Contemporary American Reform Responsa

47. Infant Conversion

QUESTION: A young couple is in the process of converting. In this instance, the conversion, or the study toward conversion, has been spread out over a period of two years due to desire for a thorough study, as well as business problems. The couple is committed to Judaism and the conversion should be finished in January. The couple expects a child, most likely a male, in September. The local mohel refuses to do a berit milah, even leshem gerut, as neither parent is Jewish. What can be done in this instance to start this young lad in life as a Jew? (Rabbi J. Adland, Indianapolis, IN).

ANSWER: Tradition makes clear provisions for the conversion of Gentile infants to Judaism. The conversion was undertaken by a bet din who stand in place of the father (Ket. 11a; Yad Hil. Isurei Biah 13.7; Tur, Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 268.7). This procedure was followed when a father and mother do not convert to Judaism but wish their son or daughter to be Jewish (Rashi, Rashi, Ritba Ket. 11b). There was some discussion as to whether a formal bet din was necessary for such conversion. In the case of the boy there was also controversy as to whether the circumcision must be done at the request of the bet din or independently (Smak in the name of Aderet; also Ritba and Meiri to Ket. 11b).

Although there is a fair amount of discussion on the details of the conversion and whether, in the case of a boy the berit milah precedes or follows the immersion in a miqveh, there is no debate on whether conversion under these circumstances is possible. It is clearly possible and obviously occurred regularly in the past.

An infant convert always has the right, whether conversion is done at the request of his father or at the request of a bet din, to renounce his conversion on reaching maturity. If such renunciation takes place, it is not held against the individual in any way (Ket. 11a; Rashi to Ket. 11a; see also Ritba, Aderet, Meiri; Tur, Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 268.7). This question is raised upon reaching maturity, i.e., the age of thirteen for boys, or twelve for girls.

It would, therefore, be perfectly possible for you to convert this youngster at the time of his berit, or if it is a girl, shortly after her birth. This may be done with or without miqveh according to local custom. This would be completely in keeping with tradition, as well as Reform Jewish practice. If the local mohel, because of some individual idiosyncrasy, refuses to do so, then the berit may be conducted with equal validity by a Jewish physician. The rabbi would recite the appropriate prayers for gerut and berit milah.

August 1984

If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.