The Schmooze

The doors of the Reform Beit Din are opening wide

Why wouldn’t we want to help people who wish to convert?


Most people hope they never have to go to court, but there are many positive reasons for doing so, especially if you are Jewish and it is a rabbinic one.

I am asserting this as I have just been appointed as the convener of the Reform Beit Din, following the retirement of Rabbi Jackie Tabick.

My motto will be the attitude expressed by the very first convener, Rabbi Michael Curtis, who put it simply as: “We are here to help people.”

This applies to those who have a variety of status issues — one of which is conversion, be it someone non-Jewish you are thinking of marrying or to whom you are already married. But if not you yourself, then your adult son or daughter, or grandchild or other relative.

Whereas some strands of Judaism regard requests for conversion with suspicion, the Reform Beit Din takes the opposite view as it regards it as a compliment: isn’t it great they want to join our tribe — and despite all the problems with which we have had to contend in the past and still face today.

What is more, if the conversion will unify a mixed-faith family and create a fully Jewish home, even better! Why would we not wish to perform such a great mitzvah?

Of course, many mixed-faith families prefer to stay that way, and they are equally welcome in our synagogues, where they contribute massively to communal life. It is a matter of options.

There may also be many people who already have Jewish roots through one parent or grandparent, always felt Jewish but lacked the passport and now wish to reclaim it. The Reform Beit Din can help them recover their Jewish heritage.

Equally important is to do it in a way that facilitates entry, not one that puts obstacles in their path to discourage them.

In this context, it should be noted that Reform Judaism has recently switched to recognition of equilineal status: in the Bible, you were Jewish if you had a Jewish father. More recently, it went through the mother, and we now accept someone as Jewish who has one Jewish parent.

Another issue may be the vexed problem of the agunah, the woman who is civilly divorced from her husband, but he refuses to grant her a religious divorce — the get.

The motive in such cases is almost always malice or financial pressure. We are very clear that this cannot be justified and that an unethical law should not be a Jewish law; so, we award the get over his head. It allows his wife to sever the marriage Jewishly, while it means that both partners can remarry in one of our synagogues. As before, the object is “to help people”.

This also extends to couples who adopt a non-Jewish child. When they have already had to go through lengthy rounds of checks to be able to adopt, they will not want to endure yet more arduous conditions if they wish to give the child Jewish status. From our point of view, if they are caring enough to bring up a child that is orphaned or abandoned and will provide him/her with a Jewish home and synagogue life, that is sufficient.

At the same time, as we are reaching out to all who need solutions, we are working in parallel with the Beit Din of Liberal Judaism, with whom we share many principles, key of which is marrying the best of tradition with the reality of modernity.

In the past, the thought of going to a Beit Din has often been a source of dread. The aim is to change that perception and turn any visits into occasions of fulfilment. Our doors are open.

Jonathan Romain is also rabbi of Maidenhead Synagogue

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive