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I am a Catholic interested in converting to Judaism. I was told online by a Rabbi that Orthodox is the only true way to convert. Is that true? I am looking for advice and guidance. Thank you

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    It's true according to Orthodox Jews. It's not true according to non-Orthodox Jews. Orthodox Jews believe that other types of conversions are not valid because they do not follow the proper procedure as defined by halacha nor do they hold the convert to the necessary standards of Jewish behavior as defined by halacha. Whether you're ok with not universally being accepted as Jewish is up to you. – Daniel Oct 29 '15 at 15:49
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    Welcome to Mi Yodeya. Unless you are particularly fond of the number '11338' you can feel free to change your username to something a bit more personable. A note of warning, we do not purport to be a rabbinic authority and you should not take halachic (legalistic) answers here as an alternative to asking a qualified rabbi. – Noach MiFrankfurt Oct 29 '15 at 15:52
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    @DoubleAA It's close but I lean toward not a duplicate. That question asks how Orthodox Jews hold on Reform conversions. This question does not seem to be requiring an answer from an Orthodox perspective (although it's unclear what kind of perspective the OP is looking for) – Daniel Oct 29 '15 at 16:04
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    @DoubleAA this might be closer to this asker's intent: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/26721/472 – Monica Cellio Oct 29 '15 at 16:10
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    @MonicaCellio, looks like a duplicate. – msh210 Oct 29 '15 at 20:32
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Depends what you mean by "true".

For millennia, Judaism believed roughly in the same things as what we now call Orthodox Judaism, and abided by roughly the same rules. So in that sense, yes, Orthodox Judaism is the only true way to convert: other conversions are not to Judaism.

However, if you want to convert to them, then by all means do so. There's nothing wrong with doing so that I know of[1], and you will be joining a large community of Whatever-Movement-You-Choose "Jews" who will, I trust, make you feel welcome and teach you about their version of Judaism.

Be aware, though, that you will not be considered Jewish[2] by Orthodox Jews, with all the privileges and responsibilities thereunto appertaining. (Which is why I put quotation marks in the preceding paragraph.) Not that there's anything wrong with that, but, for example, no Orthodox Jew will marry you.


[1] But I'm no rabbi or expert in Jewish law.

[2] Being Jewish, as Orthodox Jews define it and certainly as I'm using it in the phrase that led to this footnote, means having a certain technical legal status. This is not an ethnic or self-identification status.

  • i would argue the point that Jews as a whole believed in nearly the same thing for a millenia. – Aaron Oct 29 '15 at 16:09
  • @Aaron, Jews as a whole... well, the Bible is rife with examples of Jewish idolators. I said "Judaism", not "Jews". – msh210 Oct 29 '15 at 16:11
  • If you can have Rabbi Hillel in the Talmud say that Mashiach already came, and that it was Hizkiyahu, i think it shows more of spectrum than many in the Orthodox movement today. Ibn Ezra did not hesitate to quote Karaites, but now any commentator that quotes a "non Jewish source" is often attacked or removed from Synagogues – Aaron Oct 29 '15 at 17:01
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    @Aaron Key word "nearly". It's unquestionable that certain things are going to be more or less appropriate at different times, as is healthy and expected. FWIW Ibn Ezra usually quotes them to yell at them, and many synagogues would not remove such commentaries from their buildings. Again you are misrepresenting things, both in the magnitude of what was allegedly 'acceptable' and in the magnitude of how 'unacceptable' that thing currently is. I see though how doing so makes your story stronger... – Double AA Oct 29 '15 at 17:11
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    @Salmononius2 Hil. Mamrim (2:1) I do not think this requires גדול ממנו בחכמה ובמנין which he only mentions in the next halacha. Incidentally, I am not so sure that the Rambam agrees to the common belief termed "yeridas hadoros" I heard da talmid chacham and an academic both suggest that he does not. At the minimum I am unaware of him mentioning it. If something big changed before the time of the Mishna I am not sure where it would be recorded; there were no written legal works from the period. It might have even been forbidden to write as it was forbidden to write the Oral Law. – mevaqesh Oct 30 '15 at 6:02
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The definition of a Jew according to halacha (Jewish law) is

  1. Someone whose mother is Jewish (according to this definition)

or

  1. Someone who has converted according to halacha.

This is the first recursive algorithm known. The start point was the revelation at Sinai when all those who received the Torah converted at once.

Only the Orthodox conversion will make sure that you learn all that you need to do and will be accepted by everyone. If you convert in some heterodox movement (such as reform) you will be told that you do not actually need to follow the Torah (such as keeping the kosher food laws or not violating the Shabbat).

