Secular Conversions?

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The topic of conversion has been in the news a lot recently. Jerusalem street sceneWe at JOI believe that conversion should be an option for everyone who’s interested, by lowering the barriers that impede accessibility. But there is another voice pushing for accessibility to conversions, and it comes from an unexpected source: secular Israeli Jews.

Interfaith couples sometimes approach me to discuss conversion. And often, the biggest challenge is not that one partner is Jewish and the other Christian, but that one is interested in religion and the other is not. In this context, it almost doesn’t matter in what religion or which partner. As a rabbi, I have only one conversion option to offer—a religious one—with the understanding that the various movements do have different religious requirements.

In Israel, there is a call for something else: secular conversions. If indeed the majority of Jews are not religious, should a non-religious conversion option be made available? Humanistic Judaism (non-theistic) considers people Jewish if they self-identify as Jewish, regardless of their heritage or beliefs; the idea of a secular conversion was also brought to the forefront some time ago by Yossi Beilin, a leader of the Meretz-Yachad party in Israel. Part of the push in Israel stems from frustration with the (Orthodox) religious authority in matters of conversion, marriage, and divorce, but the idea of a secular conversion is not irrelevant for the Jewish community here in North America. There is certainly a tension between the fact that a person can be Jewish and entirely secular, but one cannot become Jewish except through religious conversion. What do people think about this idea of a secular conversion?


  1. secular conversion should certainly be an option:
    for all those who feel connected to our people but are not Jews according to halacha: descendants of Jews, partners of Jews.
    Not all those who do religious conversions today, really care for religion… They take the religious path only because there is no alternative, and thus lie to the rabbis and lie to our people, and to themselves: a very unworthy way of doing things.
    I am in favour of disconnecting religion from nation, religious conversion from naturalisation.
    My independent Jewish community Klal Israel (2 synagogues in The Netherlands) is considering opening a path to secular conversion parallel to religious conversion.

    Comment by ies tal — June 24, 2006 @ 2:14 pm

  2. I would like to hear more about the current situation with the secular conversion. Is it a real thing, is it recognized by the rabbanute in Israel, if not, will it ever see the light of day?

    Comment by Abigail Everett — December 27, 2012 @ 11:49 am

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