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Is a Jew Who Converts Still Jewish?

Is a Jew Who Converts Still Jewish?



My sister was baptized and has since married and had a child. My mother claims the child is Jewish, but how could that be? If Judaism is a religion, if someone leaves it, she’s no longer Jewish, right?


Logically, I would have to agree with you. If Judaism is a religion, then someone who doesn’t believe in the religion should be no longer Jewish. The reality, however, is that it doesn’t work that way.

Throughout the Tanach, we find Jews breaking every facet of their covenant with G‑d, joining and forming all sorts of idolatrous cults and heathen practices. Yet when the prophets chide them, they are called “My people, Israel.”

The Talmud1 focuses in particular on the precedent of a notorious character named Achan, who appears in the story of the fall of Jericho.2 “Israel has sinned,” exclaims G‑d. “They have transgressed My covenant that I commanded them.” Yet in the story’s narration we discover that the lone sinner is Achan, who took from the spoils of Jericho. The Talmud points out that nevertheless Achan is considered “Israel,” and remarks, “Israel, although he has sinned, is still Israel.”

The choice of precedent is poignant and the wording laden with subtle meaning: Achan has broken “My covenant that I have commanded them”—interpreted by the Talmud to mean not only one detail, but the entire covenant of Torah. Yet he remains not only a Jew, but “Israel”—the entirety of the Jewish People in a single individual.

The principle extends not only to genealogical Jews, but converts as well. In Tractate Yevamot3 we learn that once a person has fulfilled all the requirements of a proper conversion, he is considered “like Israel in all matters.” The Talmud explains those last words to mean that even if this convert would return to his pagan ways, “if he marries a Jewish woman, he has the same status as an apostate Jew, and they are considered married.”

Why does the Talmud choose to discuss Jewishness in terms of whether or not a marriage is valid? This is also precise: When it comes to having this Jew slaughter meat for you, or relying upon him in other areas of kosher and similar matters, his status may indeed be the same as that of a non-Jew. But those are technicalities, dependent on extraneous factors. Marriage, however, is the real test of Jewishness. Even if a non-Jew would marry a Jew with a chupah and a rabbi presiding with all the procedures “by the book,” the marriage does not have the validity of a marriage sanctified in accordance with Jewish law. Saying that “they are considered married” is the best Talmudic language available for “Yes, he is still Jewish.”

Based on the above statement of the Talmud, the Jewish Code of Law4 rules that a marriage between a Jewish man and a Jewish woman who “convert out” is completely valid. Therefore, their children are considered Jewish and could also marry other Jews.

Which brings us to your case, where a Jewish woman has joined another religion and married a non-Jew. In this instance, as well, since Jewishness is matrilineal, her children are considered Jewish.5

Apparently, Jewishness is about neither religion nor race. Unlike a race, you can get in, but unlike religion, once you’re in you can’t get out. As with Achan, once you are a part of this people, you are the entire people. As Israel is eternal, so your bond with them is irreversible, unbreakable and eternal.


Sanhedrin 44a.


See Joshua 7:1–26.




Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha-ezer 44:9.


Rema, ibid.

