I have a question regarding my status as a Jew and whether it is proper to call myself one. My father is Jewish, my mother is not. I had a bris milah performed by a rabbi shortly after I was born, but was then raised Catholic by my mother.
I always identified with being a Jew and when people ask I answer affirmatively. I have made aliyah to Israel and am studying in ulpan if that makes any difference.
If I am not considered Jewish, I plan to undergo a recognized conversion. What is involved in that?
Questions of Jewish status, especially in the contemporary context are not simple. I have been asked about Jewish status and conversion over a period of many years and would be glad to shed some light on the subject for your personal situation.
Let me be quite straight forward. Decades ago in Jerusalem having studied for the year in an Israeli yeshivah, I went to the Rabbanut—the Rabbinate to apply for what can be called a marriage license. I was told that I would have to bring two witnesses that know me from America and written proof that I was Jewish.
I thought that this was preposterous since I was studying in a yeshivah and studying to be a rabbi. If I’m not Jewish, why would I be studying in a yeshivah in Israel and to be a rabbi? The answer I would think is, that no one in today’s world can be too careful and it is required of all who want to marry religiously and most especially by the tenets of orthodox Judaism.
Parenthetically, one of my ei-dim (witnesses), who happened to be my roommate and knew me very well from both America and Israel, got so flustered under the rabbinic interrogation that he could not think straight and how to respond to the rabbis, testifying that he knew that I am Jewish!
Now to deal more directly to your question. I believe that you have accurately and honestly presented your religious status and that you continue to grow in your love and devotion to Judaism. It is understandable that you are somewhat uncomfortable with your true status in the eyes of Torah Judaism. You know that by the standards of many—other than Torah observant Jews—you would be considered Jewish with no further steps taken. This, however, is not our position rabbinically, which requires additional steps and a conversion—giyur through a recognized rabbinic court—beit din.
Given your obvious love of Judaism and devotion, the beit din in your locale should make the process rather easy and not as lengthy as a novice first approaching the topic.
Just as with other circumcised males who are not yet Jewish, a competent mohel—ritual circumciser will have to examine your milah—circumcision to be sure that it meets with Jewish custom, most likely requiring a ‘ha-a-ta-fat dam b’rit’—a drop of blood of circumcision and in the presence of three, forming a beit din. This requirement will be left to the discretion of the actual beit din.
My advice is to go to a rabbinic court with a high degree of acceptance so that you do not find yourself continually in a state of limbo, religiously, especially if you move to another area and will have to establish your status anew.
You will be required to immerse yourself in a ritualarium—a mikveh in the presence of the beit din and to place yourself under the ‘Yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven’—Ole Malekhut Shamayim, renouncing any allegiances to another god or religion.
Once you have properly been accepted, a ‘certificate of conversion’—te-u-dat giyur will be issued and signed.
Wishing you every success in your endeavors, then you will never be hesitant or uncomfortable to proudly proclaim your Jewishness.
Hi, I have a question regarding my status as a Jew and whether it is proper to call myself one. My Father is Jewish, my Mother is not. I had a Bris Milah performed by a rabbi shortly after I was born, but was then raised Catholic by my mother. I always identified with being a Jew and when people ask I answer affirmatively. I have made Aliyah to Israel and am studying in Ulpan if that makes any difference. If I am informed that I am not considered Jewish I plan to undergo a recognized conversion and I wonder what is involved in that? Thank you, Sam
Thank you for your openness and candor in asking your question.
As both of the other respondents have pointed out, halakhah recognizes as Jewish only those people who are born to a Jewish mother or have a halakhically valid conversion. While Reform rabbis changed their position on this matter in the early 1980s, Conservative rabbis continue to affirm only the traditional definitions of “Jewish” (http://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/sites/default/files/public/halakhah/teshuvot/20012004/31.pdf).
That said, many people today find themselves somewhere “in between” – your father is Jewish but your mother is not; you had a bris but were raised as Catholic; and yet you identify was Jewish and have made aliyah.
The fundamental question you face is, what kind of recognition are you looking for? To be recognized as Jewish for the purposes of counting in a minyan in a Conservative synagogue, you would need a formal conversion; depending on the circumstances of your bris you may only need to undertake a course of study and go to the mikveh, but that determination would need to be made by the rabbis sponsoring your conversion. As you have already made aliyah, you know that according to Israel’s Law of Return you are considered Jewish with respect to citizenship; but you are also probably becoming aware that, for matters of personal status (including marriage), Israel’s Chief Rabbinate will not consider you “Jewish” and will not permit you to marry a Jew in Israel (marriages conducted abroad would still be recognized).
The legal issues around conversion in Israel are complicated, and you should consult a local rabbi to get up-to-date answers; in theory, Israel’s Ministry of Religion is supposed to recognize conversions performed by non-Orthodox rabbis, but in practice they often refuse to do so. If you would like to speak with a Conservative rabbi about your specific situation, the website of Israel’s Masorti Movement (http://www.masorti.org/) can help you find someone neaby.
Whatever direction you choose, I wish you success and blessing as you move forward.
Thanks for your question Sam and for your commitment to Israel and the Jewish people.
It might be helpful here to make a distinction between the sociological and religious. There are many people whose background is akin to yours and make their home in the Jewish community. In the same way that you have been welcomed into the Israeli community, you would find yourself welcomed into many other Jewish communities. In other words, sociologically you can make a claim to being a Jew. Religiously, the answer is a bit different.
As I’m sure you can find in both the Orthodox and Conservative answers to this question, according to halakha, Jewish religious law, a Jew is someone born of a Jewish mother. Reform Judaism modified this definition in the early 1980’s by widening the circle of descent to both mother and father and adding to it the proviso that the person had to be actively raised in the faith. Although you had a brit, you were not actively raised within Jewish tradition (i.e. Jewishly educated and practicing) and cannot claim Jewish status. But the good news is the sociological counts for something and I am confident, would open almost any Jewish door to you.
In other words, if you wish to be considered Jewish in all realms of Jewish life, particularly with respect to participation in synagogue worship and lifecycle events such as marriage, you would have to undergo conversion. Every rabbi has their own program for this, but it always involves study and participation in synagogue life. For most Reform rabbis conservation itself involves milah (ritual immersion), Hatafat Dam (a drawing of blood, given that you’re circumcised), and then going before a Beit Din, a rabbinical court of three rabbis. That said, because you have demonstrated a clear commitment to the Jewish people and your Jewish heritage, I know you would find rabbis of all denominations eager to help you along this road. One thing you should note is that in Israel only Orthodox conversion will give you formal Jewish status with respect to lifecycle events such as marriage.
Thank you for your question and may you be blessed on your Jewish journey.
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