Welcoming (Without Pushing) Conversion

This past weekend Rabbi Eric Yoffie spoke to 4200 Reform Jews at theA 'mikva,' ritual bath for Jewish conversion Union for Reform Judaism’s biennial convention. Among the various things he said was that synagogues have a responsibility to encourage the conversion of non-Jewish spouses who are among the members of the over 900 URJ member congregations. This is something that we have heard before from the platform of the URJ, especially from Rabbi Alexander Schindler of blessed memory who was a pioneer in reaching out to intermarried families.

We encourage conversion and we believe that the community should make it easier not harder for people to convert to Judaism by lowering the same barriers to conversion that have been erected around other programs too. But we hope communal professionals will not confuse Yoffie’s exhortation as an outreach strategy.

People who have joined synagogues have taken major steps in joining the community and casting their lot with the Jewish people. They are raising Jewish children. It is easy to catch people, so to speak, when they are running in our direction. Their rabbis will know them personally — and know where they are in their lives and in their spiritual journeys — before even broaching the subject of conversion. Those on the periphery however, especially those who are intermarried, are not going to be motivated to “dip a toe in the [Jewish] water” if they believe that what we are really interested in is their conversion. Part of being a warm and nurturing community is understanding people’s needs at different points in their lives, and providing meaningful experiences at every point along the way. If conversion is part of that journey, terrific. If not, there’s still a place in our community for warmth and growth without judgment or coercion.


  1. I don’t see anything wrong with encouraging conversion. We have a “good product,” why shouldn’t we want to promote it? At the same time, in our outreach efforts, we need to be clear that we’re NOT pre-conditioning acceptance into our community on conversion. We should encourage an intermarried family to raise the kids Jewish, and if a non-Jewish spouse is supportive, we should acknowledge them in appropriate ways. Even if the non-Jewish spouse is not interested in conversion, I would still encourage attending an Introduction to Judaism course so that he/she will know more about what goes into creating a Jewish home.

    Comment by Rabbi Barry Leff — November 30, 2005 @ 10:34 am

  2. Matrilineal, patrilineal, standards of conversion?

    Is it not time to turn the whole experience of the spiritual people inside out, returning it to the freedom of our biblical ancestors who understood what many amongst the native nations of America have known: that identity goes from the inside out rather than the outside in.

    Judaism Inside Out: Reclaiming the Promise of Israel is a book I have written discussing the contemporary situation in which people born of Jewish parents have nothing to do with Judaism and people who have embraced Judaism but not “converted properly” are not considered Jews. I would be delighted to communicate with anyone who wishes to pursue these ideas. Rabbi Joshua Chasan, Ohavi Zedek Synagogue, Burlington, Vermont.

    Comment by Joshua Chasan — November 30, 2005 @ 6:49 pm

  3. The Orthodox are not ‘promoting’ their product to the Gentiles and they are growing. The promoting conservatives and reforms are shrinking.

    Comment by Dave — December 2, 2005 @ 9:40 pm

  4. Thanks for this smart and cogent response. I quoted from it fairly extensively in a recent blog post responding to the New York Times article about this issue; if you’re interested, my piece is here.

    Comment by Rachel — February 14, 2006 @ 5:36 pm

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