I am a Hispanic male that decided to convert to Orthodox Judaism. My best friend belongs to the Reform movement of Judaism and she told me that Hispanics are not allowed to convert to Orthodox Judaism and that only the Conservative and Reform movements allow Hispanics to convert. I wanted to see what Rabbis from the various movements would say, and if an Orthodox rabbi agrees with her.
I am honored that you have considered coming “under the wings of the Divine Presence—the Shechinah.” Conversion is a wonderful, but huge undertaking. I am certain you understand, this is by no means required of you.
I have previously written on the subject of giyur (conversion to Judaism). Some of this will be quoted below for the sake of a complete response.
It is vital that you understand a couple of things. Firstly, a particular Jew may be well-meaning and give an answer to a particular “Jewish” question, but by no means is that Jew actually reflecting the truth of Judaism as historically understood. Secondly, to my way of thinking, there should be no such idea as conversion to “Orthodox,” “Conservative,” or “Reform” Judaism.
In Judaism, as understood traditionally, one is either “Jewish” by definition or not. This is certainly true of halakhically observant Judaism. This means, that we look to our Rabbinic sages for direction and definition, to determine whether or not a given individual has fulfilled the requirements of being born of a Jewish mother or properly converted.
Naturally, I am approaching the matter from an Orthodox or traditionally observant perspective, but this is your stated desire, to be converted halakhically (according to Jewish Law) within Orthodox Judaism. This makes one 100% Jewish. It will not make one into an “Orthodox Jew,” a “Conservative Jew, a “Reform Jew,” a “Reconstructionist Jew,” a “Humanist Jew” only a bona fide “Jew.”
In the eyes of Torah law, once a Jew, always a Jew.
When a Jew moves to another community and says that he or she is Jewish, this should be sufficient until they desire to change their status, such as in a marriage situation. Then it is appropriate for a community rabbi to ask for halakhic evidence or proof. If, however, a converted Jew comes to the new community and states “I am a converted Jew,” then it is appropriate to ask for proof of conversion and it may even be required that additional steps be undertaken for that individual to be admitted to the new community, such as an additional immersion in a Jewishly approved ritualarium—mikveh. This should not be frowned upon, but accepted as part and parcel of Judaism and its standards.
Even when I was studying Rabbinical studies in yeshivah—Talmudic academy in Jerusalem, and went to the Jerusalem Rabbinate to get married, they demanded proof and two witnesses from the yeshivah to attest to the fact that I was Jewish. This seemed odd to me at the time, since I was studying to be a Rabbi and was every day studying Talmud in the academy with Israeli Rabbis.
Let us turn to the matter of Hispanics or non-Hispanics. There is no such thing as Hispanic or non-Hispanic in the eyes of Jewish Law. There is only one thing and that is “human.” All human beings are created “b’tzelem E-lohim—in the image of God.” All human being are created equal and that is final.
Your Jewish friend was expressing a regrettable misconception. We must all remember this: all human beings are created in the image of God. You can never get any better than that. This fact is true of all Jewish movements, including Orthodoxy. There is no such thing as race or heritage as it pertains to Judaism and religious conversion.
Perhaps your Jewish friend was expressing an incorrect perception of Orthodox Judaism. This too is regrettable. We must get beyond such stereotyping of Jewish movements.
Wishing you much success in your endeavors—b’hatzlahah!
Now for a review of some pertinent matter from my previous writing for Jewish Values Online:
“The concerns expressed about the status of a ger (convert/proselyte) or giyoret (feminine) in Jewish tradition cover the gamut of possible approaches historically as to total acceptance on the one hand or suspicion on the other. The founders of our people Abraham and Sarah are seen in Rabbinic tradition as those who brought others under the “wings of the Divine Presence—the Shechinah.”
As we look through Rabbinic sources there are many negative statements about proselytes, but these are balanced with the positive. For example, “Whosoever becomes a Jew (mit-gayer) but not for the sake of Heaven, is no true convert.” (Tractate Gerim) “A convert is regarded as an infant (katan) new-born.” (Talmud Yevamot)
Whenever I am asked, “How does one become Jewish?” I answer, “By being born Jewish or becoming Jewish.” There are really only two ways of being Jewish; being born of a Jewish mother or converting through the procedure known as giyyur (conversion).
As is well-known there are other thoughts and approaches to this important subject, but these are seen as counter to Jewish Law—the Halakhah.”
First let me state very clearly: no major Rabbinic authorities, Orthodox or otherwise, argue for racial or ethnic limitations of any kind on who may convert to Judaism. The only requirement is study, a genuine desire to join the Jewish People, and the proper conversion rituals. So no one would ever say that someone who is Hispanic is not allowed to convert.
That is not to say that your conversion would be a simple matter. The real difference is that many Orthodox rabbis are much more hesitant about accepting or encouraging converts than those in other movements. This in part has its source in traditions about the proper requirements for conversion. The sources for our approach to conversion say, in essence, that on the one hand we should initially discourage a potential convert in order to test their sincerity, but on the other should not make the process overly difficult.
It also stems from three related philosophical questions. First, what should be considered a valid reason for wanting to convert? Should someone be able to convert in order to marry a Jew, or in order to get automatic citizenship in the state of Israel? Or must a potential convert come with “purer” motives? Second, what level of commitment to Judaism must a prospective convert demonstrate? Only a minimum involvement with Jewish traditions or the intent to follow a much higher and more stringent level of Jewish observance? And third, should we view an inflow of new converts as an opportunity to be embraced or a source for potential strife to be viewed with suspicion?
Rabbis in most parts of the Orthodox world today have moved firmly toward the pole of placing roadblocks in the way of conversion. Given that the large majority of Jews around the world are not strictly observant, they have argued for much higher demands regarding the level of observance to which a convert must commit. They also tend to view with strong suspicion the motives of people who share less culturally with the Jewish community, whether Hispanics, Asians, or others. There is also, though, a small but growing number of liberal Orthodox rabbis who are pushing back against this trend and want to be more welcoming to converts.
In short, you will not find that you are considered ineligible for conversion because of your racial identity. However, in the current, contentious climate surrounding conversion in the Orthodox world, unless you are currently living among and involved with an Orthodox community, it may be difficult, though not impossible, to find an Orthodox rabbi who would be interested in being your guide, while Conservative and Reform rabbis are likely to be more open to your request.
Different Jewish denominations do not make any discrimination when it comes to conversion. As long as a person interested in conversion is wiling to follow the guide lines of the specific rabbi he or she is working with, there should be no reason why they could not follow the process.
Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. Jewish Values Online
N O T I C E
THE VIEWS EXPRESSED IN ANSWERS PROVIDED HEREIN ARE THOSE OF THE INDIVIDUAL JVO PANEL MEMBERS, AND DO NOT
NECESSARILY REFLECT OR REPRESENT THE VIEWS OF THE ORTHODOX, CONSERVATIVE OR REFORM MOVEMENTS, RESPECTIVELY.