My father is Jewish, my mother had a Catholic upbringing but doesn't identify with a religion. I was raised Jewish and had a Bat Mitzvah in a Reform synagogue at age 12. In order to be recognized as Jewish in a Conservative or other Jewish communities, should I "convert to Judaism?" Or does the fact that I've been deemed a Jewish adult by the Reform community count me as Jewish for these other communities?
From your question, I am not sure you are interested in hearing what an Orthodox Rabbi would say about your situation, but I think that for your future, and more importantly, for the future of your eventual children, you ought to consider this:
As you say, you are only possibly accepted as Jewish by the Reform movement. You wonder whether you need a conversion to be accepted by Conservative. What you are in fact saying is that already at this point, you are accepted as Jewish by some and not by others in the NON-Orthodox Jewish world.
As you surely already know, as a person born of a non-Jewish mother, you would not be accepted as Jewish in the Orthodox community without a proper Halachic conversion.
I feel bad for you – through no fault of your own, you were born into a situation in which you are in a sort of religious and national no man's land – accepted as Jewish by some but not by others. That is the bitter fruit of intermarriage
My question for you is – Is this what you want for your children someday? Do you want to further a situation in which their Jewish-ness will be questioned – and rejected – or, you are serious about fully wanting to be a full member of the Jewish people, do you want to consider a conversion that will be acceptable to all Jews – whether Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, or non-affiliated ?
My father is Jewish, my mother had a Catholic upbringing but doesn't identify with a religion. I was raised Jewish and had a Bat Mitzvah in a Reform synagogue at age 12. In order to be recognized as Jewish in a Conservative Synagogue, should I "convert to Judaism?" Or does the fact that I've been deemed a Jewish adult by the Reform community count me as Jewish?
Great question, and the short answer is this: If you want to be recognized as Jewish in a Conservative synagogue, you should seek out a Conservative rabbi and ascertain what would be necessary to confirm your status as a member of the Jewish people. It’s possible that your parents went through the necessary steps to have you converted when you were a baby; it’s possible that they didn’t. To determine what would be necessary now, you need to speak to a rabbi.
Here is the longer answer:
What is Jewishness? In some respects, it’s a feeling. For example, if a person observes Jewish holidays, has Jewish friends, and thinks of him or herself as a Jew, we might say that he or she is “Jewish,” by which we might mean that he or she has a Jewish personality or Jewish qualities, or identifies as a Jew.
But in some respects, Jewishness is more like citizenship.
I once knew someone who came to the U.S. at a very young age. She grew up in America. She dressed like an American. She spoke English without an accent and she certainly felt very American. Most people she encountered thought of her as an American -- but in fact, until she took and passed a citizenship examination (which she eventually did), she wasn’t (fully) an American, because she wasn’t a citizen of the United States.
The same is (sort of) true with Jewishness. Traditional Jewish law deems the child of a non-Jewish mother, however he or she is raised, to be a non-Jewish person, unless that person enters the Jewish people through a conversion process. Therefore, according to Jewish law, unless your parents brought you through such a process when you were a child, or you have gone through such a process since then, you are not (yet) Jewish – in the citizenship sense. You may feel yourself to be Jewish, you may identify with the Jewish people, but you’re not (yet) Jewish, in the fullest sense of the word.
If you want to be Jewish in the fullest sense of the word, I’d urge you to convert.
Now, there is a complication in analogizing Jewishness to citizenship – which is why I used the phrase “sort of” in the paragraph above. About thirty years ago, the Reform movement decided that the traditional “naturalization” procedure of conversion need not be carried out in a situation like yours. Within the Reform movement, so long as one of your parents was or is Jewish, and you’ve been raised as a Jew, you can be deemed to be Jewish – even though you have not crossed the traditional “t’s” or dotted the traditional “i’s.” That’s why you could celebrate a bat mitzvah in a Reform congregation without having gone through a formal conversion procedure.
And so, within the Reform Jewish world (which, in this country, is large), you not only feel Jewish, you actually are Jewish. So you might wonder why you need to bother to go through any procedure. But the fact remains that, among Conservative Jews, you would not be considered (fully) Jewish unless and until you went through a conversion process.
Therefore, if it matters to you to be accepted as a Jew among Conservative as well as Reform Jews, I would urge you to pursue conversion. For someone in your position, it could be rather straightforward. After all, for many intents and purposes, you are already Jewish. So your pursuit of conversion would be a far more streamlined process than it would otherwise be.
There is one more complication I should mention. Unfortunately, conversion has become highly politicized. The sad truth is that Orthodox rabbinic authorities do not, as a rule, recognize Conservative conversions. Even if you went through a rigorous study program and went through a conversion process that was fully in keeping with Jewish law (halakhah), so long as the supervising rabbis were Conservative, that would be enough to call your conversion into question in the Orthodox world. Hence, if you would like to be Orthodox and would wish to have your status as a Jew accepted in the Orthodox world, you should go to an Orthodox rabbi to ascertain what would be necessary to achieve that.
Your situation is actually Talmudically represented as it would occasionally happen that a non-Jewish mother who had a child and raised her as a Jew would convert to Judaism. The child would be converted, too, but would not be accepted as fully Jewish until and unless they made a public declaration 'leshem geyrut' - for the sake of stating unequivocally that they are Jewish and taking upon themselves the mitzvot, etc. The bat mitzvah ceremony today fulfills that role as the child is publicly stating the she takes upon herself the profound joys of being a Jew.
Will a traditional synagogue accept that? Hard to say as they may not accept the conversion of the mother in the first place. In your case, the mother never converted. It is quite possible that you would have to 'convert' according to a traditional outline. This is something the rabbi would need to discuss with you. But don't hold your breath - if you are seen as a non-Jew in every regard, most traditional rabbis do conversions very reluctantly and over a long period of time.
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