CCAR RESPONSA

Contemporary American Reform Responsa

50. Teenagers and Gerut

QUESTION: A number of teenagers have indicated a serious interest in Judaism. The first is a girl! whose divorced mother married a Jew. The youngster was raised as a Presbyterian until age eight with no subsequent religious training. She would like to formally convert and participate in confirmation at the age of sixteen. The mother has not converted and the stepfather although affiliated with the congregation is not active in it.

The second individual is a boy whose mother moved to Israel when he was two and lived there for ten years as part of the Beta Yisrael Movement of Black Americans in Dimona. The boy speaks fluent Hebrew and has a fairly well developed Jewish education. The mother never converted nor did any member of the family. The young man has disavowed any Christian attitudes or theologies which were originally part of the group when he moved to Israel.

The third is a young girl from a non-Jewish home in which neither parents practice Christianity but certainly are not interested in Judaism; she has attended religious school with a friend and requested permission to come regularly. She has also indicated the desire to participate in Confirmation with or without conversion. (Rabbi J. Stein Indianapolis IN)

ANSWER: Traditionally a sixteen-year-old individual was considered all adult and could therefore make his own choice as far as gerut (conversion) was concerned. Such an individual would be accepted like any other convert and simply join the Jewish people (W. Jacob, American Reform Responsa #65). However in our age sixteen is still pal t of childhood and such an individual is not an adult in any legal or formal sense. Therefore we should treat such an individual as a minor.

We must acknowledge that these three youngsters come from very different backgrounds and with different motivations; we must begin by asking some fundamental questions. To what extent is their interest in Judaism part of a teenage rebellion? Are family or psychological problems present? What is the attitude of the parents toward the wish of their child to become Jewish? Is a friendship with a Jewish child the primary motivating factor? These and other similar questions must be properly answered before any further steps are taken.

In addition we should clearly indicate to each youngster that although it is possible theoretically for us to accept teenagers as converts, we would as a matter of principle not do so. A teenager is a minor for us in twentieth century America. We also recall that we have frequently suffered from efforts to convert children and teenagers to Christianity in the past, and fully understand the potential problems involved. We, therefore, suggest that these youngsters participate in all informal programs of the congregation, but in no formal instruction. If their interest is serious, and endures, then they may follow the path of gerut when they are adults.

In summary, we would strongly discourage conversion at age sixteen, nor should the ceremony of conversion and confirmation be combined .

June 1984

If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.