Judaism's three streams on conversion

November 30, 2005 03:55
3 minute read.


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IN ORTHODOX JUDAISM all converts are expected to adhere to the entire halacha (Orthodox Jewish law). There is a gamut of opinions in Orthodoxy regarding the level of commitment to halacha expected from a prospective convert. However, in Israel the vast majority of rabbinical judges who work under the auspices of the Conversion Authority in the Prime Minister's Office demand that prospective converts adopt an Orthodox lifestyle during the 10 to 12 months of preparation and learning leading up to conversion. Judges, based on their subjective impression, attempt to ascertain the seriousness of the candidate and his or her interest and knowledge about Judaism. If the judge is convinced the candidate is honest and serious about embracing Orthodoxy, he or she is accepted. Men are circumcised and must be immersed in a mikve. Women are immersed in a mikve wearing a loose-fitting robe. CONSERVATIVE JUDAISM is more lenient than Orthodox Judaism in its understanding of rabbinic freedom to adapt Jewish law to modernity, but is more stringent in comparison to Reform Judaism. Conservative Judaism demands less of prospective converts than Orthodox Judaism, according Rabbi Ehud Bandel, the former head of the Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel, and future rabbi of the Conservative community in Melbourne, Australia. For instance, Conservative Judaism allows the use of electricity on Shabbat. Communities outside Israel are allowed to travel in their cars on Shabbat to get to the synagogue. Adhering to the laws of family purity is not a condition for converting to Conservative Judaism. Prospective converts are not expected to remove their children from the secular school system and place them in state religious schools, as is demanded by Orthodox conversion courts. In addition, rabbinical judges who sit on Conservative conversion courts are given more freedom to accept converts who have not committed themselves completely to Conservative Judaism's norms, but appear to be sincere in their intention to embrace Judaism. The outward technicalities of the Conservative conversion process are essentially the same as the Orthodox process. There is a one-year preparation course, a basic obligation to keep commandments in accordance with Conservative Judaism's demands, a rabbinic court interview, immersion in a mikve [ritual bath] and circumcision for men. IN REFORM JUDAISM, complete freedom is given to converts to decide whether to adhere or not to adhere to religious demands. Converts are expected to make an educated, responsible decision regarding practice after studying for one year. During this year, five principle subjects are learned: Jewish history, life cycles (birth through burial), the holidays, the Jewish home (kashrut, family purity) and prayer. Unlike Orthodox and Conservative converts, who immerse themselves nude in a mikve (ritual bath), Reform converts in Israel immerse themselves in the Mediterranean ocean while wearing a bathing suit. During the winter months, there is a slowdown in the number of conversions due to the cold, according to Rabbi Helena Rubinstein, head of conversions in the Israeli Reform Movement's immigrants department.

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