Converted Reform? You’re not a Jew

By Charles Golding, June 13, 2008

The Orthodox columnist offers his own scathing view of what he calls a ‘failed Reform experiment’

Not a week passes in the Jewish media without a reference to it. Acres of print are devoted to its analysis. Diverse stories all boil down to one question. Who is a Jew?

In Israel, a religious court has ruled that conversions performed by the head of the conversion authority are not halachically valid, leaving people who thought they were Jewish in limbo. In London, children are barred from a Jewish school because, despite having Jewish fathers, their mothers did not convert halachically — so they are not Jewish. A new scheme has opened for young Russian Israelis doing their army service, offering a quickie six-month Jewish conversion. The Jews of Britain are increasing in number, we’re told, or maybe not — depending on who is counted as Jewish.

It’s the “Who is a Jew” thing again and again — the old-wine-in-new-bottles arguments. And yet — it is so simple, so very simple.

You are Jewish if your mother is Jewish. It doesn’t matter about your father — he can be Buddhist, Afro-Caribbean or Saudi-Arabian; it makes not a jot of difference to your Jewish status. You’re Jewish if your mother is Jewish or if you converted to Judaism according to the halachah. If you did it any other way, you’re not a Jew. I know that’s upsetting to read, and hideously unfair on the children who suffer the consequences of their parents’ folly. But I didn’t make this up. 

It’s actually amazingly simple, really. Now, if you want to make a succah, there are dozens of laws telling you what is and isn’t kosher. The light through the roof has to be just so; the height and the number of walls — even your intention when building the succah is taken into account.

But one of the defining principles of Judaism is glaringly easy. You’re a Jew through matrilineal descent or halachic conversion. And there is no other way. Yes, it’s hard; it takes time and dedication and a quantum leap in lifestyle. But it depends how dedicated you really are. 

No matter who tells you to the contrary, you are not going to be counted as a Jew unless you do it properly.  If you take the one-year “Jew-Maker Lite” programme, then the only ones who will call you a Jew are the makers of the programme. I hear these euphemisms today: “She’s half-Jewish,” they say. Half-Jewish? That’s like being half-pregnant. You’re either pregnant or you’re not. 

The halachah is what it’s all about. Make no mistake: Reform, progressive, Conservative, Masorti, reconstructionist — these man-made groups operate a pick-’n’-mix style halachah more akin to “Jewish-style” food: it looks and smells like the real thing, but it isn’t. Without the halachah, it is impossible to be Jewish.

Real converts know the score — you don’t become Jewish by passing a year’s diploma. Woody Allen joked that he’d done two years of a three-year black-studies course. “If I’d done the extra year,” he said, “I’d be black by now.” 

The biggest advocates are not those after academic discussion; if you look at the people who push this deformation of Judaism (excluding their officials), the majority of them have a clear agenda. They want to marry a non-Jew. They want their bride accepted as a Jew because they want Jewish children or their parents not to be too embarrassed, or, indeed, they want to be regarded as still Jewish; which of course they are. But their wives and children? Sadly not. 

One day, a wealthy and influential chap assailed me about this subject. “My Israel charity will not do business with you unless you recognise my wife and children as real Jews — and my rabbi,” he said. I replied that his rabbi was a Jew because his mother was, but the others... 

The Reform experiment of “Grow-Your-Own-Jews” has utterly failed on its own terms as well. Instead of producing hundreds of reformed Jews, according to the latest American Conservative figures, they have produced a generation of grandchildren who in the majority assimilate or marry out. It’s the same in the UK, and they know it. 

Last year the Reform organisation got upset that an Israeli minister wouldn’t call its official a rabbi. Some readers of the JC wrote in to complain when I did the same thing on the same principle. It’s time that reformist movements stopped looking for Jews to recognise their new religions and for themselves to recognise that they are Jews if their mothers are — not by their own non-halachic conversions, or the say-so of an official who presides over same-sex marriages.

Charles Golding is a broadcaster and journalist. He runs media and presentation training courses at

    Last updated: 1:40pm, June 17 2008



    Tue, 07/01/2008 - 11:34

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    When I wanted to marry in a United Synagogue shul, I had to go to the London Beth Din with my parents ketubah and my fiancee with her parents ketubah. We had to prove we were BOTH Jewish. Its all very well saying your a Jew if your mother is a Jew, but in practice this is not true. To be an orthodox Jew, recognised by ALL authorities, you need two halachically Jewish parents.


    Wed, 07/02/2008 - 01:17

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    I find this article insulting to say the least. These are the closed minded attitudes that completely split world jewry. Time for a reality check. Young jews who are members of United Synagogues are just as likely to marry out as members of Reform/Liberal/Masorti synagogues. I attended a united synagogue high school, i left at 18 three years ago and i know of at least 10 girls who are now married or engaged to non-jewish men, none of these girls are from reform backgrounds. There were only 80 people in my age group in the school! I know few people who have married out from reform backgrounds and those who have still lead an active jewish life and in most cases their new partners have chosen one to take part in the 'failed reform experient'. The Reform Movement in North America has an estimated 1.4 Million members, The Conservative Movement has around 1 Million. Orthodox = 500,00. I dont think you need to worry too much about acceptance in north america as most reform conversions are accepted even in conservative shuls. We are witnessing a massive change in the dynamics of our community here in Britain. More children are attending jewish day schools, however this alone will not garuantee our survival. Children need to learn to love and cherish Judaism, how can anyone love and cherish our faith when members of the Jewish people come out with these sort of comments that are deeply offensive, hurtful and discriminative.


    Wed, 09/17/2008 - 17:47

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    If I wouldn't know better, I would say 'unbelivable' to this bold Mr Goldin chap. Bold - because I think one should be bold to post such an offensive, discriminatory and inflamatory piece of of material .

    In the 21st century people should be able to reform their religious views in the same way they reform their cultural, political and social views. Without reform, tolerance and consideration there is no progress. In a democratic, advanced society there is room for all religious orientations and there is dialogue between these.

    The Orthodox Court is not the one who should have monopoly over deciding who is a Jew or who is not or over people's spiritual choices. After all, if a human being embraces Jewish religion and values and wants to live by these, they will do so regardless of whether some religious authority will approve or not. Their choice should be respected, appreciated, valued and embraced. The fact that this human being, equal in all ways to Mr Goldin and his likes, will not be given a chance to have a Jewish education and will be a persona non-grata in the Jewish community if he/she will not play by strict rules imposed by a minority, is tragic.
    As a Jew, it makes me sick...

    It is great though to know that people like Mr Goldin will not prevail, as schools such as a new reformed one to open in 2010 will embrace all who see themselves as Jewish ,mother or father inherited ...