You should make sure that the bait din you use is accepted by the Israeli Rabbinate in order to avoid problems that could arise once you have converted. The Rabbinical Council of America could probably point you to someone in your local area who can help you as we see in this article

THE PROCESS OF CONVERSION TO JUDAISM gives an FAQ Here is the link to the contact information

You should find a rabbi who is an expert in guiding and working with converts in order to make sure that you are able to be taught properly and thoroughly. I do not know where you live, but you should try to find a local Orthodox rabbi who can speak with you and help with recommendations. It is always better to have someone who knows you personally that you can speak with, even if he is not the one teaching you.

May you have success on the path you are considering. While you may find difficulties as you go along, the results will be worth the trials.

  • Most RCA batei din are not accepted by the rabbanut AFAIK – Noach MiFrankfurt Oct 29 '15 at 15:53
  • @NoachmiFrankfurt You mean the Rabbanut of Israel? Is that true? I've never heard that. – Daniel Oct 29 '15 at 15:54
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    "You will need to make sure that the bait din (religious court) that supervises your conversion is also accepted by the Israeli Rabbinate as well." Why do you say that? Maybe this potential convert has no intention of ever making aliya. – Daniel Oct 29 '15 at 15:56
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    @Daniel I mentioned this to make sure that troubles do not arise. I knew someone who had converted with an invalid "bait din" and did not find out until she wanted to get married. It took a while to get it straightened out and to convert properly. Even if there is no intention of making Aliyah, it is better to be accepted everywhere. There are places that will insist on acceptance by the Rabbanut first when a ger is getting married even if they are not in Israel. – sabbahillel Oct 29 '15 at 15:57
  • @NoachmiFrankfurt Your claim does not seem to be correct: rabbis.org/news/article.cfm?id=105787 – Daniel Oct 29 '15 at 15:59
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What he likely meant by true was as defined by the Torah. There are other movements in Judaism that use their own ideas or outside ideas to be interjected into Judaism but orthodoxy as it defines itself is the one that uses Torah sources to define itself. This can be confusing for someone not currently an orthodox Jew as within Orthodoxy there are many different paths to follow and within those paths not everyone is 100% consistent as the human condition makes people (whether they realize or not). Something to consider is that Judaism isn't a religion. It's not an all in or nothing type of a deal when you are born Jewish. For such a person it is within the fabric of their being to be Jewish. They then can chose how to be involved in their Jewishness (hopefully by keeping the Torah as G-d wants us to). As for someone who converts. There is an idea that this person had within them a spark of a Jewish soul which only needed to be nurtured in order to be fully revealed which is done through the conversion process and by living a fully Jewish life according to the Torah. Like the Talmud says... a convert who converts. That is what was meant by true way to convert. Now as for the practical process of how that happens...

As for how to convert there are a few steps... 1) Acceptance of the whole Torah in belief and in practice. Before one finishes there are some comandments one will not fully observe such as sabbath and tefillin. (A rabbi can explain to you the details when you talk to him). Most conversion Rabbis require a period of learning as well. Strictly speaking that isn't part of the conversion process but the Rabbis want to set you up for success so that way when someone does convert they know how to live as a Jewish person according to the Torah. 2) Bris Milah/circumcision. (Males only) If you haven't had one you will need to get one. If you have someone will need to inspect to find out if complete and no foreskin remains.If complete then only a small drop of blood is required. 3) Mikvah. After the circumcision one showers, cuts nails, removes all dirt and anything that would come between the person and the mikvah water. Before going in the Rabbis will usually ask once more if you are sure if you want to go through with this as the Jewish people are persecuted and it will not be easy to keep all of the mitzvas. If yes you go under once then you say a blessing and then go under once more 4) Sacrifice. Since the Beis HaMikdash currently does not stands were are not permitted to bring sacrifices but in the time of Moshiach we will once more and all converts will bring their sacrifices then

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If I asked a Catholic priest about converting to Christianity, he would also say Catholicism, as opposed to Protestantism or Eastern or Coptic is the way to go. This website is (Jewish) orthodox and naturally we would agree that Orthodox conversion is the only type we recognize but if you go to other movements, they will say their way is true also. In my humble opinion, reform and conservative put huge emphasis on "tikkun olam" (fixing the world, acts of kindness etc) and if that's what you are after, you can already do those things as a Christian.

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    This website is not orthodox. – Double AA Oct 29 '15 at 16:37
  • But most of the top rated questions and answers are based on orthodox theology and not those of other sects. – Clint Eastwood Oct 29 '15 at 22:18
  • Not "but", but "and". And what's your point? – Double AA Oct 29 '15 at 22:23
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As someone else pointed out, it depends on your definition of true, and once you've defined true, you then need to ask, true to whom? You, your community, or God?

