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Debbie B.

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Location : Chicagoland

PostSubject: Proving Jewish Identity   Sun Feb 10, 2013 8:23 pm

Here are some official opinions by the Conservative Movement on proving Jewish identity, which includes the issues that may arise when for a Reform convert whose conversion may not have included traditional requirements of immersion (in a kosher mikveh or body of water---a dunk in a regular swimming pool does not qualify) and circumcision (for males).

On Proving Jewish Identity (2011)
"For matters that do not seriously affect klal yisrael, such as a visitor to a synagogue being granted an aliyah to the Torah or other synagogue honors, it is not neccessary to investigate individuals who state that they are Jewish unless one knows that this is not so or has very good reason to suspect it."
However, the responsum also mentions cases in which a person's Jewish identity should be investigated.


The Status of Non-Halakhic Conversions (1982)
This opinion concludes that a conversion done without a kosher immersion for the purpose of conversion cannot be accepted (unless the convert can be shown to be a strictly observant Jew and particularly "scrupulous in the use of a mikvah", meaning, I assume immersion in a mikvah for "Family Purity"")

Should the Kashrut of Conversions by Investigated?
"...it seems appropriate that a rabbi should ask of a couple seeking his services as the officiant at their wedding whether the parents of both are Jewish born. As a rabbi would obviously wish to know whether either of the spouses is divorced, so he should wish to find out whether either of the spouses is non-Jewish." "When legitimate grounds for suspicion concerning the validity of a conversion exist, the rabbi is duty-bound to investigate; when the suspicion is based on mere rumor, the suspicion must be considered illegitimate and the rabbi is duty-bound to ignore rumors."

I think it is worth mentioning that Jewish identity is supposed to be investigated for marriage even in the case in which both partners are known to be born Jews. (A key reason for checking is the possibility of a convert in the matrilineal line. Another reason is to check for a "mamzer" who is permitted to marry only another mamzer or a convert---which unfortunately highlights the low status of a convert due to lack of a "proper" Jewish ancestry). A high school friend of my husband was born and raised in a family that has always been Orthodox. When her brother married a woman from South America, her Masorti* rabbi asked to see the groom's mother's ketubah. (*Masorti is what the Conservative movement is called outside of the US) There was some consternation when the mother couldn't find her ketubah. Luckily, the Orthodox rabbi who performed the marriage was still alive and could write a new document to verify that the mother was indeed Jewish and had married in a Jewishly valid ceremony. Kind of amusing that the Masorti rabbi was requiring proof of Jewish identity by the groom who was Orthodox from birth. My friend told me this story to impress upon me the importance of keeping the conversion documents for my children safe (we converted them before I converted myself) since the documents might be needed if my children should be married by a Conservative rabbi.



Last edited by Debbie B. on Mon Feb 11, 2013 3:33 pm; edited 2 times in total (Reason for editing : added some details from reponsa; added comment on mamzerim)
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Sarit

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PostSubject: Re: Proving Jewish Identity   Sun Feb 10, 2013 8:45 pm

Thank you very much for these papers, Debbie!

I will read them as soon as possible! Thumps Up
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Debbie B.

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PostSubject: Re: Proving Jewish Identity   Mon Feb 11, 2013 12:30 am

I would like to mention that when the topic of "conversion validity" comes up in a discussion by converts, it is often from the perspective of the convert who feels disrespected by not being considered Jewish by an individual or congregation because his conversion is not considered "valid" by them. But I want to mention the situation from the other point of view: I think it is also important to respect the beliefs of Jews or Jewish groups who have more traditional or strict observances than ones own and I think it is important to understand that they are not necessarily holding a strict interpretation to denigrate or purposely to exclude a convert. I feel strongly that it is incumbent upon a convert who suspects that his conversion status matters to be honest and upfront with information, and to neither lie nor purposely withhold information he suspects would be important to the others.

As an analogy, I have had to do things for the sake of kashrut that made me feel rude or bad about hurting a friend's feelings. Although I do normally eat vegetarian food cooked at homes of friends who don't keep kosher (this is one way that I am not Orthodox in practice), I can't eat at their homes during Passover due to the additional dietary restrictions and the fact that I follow more stringencies during that holiday. Less observant friends have wanted to reciprocate our seder invitations, but I can't accept them. And one friend who came to our seder was rather hurt that I could not let her bring any food that she cooked even though she keeps a vegetarian plus fish home, so her home is automatically kosher enough to bring food to my house when it is not Pesach. She asked me why I had allowed some other friends to bring food to our seder---the answer was that those friends kept strictly kosher homes with separate cookware for Pesach.

I also once had to tell non-Jewish guests that we couldn't eat the cake they had brought when we invited them for a Shabbat dinner. We had told them beforehand to not bring food, but they had bought the cake at a nearby Jewish-style deli, not understanding that it wasn't strictly kosher. We had a meat dinner, and the cake was likely to be either dairy, or at least made on dairy equipment. I felt really bad because they had gone out of their way to buy a cake that they thought would be acceptable. (Thankfully, the bottle of wine that our guests also brought was certified kosher, so at least we could use one of their gifts at the meal.)

In all the above kashrut situations, it would have been socially easier to have violated my kashrut standards, but kashrut is very important to me and dealing with these kinds of situations is something that I feel I must do in order to be true to my own religious needs and identity. I wish I didn't have to effectively impose my religious restrictions on others, but I don't want to avoid socializing with people who are not Jewishly observant (which is precisely what some very observant Jews choose to do.)

If I ever had a guest who lied and told me that a cake was certified kosher pareve which was then served at a meat meal at my house, but turned out to be dairy, I would be upset. (Even though I wouldn't have to get rid of my plates since they are Corelle which is actually a type of glass and therefore simple washing would be fine, and I could just kasher my silverware by boiling.) I would feel that the person who lied felt that my beliefs and feelings about kashrut weren't important enough for consideration.

The analogous situation would be if a male Reform convert attends a small weekday Orthodox service in which he is one of only ten men present. If the others don't know the details of his Jewish status and count him in a minyan, they will do parts of the service that can only done in the presence of a minyan even though they would not do so if they knew the visitor was a Reform convert. So the convert is causing the others to violate religious rules that they feel are important.

This is why I feel that it is disrespectful and inconsiderate for people to willfully lie about their Jewish status if they know that it is a situation where others care about the information. I try to be upfront and honest about my Jewish status or the specifics of kashrut in my house whenever I think the information might be important even it it embarrasses me. The Jews I tell this to have usually thanked me for my transparency, so I end up feeling OK about it, and the positive outcome is that the exchange serves to build trust.


Last edited by Debbie B. on Mon Feb 11, 2013 3:54 pm; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : added analogy)
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