Conservative and Reform Jewish Conversions “Not Kosher”?

Are Conservative and Reform Conversions ‘Kosher’?

It has become common, due to modern Jewish politics, for one group of Jews to negate the Jewish identity and status of other Jews if they belong to and/or have converted to Judaism through sects of Judaism, other than that of the Jews doing to the gate-keeping  and negating of another’s Jewish identity.  The Orthodox movement does not recognize the conversions of the Conservative movement. The Conservative movement doesn’t consider the conversions done by those in the Reform movement to be valid and the Reform are the most liberal in identifying Jewish identity. Meanwhile in the history of Judaism, there were no sects or denominations to determine “HOW Jewish” one was, you were either observant or not observant.

So Whose Conversions are Valid?

Let’s look at some interesting statements from the HaZaL and rabbis about converts, that suggests that even if one converted to Judaism through ‘Reform’ or ‘Conservative’ denominations, they are still to be considered Jews.

“רב ושמואל דאמרי תרוייהו מתניתין בתינוק שנשבה לבין הנכרים וגר שנתגייר לבין הנכרים אבל הכיר ולבסוף שכח חייב על כל שבת ושבת תנן השוכח עיקר שבת לאו מכלל דהויא ליה ידיעה מעיקרא לא מאי כל השוכח עיקר שבת דהיתה שכוח ממנו עיקרה של שבת אבל הכיר ולבסוף שכח מאי חייב על כל שבת ושבת אדתני היודע עיקר שבת ועשה מלאכות הרבה בשבתות הרבה חייב על כל שבת ושבת ליתני הכיר ולבסוף שכח וכ”ש הא מאי היודע עיקר שבת מי שהיה יודע עיקרה של שבת ושכחה”

(Rav and Sh’muel both maintain: [In context of the Shabbath] Our Mishnah considers the treatment of a child who was taken captive among the nations, or a proselyte who became converted in the midst of the nations. But if one knew and subsequently forgot, he is liable [to a sin-offering] for every Shabbath. We learned: ‘HE WHO FORGETs THE ESSENTIAL LAW OF THE SHABBATH’: surely that implies that he knew [it] originally? — No: what is meant by this is, HE WHO FORGETS THE ESSENTIAL LAW OF THE SHABBATH? That the very existence of the Shabbath was UNKNOWN to him. But what if he knew and subsequently forgot; he is liable for every Shabbath? Then instead of teaching, HE WHO KNOWS THE ESSENTIAL LAW OF THE SHABBATH AND PERFORMS MANY LABORS ON MANY SHABBATHS, INCURS A SIN-OFFERING ON ACCOUNT OF EACH SABBATH: let him teach, He who knew and subsequently forgot, and how much more so this one? What is meant by, HE WHO KNOWS THE ESSENTIAL LAW OF THE SHABBATH? That he who knew the essential law of the Shabbath and forgot it.)

The above suggests that there could be a convert who was not taught well about the miswoth (commandments), including one as important as the Shabbath, or perhaps never learned to observe it, and is still considered a convert. It is obvious that whatever beth din this type of individual went before didn’t do a thorough job at teaching the miswah of the Shabbath. Many today in ‘normative’ Judaism wouldn’t consider such a court ‘kosher’, but that view isn’t consistent with the HaZaL in this context.

The RaMBaM taught that there were those who weren’t even observant or knew little or no Torah knowledge, made a ‘beth din’, to receive converts and their proselytes are still to be considered ‘Jews’.

“על פי כן היו גרים הרבה מתגיירים בימי דויד ושלמה, בפני הדיוטות.  והיו בית דין הגדול חוששין להם, לא דוחין אותן, אחר שטבלו מכל מקום; ולא מקרבין אותן, עד שתיראה אחריתם.”
(…there were many people who converted in the presence of ORDINARY [Jewish] PEOPLE during the era of Dawid and Shelomoh. The Great Sanhedrin would view them with skepticism. Since they immersed themselves, they would not reject them, but they would not marry them until it was made clear their true intentions.) -MT Hikhoth Issure Bi’ah 13,15

RaMBaM further says:
“גר שלא בדקו אחריו, או שלא הודיעוהו המצוות ועונשן, ומל וטבל בפני שלושה הדיוטות–הרי זה גר:  ואפילו נודע שבשביל דבר הוא מתגייר–הואיל ומל וטבל, יצא מכלל הגויים; וחוששין לו, עד שיתבאר צדקותו.  אפילו חזר ועבד עבודה זרה–הרי הוא כישראל משומד, שקידושיו קידושין; ומצוה להחזיר אבידתו, מאחר שטבל נעשה כישראל.  ולפיכך קיים שמשון ושלמה נשותיהן, ואף על פי שנגלה סודן”
(When a court did not check a [potential] converts background and did not inform him of the miswoth (commandments) and the punishment for [the failure to observe] the miswoth and he circumcised himself and immersed in the presence of three ordinary [Jewish] people, he is a convert. Even if it is discovered that he converted for an ulterior motive, since he circumcised himself and converted, he has departed from the category of gentiles and we view him with skepticism until his righteousness is revealed.) MT Hilkhoth Issure Bi’ah 13,18

Here it is clear, that the Beth Kenesseth Gadolah, themselves recognized the conversion by a beth din of ‘ordinary’ or non-learned men of Torah, like those whom many would consider the ‘Reform’ or Conservative Jews to be.

I’d like to hear some of your thoughts on this issue.

*MT=Mishne Torah

One comment


    Sure, makes sense. I studied with Rabbi Gershon Winkler (world authority on Jewish Shamanism, former Boro Park rabbi and very learned) and as long as conversion is halachic, with mikveh and all other halachic requirements, we accept it. No need to put chumros — Ramban says those who put chumros cause Jewish people to sin, which is in line with what D’vorim says re. not only not subtracting, but also not adding. Kol tuv.

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