I know someone that keeps Orthodox halacha for Kashruth, Shabbat, etc, because he believes that the Oral Tradition is valid, was given by God to Moses, who handed it down through the sages, and so forth. However, he thinks that "Orthodox Judaism," being a response to the Reform movement, stopped its natural course of development, and became fixed in a way it never was before. Therefore he joined the conservative movement because while he at times may think it passes certain halachoth he may not agree with, he believes the movement is more true/authentic than the Orthodox movement. For him, he believes that he is being more true by being "Conservative" and he believes God would agree with him. But the Orthodox world wouldn't agree with him, and if he hadn't have been born Jewish, he would not be recognized as Jewish by the Orthodox movement.

Also, conversions in the Orthodox movement are turning stricter than ever before, in a way that is often inauthentic, or false to the way halacha has normatively been followed for centuries. The Orthodox movement has a nasty habit of saying "The strictest opinion is the correct one! And its always been that way! It's so true, you should never open a book and see how it was done 100 years ago!" i've heard many arguments along the following "Well only the orthodox movement makes sure you learn all the mitzvot which is required! Only the orthodox movement makes sure you don't have alterior motives! Only the Orthodox movement makes sure to disqualify your conversion if you start going off the track later!"

But there's a funny thing about that...

The Talmud, Rambam, and Shulhan Arukh 1) do not demand nor expect a candidate for conversion to learn all the mitzvoth prior to conversion; 2) do not demand nor expect a candidate for conversion to promise to observe all the mitzvoth in specific detail; 3) do not demand an extended period of study before conversion; 4) do not equate conversion with a total acceptance to observe Torah and mitzvoth, but rather see conversion as a way for a non-Jew to become a member of the Jewish people;13 5) do recognize the validity of conversions even when the convert came with ulterior motives, even when the convert was ignorant of basic laws of Judaism; 6) do not allow for the retroactive annulment of a conversion, even when the convert continued to worship idols after converting to Judaism.

Source:http://www.hakirah.org/vol%207%20Angel.pdf

And yet the modern "Orthodox Movement" does the opposite of every single one of these points. Replacing the normative halachah/hashkafah with their new opinions, and then attempting to retroactively say that's how things were always done. But the "Orthodox movement" does hold the keys to being Jewish. So any other type of conversion could always cause problems for you later, such as will your kids be considered Jewish for attending Jewish schools, or will you or your partner be allowed to be buried in a Jewish cemetery, etc etc.

So if you want to be recognized as a Jew by every single type of Jewish community, then you HAVE to convert Orthodox. If that isn't a concern, you have many options/movements for you, and some may seem more authentic than others. If you are worried about what God thinks, you may not have to convert at all, please read up on Noachides.

In the end your best bet you should speak to a competent and honest Rabbi who is aware of all the halakhic opinions and can help render a decision that's best for you.

My then girlfriend now wife was wanting to convert, we asked an Orthodox Rabbi that we knew who he would recommend for the conversion. He recommended she convert conservative. Why? Because she is a professional musician, who sings in public, which would be problematic for most converting Orthodox Rabbis to sign off on. And also because the Orthodox Rabbi himself had to convert Orthodox twice because his first conversion was revoked, not because he had done anything, but the Rabbi who had overseen his conversion was disqualified, and so all his prior conversions became revoked.

  • @Aaron, your block quote makes 6 assertions about what the Talmud does or does not say. #2 (as an example) is contradicted by Bechoros 30b ("An idol worshiper who comes to accept Torah except for one thing we do not accept him"). Most of the remain points have counter arguments in the Talmud as well, not to mention Rambam and Shulchan Aruch. I would encourage you to read this article to get a flavor of the actual primary sources involved. If you don't know Hebrew, ask someone you know to learn it with you - it is worth it. – Yishai Oct 29 '15 at 19:11
  • @Yishai i believe your example of "does not accept one thing" is a different case. In that case, the Idol Worshipper is aware of all the mitzvot and says i will not accept this one, or i will never accept this one. There is no contradiction, they are separate cases. One is refusing to follow a mitzvah, the other is not aware of all of them yet – Aaron Oct 29 '15 at 20:01
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Monica Cellio Oct 29 '15 at 21:05
  • @Aaron, The impression #2 gives is that if someone has reservations (such as about a requirement to not sing in public) the Talmud doesn't require such commitment. But it isn't consistent with #4 as well. #6 contradicts one side of the argument in Kiddushin 75b that retracts the conversion of the Samaritans. I could go on, but I think the article I linked you to will do a much better job. – Yishai Oct 29 '15 at 22:45

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