The Reform movement is expecting a rise in conversions of more than a quarter this year — what may be its highest number on record.
Conversions are projected to reach 190 by the end of the year, compared with 144 cases — 105 adults and 39 children — last year. The Beth Din has already had to lay on two extra sessions to cope with the demand and is fully booked until January.
“To be honest, I’m not sure whether this is a blip — or something else is happening,” said the Reform Beth Din’s new convener, Rabbi Jackie Tabick.
Liberal Judaism has also seen a record number of conversions, up from 58 in 2009 to 81 in 2011.
Reform conversions have averaged 144 a year since 2000, with a high of 180 in 2002, although that included 68 children.
Rabbi Tabick said that there was a notable rise in single converts, without a partner, who became Jewish “lishmah” — for its own sake.
Over the years, there had also been a growth in children converting, she said. “The mother is required to take a course in how to bring up a Jewish child. Often what happens, is when the child is going to be bar- or batmitzvah, the mother decides she wants to be part of the religion of the family, too.”
Organisations such as Limmud could also be having an impact, she thought, by increasing learning and commitment among some. “It may not bring down the rate of intermarriage, but when they marry, they want their partner to convert,” she said.
Seven years ago, Reform rabbis undertook to do more to encourage the non-Jewish partner of an intermarried couple to convert. “It all depends on showing a smiling face rather than a brush-off,” Rabbi Tabick said.
Research in America has also indicated that the conversion of a non-Jewish partner of a marriage is more likely to lead to the children remaining within the Jewish community.
At last weekend’s Reform convention, chief executive Ben Rich cited projections recently presented to the American Reform movement. With an intermarriage rate of 50 per cent, if a third of the children of mixed-faith couples are raised as Jews, the overall Jewish population would drop by a quarter in a generation.
But if two-thirds of the children were actively to identify as Jews, the Jewish community would grow by a sixth.