“I’m considering converting to Judaism but am concerned about my acceptance in the Jewish world. Initially I was going to convert to Orthodox Judaism so it would be accepted by everyone, but I found that the requirements and theology were too rigid for me. Will I be accepted as a Jew by my future Jewish in-laws if I convert to Reform, Conservative or Reconstructionist Judaism? What about at other synagogues, or even in Israel?”
The answer I want to give you is that of course everyone in the Jewish world will treat and welcome you as a brother or sister. Unfortunately the reality is that there’s not just one universally accepted conversion in the Jewish world. Different movements have different standards for conversion based on their traditions and understanding of Halacha, or Jewish law. A program of conversion can include regular attendance at religious services, becoming a member of a Jewish community, a course of study of basic Judaism, regular meetings with a rabbi, acceptance of certain religious practices, and traditional rituals, such as immersion in a mikveh, or ritual bath. Some rabbis will accept conversions performed in different movements if certain conditions are met, while others will not. One of the questions to ask of any rabbi or conversion program is about the acceptance of their conversions more broadly in the Jewish world.
In Israel, the acceptance of converts of various movements is particularly confusing. Under the Law of Return, Jews who converted under Reform or Conservative movement auspices are entitled to move to Israel and obtain citizenship. That said, the Orthodox Rabbinate, which controls religious life in Israel, does not accept Reform, Conservative and even some Orthodox conversions. It is thus possible to be considered Jewish for reason of immigration to Israel, but not for having a wedding in Israel.
But most people in the non-Orthodox Jewish world will accept most conversions, be they Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist or by a non-affiliated rabbi with proper ethics and credentials. I have seen many families, including Israelis and traditionally observant Jews, embrace a new family member who has made the commitment to Judaism and the Jewish people. Jews by choice are beloved members and leaders in their synagogues. There are also rabbis, educators and cantors serving as leaders of the Jewish people who were not born Jewish. While I can’t guarantee that you won’t encounter negativity, you are far more likely to receive a warm embrace in the Jewish community, no matter which movement you choose to pursue conversion.
Curious to learn more about conversion? The Jewish Discovery Institute is just one great resource in Boston.
For families where parents maintain more than one religious tradition, InterfaithFamily offers resources and community.