Conversion 101

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Conversion Process: Idea to Realization

The "birth" of a new Jew through conversion mirrors the process by which the Israelites became God's people and accepted God's covenant at Sinai: Circumcision, which male Israelites underwent before leaving Egypt, and immersion, which parallels the ritual cleansing performed by all Israelites at Sinai, are the sine qua non rituals of the conversion process. Full responsibility for every conversion rests in a three-person beit din, or rabbinic court, which searches out candidates' motivations, ascertains their knowledge of Judaism, and approves the conversions.

Contemporary Issues in Conversion

Because conversion requirements set the standard for who can legitimately be considered a Jew, disagreements between the movements on this issue have serious consequences for Jewish unity. Orthodox rabbis will generally not accept conversions performed by the liberal movements, who they believe do not fulfill all rabbinic requirements for conversion. Liberal rabbis, however, will usually accept any conversion performed under the auspices of a Jewish movement.

In Israel the "Who is a Jew?" issue is complicated because the Orthodox rabbinate controls all conversions. Another contemporary issue is the legitimacy of active outreach that some liberal rabbis are promoting as a response to assimilation and intermarriage--both to non-Jewish spouses in intermarriages and to the larger public.

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