such a society. Of course, each situation might be different. And as I said, there are support groups for childless women, and for men as well.

I have read that younger married people without children do tend to feel a bit left out. Not shunned or outcast, but simply not fully part of things like everyone else. At the very least, they feel uncomfortable always being around other people’s children, hearing parents talk about their children, or about PTA, and so forth. None of this is deliberately aimed at hurting anyone; it’s just that our society is centered around the family.

So what I’m saying is that you would not be shunned. People would understand, and they wouldn’t hassle you or make you feel outcast. But that doesn’t mean that you personally will feel comfortable. That might be up to you.

One thing that is necessary in being Jewish: total immersion as much as possible. It is absolutely required that we live in a Jewish neighborhood, within walking distance of an Orthodox synagogue. We spend our time doing Jewish things, learning from and interacting with other Jewish people, and so on and so forth.

Becoming Jewish involves a total «makeover» of all the spiritual aspects of your life. This cannot be done without the support of friends.


Check out the Noahides Yahoo Group, at: Rachav’s B’nai Noah Group to find out about the Noahide Movement.

The Teenage Convert

Here is a letter I received from a teenager who wants to convert to Judaism sometime in the future. Meanwhile, he is having problems with his family. (I have edited his letter a little.)


I am a Christian but I have strong Jewish beliefs. That is, one day I would like to be a child of Israel. The problem is, I am 16 years old and I live with two very much christian parents. I have recently engaged in never-ending arguments about whether or not Jesus is G-d or the Messiah.
The problem is, I can put forward a fair argument that he is not G-d, but I can’t seem to find evidence that he is not the Messiah. My main stumbling point is that I don’t know how to point the prophecies of Isaiah and the like away from Jesus. My mother can interpret the prophecies towards Jesus. Could you please help me? I know that Jesus is not the Messiah and it’s silly to say he’s G-d. But I would like to shut my parents up with their «the
only way to heaven is through Jesus» rubbish. So if you could give me any information, any quote that could help me, I would be ever thankful.

Thank you,
Michael Smith (not his real name)

Dear Michael,

Hi, I read your letter with interest. I understand the problem you have, with the conflict between what you believe and understand and what your family believes. This can be no easy trial.

I can give you the information you seek, or tell you where to get it. The information would be very useful, and eventually necessary, to you.

But before I do that, please allow me to mention something else. It says in Proverbs 3:17 that the ways of the Torah are «ways of sweetness, and all her paths are peace.» It is true that sometimes we have to fight, but it is usually best to attempt the way of peace first. And after all, it says in Psalms 133:1, «How good and sweet it is for brothers to sit together.» It must be even better to sit with parents, even when we disagree with them fundamentally and deeply.

You’re in a difficult situation. But what you believe, you believe. It obviously does not depend on what your parents believe. I admire you very much for strongly holding on to what you believe in the face of your parents’ objections. That’s a good thing, and you should try to keep that. But you must also remember that the Torah commands us to honor our parents. The Talmud says that of all the 613 Commandments in the Torah, the hardest one is «Honor your father and mother.»

And not only that, but the Torah commands us to treat our parents with awe also, not just honor (Leviticus 19:3).

Consider this: no Rabbi will convert you before you reach the age of adulthood according to the laws of your country or city. Do you really want to spend all your time until then fighting and being miserable?

A few days of not responding when someone is angry at you is usually enough to get them to stop. If you make it clear that you won’t get involved in a fight, adults will usually stop arguing or yelling. Not always, but usually.

But more importantly, the Torah awards great reward in the World To Come, and grants tremendous amounts of spiritual attainments in this world, to people who are silent during a fight. The Talmud (Sabbath 88b) says:

The Rabbis taught: Those who are insulted but do not insult, who hear their embarrassment but do not respond, they act with love and rejoice in their troubles, the Torah says about them (Judges 5:31): «And Hashem’s beloved are like the sunrise in all its glory.»

And the Talmud also says in Chullin 89a, «The world continues to exist only because of those who close their mouths during a fight.»

What you believe in your heart cannot be touched if you do not allow it. You can, meanwhile, study about Judaism, and be ready when the time comes, instead of being told that you are not ready to convert because you haven’t studied enough yet.

Because there will come a time when you will no longer be living at home, you will no longer be relying on your parents for the things you need. You will be on your own, and you will not need to fight with your parents over every big and little thing. And when the time comes, you will be ready.

If you truly wish to become a Child of Israel and fulfill the Torah’s Commandments to the best of your ability, perhaps you can start with this Commandment — that of honoring your parents and not fighting with them.

In the long run, you will gain nothing by fighting with them, because you will never be able to convince them.

But also try and understand them. Whether they are right or wrong, they probably feel pain because you do not believe what they believe. Most parents want their children to believe what they believe. Even atheists — who often say they want their children to make their own choices — feel pain when their children become religious.

You have to make your own choices in life. You must be true to yourself. You can’t — and shouldn’t — go against what you believe, and that’s not always easy. But you should try and lessen the pain for them. Don’t make them suffer. Believe it or not, they just might love you.

