My father was Jewish. I am married to a Jewish man. My children were raised in a very Conservative Jewish way, and have married into almost Orthodox families. I consider myself a Jew. Where can I convert to be accepted as fully Jewish in ALL Jewish communities?
I am a mainstream, normative Orthodox rabbi, and I say to you, with sensitivity and with honesty — because your question reflects that you want to hear the truth and not puffery that merely will make you feel good about yourself for a few minutes — that mainstream, normative Orthodox Judaism does not recognize the child of a non-Jewish birth-mother as a Jew unless that child converts to Judaism in accordance with the standards of Orthodox Jewish law. Thus, your status as a Jew is not related to whether your husband is Jewish, how you rear your children, whom they marry, how you feel or identify, or anything other than your birth mother. If she was not Jewish, then you are not. If you are not, that means — because you are the female —that your children are not, and their children will not be. And someday, long after we all are gone, some descendant will learn, “out of left field,” that (s)he will have to go through the process of an Orthodox conversion in order to marry the Jewish person whom (s)he loves and who loves her or him, because no one previously in the family tree underwent that conversion process.
You can change that “Ghost of Chanukah Future” and can assure your lineage its Judaic authenticity for all time to come. To do so, you would have to undergo an Orthodox conversion.
I have been involved rabbinically in situations like yours, and someone with your situation presently is in our shul’s conversion program. For an overview of our shul’s and my approach, please see: http://www.rabbidov.com/conversion/conversion.htm
Basically, you would need to undergo an Orthodox conversion (“Gerut,” in Sephardic modern Israeli pronunciation; “Geirus,” in Ashkenazic / Yiddish pronunciation). The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) has coordinated its Orthodox conversion program in America with standards accepted by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. http://www.rabbis.org/conversion.cfm That helps conversion candidates know that the Orthodox conversion to Judaism they are pursuing now will be accepted by mainstream normative Orthodox institutions in Israel now and in the future. http://www.judaismconversion.org/ Thus, you may wish to contact RCA’s Beth Din of America (BDA) at: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you ask any other Orthodox rabbinical resource besides RCA and its BDA to conduct you through a process that would lead to an Orthodox conversion, ask the rabbi to sign the following statement: “I personally assure you and vouch that the process of conversion that our Beth Din offers will result, upon your successful completion of the program, in an Orthodox conversion that will be accepted by mainstream normative Orthodox institutions in Israel so that your future generations will be accepted by mainstream normative Orthodox institutions in Israel.” If the rabbi will not make you that assurance, you may draw the proper inference.
It is heart-breaking to meet people who have gone through a Reform conversion, then a Conservative conversion, only to learn what neither of their previous converting agencies ever disclosed to them that their descendants will not be accepted as Jews in Israel and that, as Orthodox Jews continue their demographic emergence among American Jews over the next half century, will not be accepted as Jews by huge swaths of the Jewish population here either. As such two-time converts approach me for their “third conversion,” the question they ask me, with tears in their eyes, is: “Why didn’t the previous rabbis disclose to me the problems I would encounter in gaining recognition as a legitimate convert to Judaism, here and in Israel?”
I cannot answer for them, but I hope this answer from an Orthodox rabbi has helped and will guide you on your journey to attain authenticity. I wish for you the fulfillment of your dreams and aspirations.
Our sense of Jewish identity and our formal status as Jews are two separate realms, each with a significance and importance in our lives. You clearly have a strong sense of Jewish identity. It is completely understandable that you desire to align your formal Jewish status with your strong personal sense of Jewish identity in the broadest Jewish circles possible.
However, we are part of a people whose Torah teaches us to study and to interpret Torah using both our minds and our hearts - a tradition that encourages us to listen and to learn from widely diverse understandings of Torah.
Within our diverse Jewish world, differing understandings of what constitutes acceptance of Torah and mitzvoth (commandments), coupled with differing understandings of who is considered an acceptable member of the Bet Din that witnesses, lead to divergent standards in regard to conversion.
As a result, the reality is that there is no place where a person may convert and automatically be assured that that conversion will be universally recognized by all Jewish communities.
I would encourage you to follow your heart and to consult with a rabbi, or better yet, with rabbis of the various denominations, in your area to determine which of the paths toward conversion and toward aligning your strong Jewish identity with your formal status as a Jew might suit you best in as wide as possible a circle of Jewish communities.
It has been my privilege and honor to accompany many people in similar circumstances through the process of determining the most appropriate venue for them to confirm their Jewish identity and align it with their formal status as Jews through the process of conversion. In my experience, in the end, it was not the universal acceptance that gave significance to this important step, it was the fact that a person found a path that resonated deeply with their understanding of Jewish life, teachings, history, and wisdom – a path that united their personal sense of identity with a communal and historical sense of belonging. The community or denomination that one ultimately chooses, will be enriched by that choice, and the person choosing that community will be enriched by being a part of that community.
May you go from strength to strength as you search for the best way to align your strong sense of Jewish identity with your formal status as a member of the Jewish people.
The query above is something of a "no-brainer" even as it raises some of the most contentious matters in contemporary Jewish life. The simple response to the questioner’s direct inquiry is “No.”
To elaborate, were the individual to convert under Reform auspices, the following is the likely outcome: all Reform authorities and institutions would recognize the conversion as an authentic initiation into Jewish life. Depending on the ritual involved in conversion, many Conservative authorities would accept the person as fully Jewish, and no Orthodox authorities would acknowledge the conversion as valid.
Assuming a conversion takes place within a Conservative setting, it is my understanding that all Reform and practically all Conservative authorities would recognize the conversion, and no Orthodox ones would do similarly. Should the person convert in the Orthodox community, while all Reform and Conservative leaders would accept the conversion, such would not necessarily confer universal acceptance in the Orthodox world, as the matter of whose conversions will receive universal recognition in the Orthodox camp is filled with controversy.
In short the questioner simply must consult with her "home" Rabbi for guidance, and while her goal of full recognition likely is not attainable, it may be the case – depending on her choices and commitment about observance – that a path exists that will result in a conversion viewed by the community or communities she identifies with as authentic and binding.
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