Conversion by Skype as Reform moves with times

A Chesterfield man's story is an example of a modern approach by the Reform religious court


The conversion to Judaism of a Derbyshire man with cerebral palsy is among the first cases the Reform Beit Din has conducted via Skype.

Because of his disability, Christopher Parker, 27, from Chesterfield, was unable to appear in person before the religious court.

He is part of the small Sheffield Reform community, which does not have a rabbi or conversion classes.

“It was obvious that his commitment to convert was strongly held,” said Reform Beit Din convenor Rabbi Dr Jackie Tabick. “But the practicalities of how to achieve this were complicated.

“Thankfully West London Synagogue, under the guidance of Rabbi Sybil Sheridan, was happy to add him to its Skype lessons and Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz was willing to sponsor him.”

Mr Parker, a former Methodist, has spent the past 18 months learning about Judaism online in fortnightly lessons.

“It would have been a real struggle for me, living where I do, physically going to classes,” he said. “It was a huge relief to find out I could convert via Skype.”

As for the process itself, learning that within Reform Judaism, “it is OK to question things has been really healthy.

“In my previous faith, expressing doubt was a sin. You could not be a believer and question anything.

“I love the room there is in Judaism for interpreting things differently.”

Mr Parker expressed thanks to the rabbis who had supported him and had taught him so much.

He added that “technology has been amazing in helping me to achieve a major goal.

“There is a world of information out there at the click of button.”

The Reform religious court has also used Skype in the cases of a woman from Italy and a man in Scotland who were unable to travel because of mobility and health issues.

“Our growing use of technology reflects Reform Jewish values of combining modernity with Jewish tradition, reaching out to people in ways that allow them to participate in Jewish life where they might otherwise be excluded,” Rabbi Tabick said.

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