So, I will give you the information you request, but please, when you write things like «I would like to shut my parents up,» maybe you should consider another way — the way of peace and honor, if possible.

The information I give you should be for yourself. You should know and understand what Judaism believes. Don’t let Christians confuse you. But when you talk to your parents, try to explain to them that you love them, you don’t want to hurt them, but you have to do what you believe.

The very last sentence in the Mishnah (the skeleton Laws of the Talmud) is the teaching: «The Holy One, Blessed is He, showed us that the best container to hold blessings is peace. Therefore, the Torah (Psalms 29:11) says, «Hashem will give power to His people, Hashem will bless His people with peace.»

The Mishnah ends off with the word peace, and with a teaching about peace, and all our prayers throughout the prayer book end with a prayer for peace. For there is no power without peace, and there is no blessing without peace. (By the way, you greeted me with the word «Shalom.» Shalom means peace, and it also means «wholeness.» Without peace, there can be no completeness in a person.)

At the bottom is a link to a page you can look at with a list of pages that cite proofs against Christian beliefs.

I hope I have been able to help you. If you have questions about any specific «proof» your mother or any other Christian says, please write me and I will be glad to discuss the matter with you. If someone tries to prove something Christian to you by quoting a verse from the Jewish Bible, we can discuss it together, if that discussion does not appear on any of the websites in those links.

Also, feel free to write me about any other thing you want to discuss.

Usually, by the way, when your mother quotes you a verse, all you need to do is look up the chapter and verse being quoted. It is usually mistranslated, and it is almost always taken out of context. So, if you get a good translation, read the entire chapter (that is, the verses both before and after the verse being quoted), and you will usually see that the verse they quoted does not prove what they are saying. Quite the contrary, it usually proves the opposite of what the Christians say!

But the most important thing is to study and learn what you need to know. Read the articles on this site, and check out the links on my links page. There are many resources online from which to learn Judaism.

May Hashem be with you, and may you know only peace and completeness all your life.

Non-Orthodox Conversions: Are They Valid?

This is, understandably a very sensitive subject. I have no desire to offend anyone; I just wish to explain Jewish Law.

First and foremost, it is vital to understand that a principle of Orthodox Judaism is that we cannot permit anything that Jewish law has previously forbidden. It is the very essence of Orthodox Judaism that Jewish Law cannot allow and has not allowed such changes to take place, and that this has never taken place in all of our history (with one minor exception, possibly — that the Rabbis permitted writing down the basics of the Oral Torah — the Talmud — to prevent its being forgotten or changed).

Thus, we cannot change the Laws of the Torah by permitting what the Torah has forbidden, or by being more lenient than the Torah allows. This is axiomatic in Torah Judaism. Therefore, to us, any order that makes such a change, is to us heretical.

Of course, this applies not only to groups, but to individuals as well. Each Jew must do his or her best to keep the Torah fully, as much as is applicable to that person. Likewise, a convert must assume firm resolve to perform all the Commandments that will be relevant to him/her. A convert, at the time of conversion, must intend to keep the Commandments. If at the time of conversion s/he has (or had) no intention of keeping the Commandments, the conversion is not valid.

It is forbidden to convert someone who has an ulterior motive for converting. But if it should happen that a person converts and assumes all the Commandments, and we find out afterwards that s/he had an ulterior motive, the conversion is still valid.(1)

However, not assuming the responsibility of observing the Torah is another matter. The convert must declare before the full Court his intention to fulfill the Commandments. If he failed to do so, the conversion was never valid at all.(2)

When converting to non-Orthodoxy, whether it be Reform, Conservative, or Reconstructionist, one is ipso facto assuming very few (in some cases none) of the Commandments.

In other words, in most cases of non-Orthodox «conversion,» no conversion has taken place at all.

There are yet other issues. The presiding Judges must also act as witnesses to the conversion. A conversion is valid only if the witnesses themselves are valid witnesses in a Jewish Court. This has nothing to do with affiliation. An Orthodox Jew could be an invalid witness as well. Here are some of the disqualifications: someone who eats non-kosher food; one who publicly does not keep Sabbath or the Holidays, even if the infraction is minor; a gambler; a proven defrauder; a usurer; a freethinker; a heretic; or someone who has sworn falsely in court. Anyone who publicly does not fulfill even only one Jewish Law is not valid as a witness. (Past behavior, now corrected, usually does not count.) And not only sinners, but also someone who knows little or no Torah, even if he’s Orthodox, is not acceptable as a Rabbinic Judge.(4)

If the conversion has not been witnessed by people whom Jewish Law accepts as valid witnesses, no matter what their affiliation, Orthodox Judaism cannot accept that conversion.

These are just some of the reasons that make non-Orthodox conversions very problematic.

A friend of mine (an Orthodox Jew) is a convert who was first converted Conservative. He later learned about Orthodox Judaism, and decided this was what he wanted.

There was an interesting wrinkle in his case. The people witnessing his conversion were actually Orthodox. In the Midwestern town in which they lived there was no Orthodox synagogue in which to pray, so these aged Orthodox men prayed with the Conservative. The key factor here is that even though they were part of a conservative community, and prayed in a Conservative synagogue, they were fully and properly Observant. Thus, it seemed possible that his conversion, though it was done by the Conservative, could have been Halachically valid.

