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If a person is Jewish by maternal decent, but can't prove it conclusively through documents. Do they need to convert? Do they need normal conversion or giyur l'chumra? What are the steps involved? I read about giyur lechumra, but heard that it can only be done back four generations. Is that true?

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"What should [you] do?" You should speak to a qualified Rabbi. –  Double AA Apr 4 '13 at 6:04
    
As the FAQ list says, "Questions that appear to be requests for personal practical advice will be either edited to more general wording or closed". I really can't see how to generalize this, so I'm closing it. By all means generalize it if possible, comment here with @msh210 to ping me, and I'll be glad to reopen it. And, as @DoubleAA noted, consult a rabbi qualified to convert for practical advice. –  msh210 Apr 4 '13 at 6:48
    
@msh210 Take a look at the edits, and tell me if you think this question will stand? It is substantively the same without being as personally directed.(IMHO) –  Rabbi Michael Tzadok Apr 4 '13 at 7:53
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Is giyur l'chumra procedurally any different than gerut for someone who's definitely not jewish? (Or does it simply mean we 're being machmir to do gerut for someone who we suspect is Jewish.) –  Chanoch Apr 4 '13 at 10:55
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Nicely edited, @RabbiMichaelTzadok. Thanks. Reopening. –  msh210 Apr 4 '13 at 14:09
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1 Answer 1

I don't believe any recognized Beit Din will do giyur, or giyur l'chumra to someone who is otherwise validly Jewish. Typically a Beit Din, if there is a possibility that you are legitimately Jewish, will require that you hire a genealogist. I worked for a while with Vaad HaRabbonim Haolami LeInyonei Giyur under Rav Eliahshiv and have been a part of several cases with the Israeli Rabbinut(as an askan for Rav Ovadia Yosef) and that was the standard procedure. Most commonly it was applied to Sem girls who wanted to marry in Israel and needed definitive genealogical proof of Judaism.

Almost every nation has birth, death and burial records going back hundreds of years. All you would need is to connect the dots, matrilineally to someome buried in a Jewish graveyard(at a minimum). In a case that I was a part of in Philadelphia twelve years ago with Rav Dov Brisman, we had a girl with a genealogists report that gave her matrilineal decent back 7 generations, and that sufficed.

As far as Giyur L'Chumra, how recent(or not) the suspected claim of Judaism is that a Beit Din will want is entirely up to the Beit Din. There is no halakha for it. According to the Shulhan Arukh Y"D 269(and thus the way of the Israeli Rabbinate) a Giyur L'Chumra is only done when there is a prior conversion by an unknown/unrecognized Beit Din, and then only under very specific circumstances. I know that the Israeli Rabbinut has broadened(and at times restricted) that definition over the years. For an understanding of that one would need to look in the various Teshuvot in the Yaskil Avdei starting with volume 4(that is when the Rav became the first president of Beit Din HaGadol), and the various volumes of Piskei Din.

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Thanks for editing, and being so polite about it. My first time posting, and this site looked like it would be a place for answers. And if the genealogist comes up empty-handed? Then what? –  Needhelp Apr 4 '13 at 16:05
    
@Needhelp I think you will be surprised what a professional genealogist can come up with. If they come up empty handed contact me directly and I will direct you to the proper people in your area. –  Rabbi Michael Tzadok Apr 4 '13 at 16:10
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@RabbiMichaelTzadok: I am an amateur geneologist and I have to admit that geneology is not an exact science. It is often described as an "art" because their are a lot of subjective educated guesswork that goes on. My family tree goes back 12 or more generations, but I have doubts about a branch starting with a great x2 grandmother because I'm uncertain which of three peopel was her father (they all have similar names). Maiden names are also hard to find. Jewish geneology is even harder as birth records in Europe were not common and there birth dates were not particularly important to know. –  Bruce James Apr 4 '13 at 16:25
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@BruceJames There are some Jewish Genealogical research groups(professionals) that do quite a good job, and there are some professional genealogists that do as well. There's one organization that the Israeli Rabbinut works with(an NGO) that does absolutely amazing work. It's about knowing where and how to look. –  Rabbi Michael Tzadok Apr 4 '13 at 16:30
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@Needhelp It isn't so much a matter of ease, it is a matter of what is halakhically permissible under the circumstances. There are serious halakhic problems with doing a conversion for someone who is authentically Jewish. Israel may have your records if you were born in Germany. They can trace most German families back about 500yrs. Let me ask around at the institutes here in Israel to see what is what. I think some of them are fairly inexpensive. –  Rabbi Michael Tzadok Apr 4 '13 at 16:38
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