QUESTION: Several members of a congregation have questions about the conversion of a woman who has recently joined the congregation. She has moved to our city from another state and they claim that the study which led to her conversion was insufficient. Upon investigation it was discovered that the woman in question was converted to Judaism after only an afternoon of instruction. She followed the normal ritual of conversion with the appropriate witnesses. Since that time she has lived as a Jewess and since her arrival in this city she has attended the synagogue with some regularity and affiliated almost immediately. May her conversion be questioned? (Ernest Levi, Los Angeles CA)
ANSWER: For many decades the North American Reform movement has provided a fairly uniform course of study for conversion. This has been followed in most communities throughout the country. The length of time spent studying may vary from six to eight months as may the intensity of the instruction provided. The intent, however, has been to give the convert a reasonable background of the major aspects of Judaism and a understanding of basic concept, holidays, practices, liturgy and theology. There have, of course, been deviations from this norm usually due to very specific circumstances, as for example a prospective convert who has long been active in the Jewish community or one who has privately studied Judaism for years; under such circumstances the normal course would be redundant.
In all instances the primary consideration remains the intent of the individual to convert. If intent is present and sincere then it will usually be accompanied by a desire to learn far more than the introductory course. A major aspect of our courses is the exposure of the convert to many aspects of Judaism which may test his/her sincerity in ways which could not be anticipated. The course of study, therefore, is important both for what is learned and the additional level of sincerity which it elicits.
In this instance we must say that there really was no course of study at all and this prospective convert was hurriedly moved through the ritual. Bediavad conversion is valid. This is in keeping with the traditional sources which simply stated that a few major and a few minor commandments were taught to the prospective convert. He/she was asked whether they accepted the commandments, and that was followed by the ritual of conversion (M Nedarim 3.11; B K 5.4; Shulhan Arukh Orah Hayim 199.4) . We can see that in previous times the instruction was much less formal although, of course, the prospective convert had to be warned and discouraged, but if he/she persisted the authorities accepted the individual.
In this instance the life pattern of the woman in question has indicated that she is serious about conversion. She has made Judaism very much part of her existence, she participates in the synagogue and has been actively involved in the Jewish community. There is no reason to question her conversion. It is valid and must be accepted.