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While IFF ascribes to the Reform notion that behavior, not being born of a Jewish mother, is the most important signifier of Jewish identity, we understand that large sections of the Jewish community don’t agree. Sue Fishkoff of JTA wrote two stories last week about patrilineal Jews–that is, Jewish-identifying people with a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother–who seek to “convert” under Conservative auspices so that nobody questions their Jewishness.
Judging from the article, many Conservative rabbis are quite sympathetic to these people and refer to their ritual immersion in a mikvah not as a “conversion,” but as an “affirmation” or “completion.”
At the same time, some of these patrilineal Jews resent the fact that they have to get a “stamp of approval” for years of Jewish behavior and identification. Fishkoff points to the example of a 31-year-old woman who spent a year in Israel on a student program and kept getting asked whether she planned to convert:
One clever approach some Conservative rabbis have taken is to require all their b’nai mitzvah students to immerse in a mikvah. That way, the children of non-Jewish mothers can convert without being singled out.
Of course when you get down to it, there is little historical or halachic justification for recognizing only the children of Jewish mothers as Jewish, but that’s neither here nor there. Conservative rabbis who deal with the issue sensitively should be commended for their work.
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