Contemporary American Reform Responsa

62. Return to Judaism of a Baptized Jewish Girl

QUESTION: A student in this year's Confirmation Class has a brother who is a "Jew for Jesus." Her mother, although born Jewish, practices Christianity. The girl was privately baptized when she was five. The father is a committed Jew and wants his daughter confirmed. Under what conditions can we confirm this girl? (Rabbi M. Feinstein, San Antonio, TX)

ANSWER: It is clear that we have a confused religious situation in this family, as every member seems to be going in a different direction. It is, therefore, necessary to ascertain whether this young girl and her father are sincere in their motivations, or whether her interest in a confirmation at the synagogue represents part of a family quarrel. If these problems have been resolved, then we should approach the young woman as an adult, and ask for an affirmation of her Judaism, a declaration of haverut, as for any repentant apostate.

Most of the traditional material which discussed apostates is only peripherally relevant, as it deals with those who converted under duress. Here the conversion of the mother and the baptism of the child were voluntary acts. Those converted under duress should be permitted to return to Judaism in as simple a manner as possible.

In cases of duress such individuals were readmitted to the Jewish community (and we must remember that this was a corporate community, not merely a congregation) without any action on their part except their desire to rejoin the Jewish community. No ritual bath or anything else is necessary. This is the law as finally stated in the Shulhan Arukh (Moses Isserles to Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 268.12; Abraham Gombiner, Magen Avraham, to Shulhan Arukh Orah Hayim 326), based upon a verse in Jeremiah (3.22), "Return you recalcitrant children." This Biblical statement, as well as similar Talmudic statements, is cited by Elijah Gaon of Vilna in his discussion of the above mentioned passages of the Shulhan Arukh.

It has been generally felt that one should not embarrass such unfortunate individuals and make it easy for them to return to the Jewish community. So Rabenu Gershom, who lived in the Rhineland in the eleventh century, felt that one should simply admit such individuals and not in any way remind them of their previous apostasy (Mahzor Vitry, pp. 96 ff). Solomon ben Simon Duran (Responsa #89) also felt that no ritual bath or any other act was required. These thoughts were incorporated by Joseph Caro in his Bet Josef (to Tur Yoreh Deah 268).

However, in instances where the apostasy was not under duress, and where the apostate may have caused considerable trouble to the community, then a process akin to conversion was demanded (Hai Gaon in Aderet, Responsa, Vol. 4, #292; Rashi to Kid. 68b and Lev. 24.10). At the very least, a ritual immersion in the miqveh was demanded (Moses Isserles to Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 268.12) as well as a promise to become an observant Jew before three witnesses (Joseph Ibn Habib to Alfasi Yeb. Chap. 4). Examples of this more demanding point of view may be found in Zimmel's Die Marranen in der rabbinischen Literatur.

The young lady involved in this instance does not quite fall into either historic category. She was not converted under duress. On the other hand, she is also not an apostate who left us and caused us any problems. We, therefore, recommend a middle road. We would admit her with a simple ceremony which will impress the seriousness of her decision on her and formally make her part of the Jewish community. Whether immersion in a miqveh is required will depend on the traditions of the community.

January 1984

If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.