CCAR RESPONSA

Rejecting One's Conversion as an Infant

5753.20

She'elah

I have always informed parents of children who were converted as infants when their parent became a Jew, that their children have a right to reject their conversion when they reached maturity, which I have considered to be the eighteenth year. How does Reform Judaism review this issue? (Rabbi Thomas P. Liebschutz, Winston-Salem, N.C.)

Teshuvah

The matter has been discussed by Rabbis Solomon B. Freehof and Walter Jacob.1 You will find both teshuvot attached. They have followed the traditional view that a person may repudiate his/her conversion as a child. We note however, the dissent of Rabbi Moses Schreiber (the Hatam Sofer) who said that when a parent is converted along with the child, no repudiation is possible.2

As Liberals, we would hold with the mainstream ruling that persons converted in childhood -- with or without their parents converting at the same time -- have a right to reject Judaism upon reaching maturity.

When is the terminus ad quem when such a rejection must be effected? Traditionally, the age has been 13, but we believe that your position is preferable, namely to postpone this terminus until the age of 18.

To be sure, this creates an awkward situation when such a child becomes bar/bat mitzvah or is confirmed. Both acts serve as a confirmation of Jewishness. The parents, along with the rabbi, will have to explain to the child that the mitzvot will be accepted at this time in accordance with his/her understanding of Judaism, but that at maturity, he/she may re-evaluate that decision. We thus would consider the earlier asseveration as provisional in view of the immaturity of the person at that time. Obviously, this matter has to be handled with considerable sensitivity.

Notes

  1. Freehof, Current Reform Responsa (1969) #20, pp. 80-83; Jacob, Contemporary American Reform Responsa, #47, pp. 80-81.
  2. For the repudiation, see BT. Ketubot 11a; SA, YD 268:7; and for the Hatam Sofer, see his Pitchei Teshuvah to YD

If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.