Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk



Converting to Judaism


     Conversion to Judaism in America is far more common than it was in Europe, where such conversions were prohibited by the Christian churches until the beginning of the 20h century.

      There are today about 200,000 “Jews by Choice” in the United States. They have been converted to Judaism by all branches of the Jewish religious establishment. The principal reason for such conversions is intermarriage mostly undertaken by non-Jewish women who seek to marry a Jewish man. It is of course possible that some converts are convinced of Jewish teachings and have no motive other than to become a member of our ancient people.

      In order become a Jew it is important to understand basic Jewish beliefs, including the 13 Principles of the Jewish faith as proposed by Moses ben Maimon (1135-1204).

       These principles are: 1. The existence of God 2. The unity of God 3. God is a spirit and not human 4. God is eternal 5. God alone should be worshiped 6. Revelation through God’s prophets 7. Moses the pre-eminent prophet 8. God’s law given on Mt. Sinai 9. The Torah is the unchanging Law of God 10. God’s foreknowledge of human actions 11. Reward of good and retribution of evil 12. the coming of the Jewish messiah 13. The resurrection of the dead.

      It is the Jewish view that there is no trinity but only one God to whom one may pray without any intermediary. There is no original sin in Judaism but people are free to chose between good and evil.

       Converts will be taught that Judaism allows questioning all spiritual views and dogmas. Jews are also enjoined to maintain close families and communities.

        Although Judaism is a Messianic religion, Jews believe that the Messiah (smeared) is a human and not a god. Judaism also includes all righteous non-Jews in the belief that they too will be rewarded in “The World to Come”.

        Conversion is achieved by contacting a rabbi, who will assign a course of study and practice of the rituals such as lighting candles on the arrival of the Sabbath on Friday night, the use of Tefillin, the placing of a Mezuzah at he doorpost of a house, etc. Such study usually lasts one year, or it may last longer.

     Male converts will be required to undergo circumcision. Male and female conversion candidates will be asked by a board of rabbis why they wish to convert, what one has learned, if the candidate is willing to give up any previous religious beliefs and association, and if the candidate is willing to follow Jewish law. Finally, the candidate will choose a Hebrew name and then go to a ritual bath (Mikvah). The Sabbath after the conversion the new Jew will be called to the Torah (aliyah).

     In Israel and in the United States there has been some controversy concerning the conversion practices of the several denominations in Judaism. There are almost 500,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union in Israel who are not Jewish according to Jewish law. That law provides that the children of a Jewish mother are Jewish, no matter who the father. Reform Jews view the children of a Jewish father as Jewish even if the mother is not Jewish.

     Recently a bill was introduced into the Israeli parliament (Knesset) which is viewed by non-orthodox Jews as favoring the conversion to Judaism by only the orthodox to the exclusion of conservative, reform and reconstructionist believers. 

    Fearing that a law of this kind would damage relationships between American Jews and Israel, prime minister Netanyahu has declined to support such a bill. It is feared that a law favoring only orthodox conversion would alienate the majority of American Jews and threaten the unity of the Jewish people.

     Essentially, the issue remains “who is a Jew?”  That question has never been resolved and therefore it cannot be determined who needs conversion. For the time being, the controversy has been sidestepped. Yet, it will be an issue in the Jewish world again and again because no agreement within the Jewish community has been reached  between the Torah true (orthodox) and the other groups in Judaism.

     There is of course one definition of a Jew which has been most effective. That definition is that anyone persecuted for being a Jew has earned that distinction the hard way. May it never happen again.

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including The American Criminal Justice System (2010).