Conversion to Judaism

Naomi entreating Ruth and Orpah to return to the land of Moab by William Blake, 1795
A portion of the Pentateuch in Hebrew, British Library Oriental MS. 1,497 containing Numbers 6:3-10, dated 12th century. Lines of the Pentateuch alternate with the Targum ascribed to Onkelos (a convert to Judaism)

Conversion to Judaism (Hebrew: גיור, giyur) is the religious conversion of non-Jews to become members of the Jewish religion and Jewish ethnoreligious community.[1][2] The procedure and requirements for conversion depend on the sponsoring denomination. A conversion in accordance with the process of a denomination is not a guarantee of recognition by another denomination.[2] A formal conversion is also sometimes undertaken by individuals whose Jewish ancestry is questioned, even if they were raised Jewish, but may not actually be considered Jews according to traditional Jewish law.[3]

In some cases, a person may forgo a formal conversion to Judaism and adopt some or all beliefs and practices of Judaism. However, without a formal conversion, many observant Jews will reject a convert's Jewish status.[4]

There are some groups that have adopted Jewish customs and practices. For example, in Russia the Subbotniks have adopted most aspects of Judaism without formal conversion to Judaism.[5] However, if Subbotniks, or anyone without a formal conversion, wish to marry into a traditional Jewish community or immigrate to Israel, they must have a formal conversion.[6]

Terminology

The word ger comes from the Hebrew verb lagur (לגור) meaning "to reside" or "to sojourn [with]". In the Hebrew Bible ger is defined as a "foreigner", or "sojourner".[7] Rabbi Marc Angel writes:

The Hebrew ger (in post-Biblical times translated as "proselyte") literally means "resident" and refers to a non-Israelite who lived among the Israelite community. When the Torah commands compassion and equal justice for the ger, it is referring to these "residents". Rabbinic tradition interpreted the word ger as referring to proselytes..."[8]

Angel's explanation of the literal meaning of "ger" as alien is borne out in Lev 19:34:

The stranger that sojourneth with you shall be unto you as the home-born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

Another passage which may be relevant to a process of conversion involves non-Jewish women captured in war who could be adopted forcibly as wives (Deuteronomy 21:10–14). Another verse which has been interpreted as referring to non-Jews converting to Judaism is Esther 8:17, although no process is described. (Esther 8:17).

The word is rendered by the Greek "proselyte" as used in the Septuagint to denote a "stranger".[citation needed] A male convert to Judaism is referred to by the Hebrew word ger (Hebrew: גר‎, plural Hebrew: גריםgerim) and a female convert is a giyoret. In all branches of Judaism, a ger or giyoret is considered a full Jew; the literal meaning of "stranger," "resident," or "foreigner" refers to the convert's origin, not present status.[citation needed] In Karaite Judaism the term ger only refers to a non-Jew who has yet to fully convert to Judaism, and once converted to Karaitism, is no longer called ger.[9]

In the Talmud, ger is used in two senses: ger tzedek refers to a "righteous convert", a proselyte to Judaism, and ger toshav, a non-Jewish inhabitant of the Land of Israel who observes the Seven Laws of Noah and has repudiated all links with idolatry.[10] In Modern Hebrew, the unqualified term ger means ger tzedek.[11]