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I'm writing a story where a young man raised in a devout Conservative family risks suicidal odds to rescue an Orthodox girl who fell onto the subway tracks hurting her ankle, who is about to be crushed within the minute by a subway train. Heaven grants them both the luck they need. The girl is persuaded by this young man's action that he is 'righteous', of superior innate moral character, so she consents to meet with him further and eventually introduces him to how much more beautiful Orthodoxy can be.

Does Orthodoxy allow for "up-conversion"?

Are the mamzerut issues on the boy's side cancelled out by his new birth as an Orthodox regardless of any prior ancestry that he has?

Since the boy has existing training does he still need to study for a year, or is some of the training abbreviated by what he already knows?

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1 - Conservative and Mamzerut are two separate issues. If the boy is Jewish (his mother is Jewish) then he does not need to convert. He would be considered a Baal Teshuva, one who has repented. He does not require any specific training, although if he is serious about his orthodoxy should learn the Mitzvos in order to lead a proper orthodox life.

2 - If the boy is a Mamzer and Jewish then conversion is not helpful as he would remain a Mamzer.

3 - If the boy is not Jewish there is no Halacha of Mamzer by a non Jew. He would have to convert and he may marry a Jewish girl.

http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0013_0_13122.html

On the other hand, as the offspring of a union between a Jew and a gentile takes the status of the mother, a child born of a mamzer and a gentile mother will be gentile and not a mamzer; thus after proper conversion to Judaism, he will acquire the status of a legitimate proselyte and the fact that his father was a mamzer will be wholly irrelevant (Kid. 67a, Rashi; Maim., Yad, Issurei Bi'ah 15:3; Tur and Beit Yosef, EH 4; Sh. Ar., EH 4:20).

This answer only covers situations where the boys Jewishness or lack of it, can be clearly established.

  • Point (2). Some Orthodox rabbis will not allow marriage to a declared Jew lesser than Orthodox because the prospective can't produce a paper train indicating over however many hundreds of years that he isn't. Regarding point (3) some Orthodox do not consider non-Orthodox "declared Jews" to be Jewish at all, because they lack a ketubic paper trail. How do those issues get resolved? – eternalsquire Nov 26 '14 at 2:11
  • Regarding point 2 & 3 - some Rabbis will require Giyur Lchumra, which means conversion is required, however the person will remain a Mamzer. I am talking where it can be clearly established whether the boy is Jewish or not. – Gershon Gold Nov 26 '14 at 2:14
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    You can ask that as a separate question judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/ask – Gershon Gold Nov 26 '14 at 2:38
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    @eternalsquire I really think you are overstating the strictness here, although different communities/bet dins may rule differently. My local Orthodox rabbi (Telz Yeshivish) considers as Jews people who had Jewish mothers but were raised secular and whose parents (and even grandparents) did not have an Orthodox ketubah. Your characterization may be appropriate for your story in a given community, but you need to be careful with this plot or it may not ring true to a Jewish reader. Maybe if other details demonstrate that this is a machmir community... – Mike Nov 26 '14 at 5:34
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    @eternalsquire there's a huge difference between the words Jew and Judaism, and it's all too commonly misunderstood. Orthodox doesn't recognize Conservative or Reform practices as Judaism. Whether or not someone is a Jew has absolutely nothing to do with their beliefs or practices. A person born to a Jewess is a Jew. If a man has a Gentile father, a Jewess mother, and converts to Zoroastrianism... he's still a Jew. Likewise, a child of two Gentile parents who attends shabbat services every week, but never had a proper conversion, is still a Gentile. – Jake Nov 26 '14 at 11:59
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In summary: if we can reasonably ascertain his (or her) maternal Jewish ancestry, and he (or she) wasn't born from a woman who remarried without a proper religious divorce, then there's no conversion necessary. This fellow isn't a "Conservative Jew" who has to magically become an "Orthodox Jew"; s/he's a "Jew" who currently affiliates Conservative and keeps some of the mitzvot as defined by Orthodoxy, and wants to affiliate Orthodox and keep all of the mitzvot as defined by Orthodoxy. Okay. Plenty of people take on more religious observance over time, and it's not uncommon to meet those who were raised Conservative then reaffiliated Orthodox at some point. There are even couples (though this is rarer now than it used to be) where one is Conservative and the other is Orthodox, and they work things out -- though that gets tricky if there are kids in the picture. But I've seen this work for a second marriage of older folks -- one drives to a Conservative synagogue, the other walks to an Orthodox one.

And if s/he says "I believe it's okay to drive on Shabbat, but if you marry me I won't, for your sake"? That's okay too, things like that happen. (As long as they're honest with each other.)

In short, good luck with your story! But this is actually a lot less dramatic than you may be thinking.

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