The Reform movement requires that the potential convert agree to observe the commandments
(according to Reform standards) and participate publicly in the community,
but they do not require mikvah or mila. The Reform movement
recommends that the potential convert be made aware of mikvah and mila, and that their conversion would be unacceptable to
Orthodox Jews, but such notification is not required.
Potential converts should be aware that, depending
on the movement that performs the conversion, other movements may or
may not recognize their conversion. For example, Orthodox movements
do not recognize all Reform conversions, most Conservative conversions
and even some Orthodox conversions. Conservative rabbis will accept
Reform conversions with mila and tevilah, regardless of
the observance level of the Beit Din, for the sake of intergroup harmony.
In general, the more liberal the movement, the more accepting it is
of other movement's conversions; the more orthopractic the conversion,
the more acceptable it is to more movements.
The debate among movements as to the acceptability
of different procedures remains unresolved, and is unlikely to ever
be resolved. Liberal Judaism views this as a question of stringency.
Therefore, for Liberal Judaism to say, "I will comply with the
Orthodox standard," is to acknowledge an insufficiency of its own
standards. Obviously, then, nonOrthodox rabbis are unwilling to
leave all conversions to the Orthodox. Conversely, for Orthodox Judaism
to say. "Liberal standards are acceptable," is to acknowledge
a superfluity of its stricter standards, an equally unlikely scenario.
Orthodox Judaism views conversion as a matter of objective reality.
A nonJew does or does not become Jewish by a particular procedure.
This is in some ways analogous to the procedure by which a person becomes
a naturalized citizen. Just as the oath of allegiance that the person
takes to become a citizen is only the end of a process, and only certain
judges may administer that oath; so to (l'havdil) the Beit Din, tevilah (immersion), and circumcision (if male) are the culmination
of a process and may only be administered by certain rabbis. This is
unacceptable to Liberal Judaism, as part of the procedure is an understanding
and acceptance of the world view of Orthodox Judaism.
The question of Jewish status in Israel is different. Jews (regardless of affiliation; regardless of conversion
status) may receive Israeli citizenship under the Law
of Return. Once in Israel, one's acceptance as a Jew is usually
up to the Orthodox religious authorities, who may or may not regard
a nonOrthodox conversion as halachicallyvalid
regardless of the affiliation on your Israeli identity card.
Although there is no legal requirement mandating that
a male convert to Judaism adopt the Hebrew name of Abraham or that female converts use Ruth or Sarah as a first name,
there is a longstanding tradition to this effect. In most cases at the
time of conversion a male convert is named Avraham ben Avraham Avinu
(Abraham the son of Abraham our father), and a female convert is named
Sara bat Avraham Avinu (Sarah the daughter of Abraham our father) or
Rut bat Avraham Avinu (Ruth the daughter of Amraham our father).
Two reasons are offered for naming converts Avraham.
First, the Bible (Genesis 17:5) speaks of Abraham as being "the father of a multitude of
nations," and since proselytes come from diverse peoples and backgrounds,
it is appropriate that they be called the sons and daughters of Abraham.
A second explanation, offered in the Midrash,
runs as follows: Since the Children
of Israel are called G-d's "friends," as it is written,
"the seed of Abraham My [G-d's] friend (Isaiah 41:8), and since proselytes are called G-d's "friends," as
it is written, "G-d is the friend of the proselyte" (Deuteronomy 10:18), it was concluded that Abraham has a special relationship to
proselytes. In Jewish tradition, Abraham becomes known as "the
father of proselytes" because once non-Jews have converted to Judaism,
their legal connection with their former non-Jewish families is, for
the most part, severed, and the family of Abraham is now their family.
The Talmud calls
them, "newborn babies" (Yevamot 22a).
Nevertheless, proselytes are still obligated to fulfill
the biblical comandment of "Honor thy father and mother,"
and therefore the Jewish laws of mourning must be observed by the proselyte when his non-Jewish parents die. The
Talmud also indicates that if a proselyte's father dies, he may inherit
his portion of the estate along with his non-Jewish brother.
Offering the convert the name of Abraham is explained
by the Midrash to be an expression of deep love. The Midrash says, "G-d
loves proselytes dearly. And we, too, should show our love for them
because they left their father's house, and their people, and the Gentile
community, and have joined us."
Female converts take the name of Sarah because she
was the wife of Abraham, the first Hebrew, and also because, as tradition
has it, she and Abraham were active in "winning souls" (Genesis
12:5) to the worship of G-d; Abraham converting idol-worshipping men
and Sarah converting the women.
Female converts to Judaism also take the name of Ruth
because the Ruth of the Bible is regarded as the epitome of loyalty
to Judaism, although she was not a convert in the formal sense, not
having undergone immersion in a ritul bath (mikva). Ruth is famous for
swearing eternal allegiance to her mother in law, Naomi.
Sources: Adapted from Shamash; Alfred J.Kolatch, The
Second Jewish Book of Why. Jonathan David Publishers, Inc.;
Middle Village, New York, 1985.