But then the Rabbi handling his Orthodox conversion discovered a very pivotal piece of information. The conservative official had failed to inform and teach this convert properly. He had refused to teach him the very basic Principle of Jewish Faith that the entire Torah — both the Written and Oral Torah — was created and composed by G-d, and given to us by G-d via great and open miracles at Mount Sinai. Furthermore, the Torah has not been changed since G-d composed it.

According to Maimonides (the classic Jewish legal codifier), this is a fundamental belief, and whoever does not accept this is a heretic and has no share in the World to Come. One who does not accept and believe this Principle is not a valid convert. Thus, this person’s «conversion» was not valid, despite the fact that acceptable witnesses were present at his performance of the conversion rituals.

The pity of it is that many Reform, Conservative, or Reconstructionist «converts» are very sincere. (For that matter, so are many of the Jews born into those movements.) It is often no fault of their own that they are not considered Jewish by that conversion. It is only their lack of knowledge, and the misleading assurances of the non-Orthodox leaders that they have «sufficiently» converted.

But a question remains: How can anyone say that non-Orthodox converts have not sufficiently converted? Aren’t they sincere?

This is indeed a good point.

Imagine that there was a member of the Iraqi underground (if there had been such a thing). He lives in Iraq, but he always resented Saddam Hussein. He considered and considers himself an American at heart. He fought valiantly against the Iraqi army on behalf of the United States. He planted American flags at every place he conquers. He dispersed tracts about the American form of government throughout Iraq.

One day, after the war ends, and he takes an aiplane flight to America. He arrives triumphantly on the shores of the U.S., and loudly demands to be given a mansion and free room and board, like any good American.

Understandably, people try to put some water on his fire. There is no mansion waiting for him, despite whatever he was told about Americans. He is also told that he is not yet a citizen. He must first fill out the forms, he must wait on line, he must get approved and accepted, he must swear or affirm an oath, he must actually find a job, and he must — gasp — pay taxes!

«But how can you do this to me?!» he shouts. «I am an American war hero! I am a citizen! It is my right! I have killed and put my life in danger for this country! How dare you tell me I have no right to call myself an American! And pay taxes? It’s an outrage!»

There can be little doubt of his sincerity. There can be no doubt of his desire to be an American, under his terms. But regardless of his sincerity, he has to follow the rules. If he does not file the forms, or take the oath, he cannot become an American citizen, regardless of his sincerity.

And if he refuses to pay taxes, he just might go to jail, or even get deported, regardless of his heroism.

The American ideal involves all the more difficult aspects of American life as well as the supposed freedom and liberty it touts. We must pay taxes, to keep the government we consider the bastion of freedom. We must keep within the speed limits when driving, because that is the price of republican government. And so on and so forth.

Above all, we must work for a living, because the American dream does not mean being supported by the government, but striking it rich through hard work and ingenuity.

Judaism has its rules as well. Not everyone who wants to be called Jewish is automatically called Jewish, just because s/he «feels Jewish.» They might even be a true hero — for which they are guaranteed to be rewarded — but they are not Jewish if they do not follow the procedure. And they are not exempt from obeying the Laws, regardless of their war record. They may be righteous Gentiles, and they may even be more righteous than some Jews, but that does not make them Jews. (Nor does it make them lesser people in any way.)

The degree of sincerity is irrelevant if the actual deed has not been done. If one has not converted to Judaism, one is not a Jew. If he is sincere, let him convert to Judaism.

There is only one kind of Jew, and every Jew is that kind of Jew. Some simply choose to ignore that, that’s all.

It must be agreed, however, that in more recent years many of the Rabbis of the Conservative Movement have taken some positive steps towards a firmer acceptance of Jewish Law. We hope and pray they will return completely, so we can all heal the breaches together, and not compromise Jewish Law in any way in doing so.


1. Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah, 268:12

2. Ibid, para 2

3. Ibid, para 1, 12

4. Culled from Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat, Laws of Judges, 7-8; Laws of Testimony, 34

How to Find a Rabbi or Synagogue

To find a Rabbi, visit one of these sites, and conduct a search.

Orthodox Union Synagogue Network
This search engine does not find all synagogues in an area; it has only a small percentage. However, some of them seem to be synagogues you might not find on most other lists.


A vast list of synaogues all over the world. This list looks like it’s almost a complete list.

Kosher Delight

This is actually an online magazine of some sort run by a restaurant, but one of its many features is lists of synagogues around the world.


For Chabad Lubavitch Centers around the world. Or try this link, for an alternate search engine at the same website.

Orthodox Conversion to Judaism

Run by the Rabbinical Council of America. Not an extensive site, but it has some interesting and useful information.

I strongly recommend joining the Orthodox Conversion to Judaism Yahoo Group and get involved with people at all stages of conversion, from considering it to comitted long-time converts.

Ohel Sarah Imenu

A conversion site dedicated to women.

If you are a practicing Noahide, here is a list of Rabbis that you may find of help: Ask Noah