Question of the Week – Ask the Rabbi

I often hear rabbis complain that the Jewish people are shrinking due to intermarriage and assimilation. But it is you rabbis who are the major obstacle to Judaism growing! If you would make conversion a bit easier, many more non-Jews would join us. Why do you stubbornly insist on a long and difficult conversion process, when you are closing the door to many potential converts?

This question is definitely relevant considering I had thought I was going to complete my conversion to Judaism – which began some 38 years ago when I had my bris – sometime in the next few weeks.  For the last year I have been corresponding with a Rabbi from who was trying to help me arrange to complete my conversion by going to the mikveh (ritual bath).  When I was adopted as an infant, the Rabbi who officiated over my bris told my mom and dad that I didn’t need to go to the mikveh unless I was going to be an orthodox rabbi.

After my bris I was raised by my family as a Jew and even completed by bar mitzvah studies and came before the community to read my Torah portion.  For all I knew, I was as Jewish as the paschal lamb and matzah.  You can imagine my surprise, a year ago, when I learned through my own study of Torah that my conversion is not considered complete until I immerse in a mikveh under the supervision of a beit din (rabbinical legal court).

My revelations came after I wrote My First Tefillin. As soon as I realized the problem I contacted the “Ask a Rabbi” program through and then spent several agonizing months corresponding with the Rabbi from Chabad.  He asked me to provide proof of my bris, so I tried to contact the orthodox rabbi who officiated at my bris only to find that he passed away a few years back and his grandson had taken over his practice.  Luckily, he was able to find the paperwork for my bris and send me a copy which I forwarded to the Chabad rabbi.  Finally, I was informed that my bris was kosher and I only needed to immerse in the mikveh to complete the conversion process.

Unfortunately, there is no beit din within a hundred miles of where I live so, we determined to wait until I would travel to Los Angeles for my sister’s wedding to do the mikveh.  Now my sister finalized her wedding plans and we are preparing to travel down for the happy event.  So, I contacted the Chabad rabbi about arranging my immersion and he referred me to the Rabbinical Council of California.

Today I spoke with the Rabbinic Administrator and was informed that they are not willing to arrange my immersion unless I am going to move into and join an orthodox Jewish community!

There is no orthodox Jewish community where I live and I am already practicing the most orthodox form of Judaism of anyone in my area.  I am the only person in this area who even puts on tefillin or says Shemah on a daily basis.  Even the local rabbi doesn’t wear tefillin, yet somehow I am not good enough yet to be immersed in the mikveh.

Let my story be a lesson to any Jewish couples adopting a non-Jewish child.  Have the child’s conversion completed properly.  Do not leave it to the child to “decide” when they are older because it becomes prohibitively difficult.

This can also serve as a lesson to those of you who may be frustrated at trying to convert to Judaism now.  If it is this difficult for someone like me, who spent the last 38 years believing he was truly Jewish, then I’m sure whatever hardships you are facing in your own conversion process can be overcome. I can’t help but think that if it was this difficult for Avram Aveinu then Noah would have never been born.

G-d willing I will eventually find my path to join with my brothers and sisters as b’nei Yisrael and will merit to help bring the light of H-shem to the world.