Question: It seems that there is a significant increase of late in the number of people seeking to convert to Judaism. Is this true, and if so, why?
It is true that in recent years we have seen a significant rise in the number of people who are seeking to convert to Halachic Judaism. The world has become so frightfully decadent and immoral that people are seeking solid values and real meaning in their lives. But there are other factors as well:
Many potential converts are zera yisrael — they have some “Jewish blood” flowing in their veins. The catastrophe of intermarriage has produced many people who consider themselves Jewish — they have either a Jewish father or grandfather – but who are not considered Jewish according to Halachah. Upon discovering that that they are not Jewish, many come to Beis Din with the request to undergo a proper conversion.
Or, young Jewish men and women who married non-Jewish spouses, and later became ba’alei teshuvah, now seek to convert their spouses to Orthodox Judaism. The Detroit Beis Din, like most other Batei Dinim around the United States, follows the ruling of Rav Elyashiv Shlita, who permits and encourages Batei Dinim to convert non-Jewish spouses provided that the convert satisfies all of the rigid demands of an Orthodox conversion.
Question: What does the Halachah require of one who wants to convert to Judaism?
First and foremost, a convert must obligate himself to fulfill all of the commandments of the Torah, both the positive ones and the negatives ones without any exception, and all rabbinical laws and universally-accepted Jewish customs. While the Halachah does not expect a convert to be knowledgeable in all of the details of the all of the mitzvos, it does require a total and complete acceptance of all Biblical and rabbinic commandments. Even if a potential convert agrees to keep all of the commandants except one, his conversion is invalid, even b’diavad.
Once Beis Din is satisfied that the convert is committed to complete mitzvah observance, Beis Din will require the convert to spend at least a year studying and learning what Judaism is all about — both hashkaficaly and Halachically. As his knowledge of the religion grows, the convert will be required to show the Beis Din that he is turning theory into practice: Among other things, Beis Din will require that he or she keep Shabbos to the best of their ability, dress modestly, recite the proper blessings over food and attend Shul services regularly. When Beis Din is satisfied that the potential convert has a clear understanding of what is going to be required of him as a committed Jew, the final rites of circumcision (for males) and immersion in a mikveh will take place.
Question: What does Beis Din do when a non-Jew who previously underwent a Conservative or Reform conversion applies for an Orthodox one?
According to Halachah, a Conservative or Reform conversion is invalid for a number of reasons, the most important being that those movements do not require the convert to keep all of the commandments of the Torah. A conversion without a sincere acceptance of mitzvah performance is devoid of any Halachic significance and is not considered a conversion at all. Thus Beis din will treat a Conservative or Reform convert as a total non-Jew and will deal with him like any other non-Jew who applies for conversion.
Question: Does Beis Din accept all those who apply for conversion?
Absolutely not. As a matter of fact, the great majority of applicants never reach the final stage of conversion. Some drop out on their own after coming to realize what the Halachah demands for a proper conversion. Many others are intimidated by a Beis Din who deliberately makes it very difficult for them to convert. It is Beis Din’s duty to discover whether or not the convert has a “hidden agenda,” e.g., if he wishes to convert for monetary gain or to marry a Jewish spouse. If Beis Din finds or suspects an ulterior motive, Beis Din will not permit the conversion to take place. It is only a small number of truly dedicated converts — those who seek to convert totally for the sake of Heaven and are able to withstand the rigorous requirements for an Halachic conversion — who are able to complete the entire course and actually convert to Halachic Judaism.
Question: How should one treat a potential convert during his probation period?
During the time that a non-Jew is studying to become a Jew, it is important to remember that he is still considered a non-Jew. Even if he underwent circumcision but did not yet immerse in a mikveh, he is not considered a Jew. He may not touch or pour kosher wine or grape juice (unless it is pre-cooked); he may not be left alone in the kitchen without supervision; and he may not date a Jewish person. In addition, while he may be invited to one’s home for a Shabbos meal, he may not be invited for a Yom Tov meal. There are other restrictions which may apply in individual cases and which one should discuss with his rabbi.
Question: How should we treat a convert once his conversion is completed?
The Torah warns us in numerous places about how sensitive we must be towards converts once they have properly converted. Not only is it strictly forbidden to discriminate against them, but we are commanded over and over again to love them, respect them, assist them and treat them as if they were Jews from birth. Indeed, with the exception of some specific halachic restrictions concerning potential marriage partners, there is no difference between a Jew by choice and a Jew from birth – both are considered fully Jewish according to the Torah and one may not distinguish between them.
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