Zalman Nelson is a licensed therapist, online counselor, and freelance writer/editor. His private practice fuses modern therapeutic techniques with the ancient Jewish wisdom of Kabbalah and Chassidic thought. He lives in Israel with his wife and five children. Connect with him here.
All names of persons and locations or other identifying features referenced in these questions have been omitted or changed to preserve the anonymity of the questioners.
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Discussion (104)
October 8, 2016
Okay here's what confuses me...if you convert out of Judaism, then you no longer follow Jewish law. But how does Jewish law still apply to one who doesn't consider themselves a Jew? Jewish status is "inherited" matrilineally, yes...according to Jewish law. Not secular law, not biological law, as racial classification and religion (Judaism falls somewhere between both depending who you ask and the the question itself, it seems) are both social constructs. Why would a Jew that converts to, say, Catholicism, be defined by what Jewish law considers them?
July 14, 2015
Stuff and nonsense. If this article were true half the world would be Jewish already. The state of Israel recognizes this. I remember reading about a Catholic priest whose parents were Jewish and who tried to emigrate to Israel on the basis that he was still a Jew. The Israeli government didn't agree.
Craig Eliot
June 1, 2015
In reply to Joshua Aaron and Anonymous
Joshua Aaron and Anonymous, I am in agreement with both of u!
Sueiyin Siuyin Ho
May 27, 2015
Answer to Anonymous 'Make up your mind, religion or race'
Just got to reading the article and the comments & am answering the last commenter of July, 2014. What he/she writes about Ashkenazim and Sephardim not having the same DNA is absolutely and totally false. Both of the 'real' Ash. & Seph. have the exact same DNA! Being that there were many 'converts' among both of the scattered Jews (Ash & Seph.), there are those who do not have the same DNA, but just like with true Cohanim, all have the same DNA, whether they are Ash. or Seph. Have no idea where you got your misinformation. This has been a lie (myth) promoted by someone who had written a book on the kuzaris and their connection to Ash. It has been totally debunked! and, that is a fact!
May 7, 2015
Breaking Covenant
To answer your own question you might want to conduct the following experiment:
Try to carry water using broken glass without loosing a single drop for about... couple of weeks. Any success? To complete your experiment - try to extrapolate your own data using the time log of several thousand years. Let me know if you still have some unresolved doubt/confusion.
Marina Kropp
April 30, 2015
Breaking Covenant
"...Achan has broken “My covenant that I have commanded them”—interpreted by the Talmud to mean not only one detail, but the entire covenant of Torah."

Would this be sort of like saying that shattering a piece of a stone tablet off of the whole would necessarily be the equivalent of breaking the entire stone tablet?
April 22, 2015
Reply to "Still Confused" (17 Oct 2014)
According to Jewish Law, since Jewishness is matrilineal, and your maternal great-great grandmother was Jewish, then you are also.

You do not need to convert as you are already Jewish.
Joshua Aaron
October 17, 2014
Still confused
I know that my great-great grandmother was Jewish. She married a non-Jew and their children were raised as Christians. One of their daughter's married another non-Jew and raised their children as Christians. One of their daughters married a non-Jew and didn't raise their children in any religion. Their daughter is my mother. So, what does that make me? I was raised Christian and wasn't even told I was Jewish until after I had married and had children of my own. But, I do not believe in Christianity. Would I have to convert or am I already Jewish?
October 5, 2014
To the Anonymous
The Anonymous who placed a comment "Make up your mind, Religion or Race" might want to refresh his "System Data Base" by "downloading" recent "updates" in genetics, in particularly if he/she considers him/herself Jewish. Achieving a bit more enlightened state via Science and Education, hopefully in addition to the study of the Torah would not hurt even someone without a name.
Please, be referred to the research data outlined in the following article:
Phylogenetic applications of whole Y-chromosome sequences and the Near Eastern origin of Ashkenazi Levites Siiri Rootsi, Doron M. Behar, at al
":In contrast to the previously suggested Eastern European origin for Ashkenazi Levites, the current data are indicative of a geographic source of the Levite founder lineage in the Near East and its likely presence among pre-Diaspora Hebrews."
Nature Communications 4, Article number: 2928 doi:10.1038/ncomms3928 Received 28 June 2013 Accepted 13 November 2013 Published 17 December 2013
Marina Kropp
October 5, 2014
Jewishness is more than a doctrine
Actually, being Jewish stems from being a member of one of the twelve tribes of the nation of Israel - the tribe of Judah. It is such an identity and therefore cannot be seperated out from its unique birthright and further cannot and should not be reduced or diluted solely to a doctrinal or ideological affiliation - because although spirituality is at the centre of Jewish culture and history, having a heritage connection to the Jewish people is not a matter of religion alone. In fact, the type of spirituality of the ancient nation of Israel as given by the Creator is one which is very intimately linked to coming into right relationship with G-d, fellow humans, and wider creation through listening to the voice of G-d in the very context of the wider creation, the sacred mountain of Zion, the traditional dwelling place of the Most High and in the midst of all this beauty and wonder, being able to embrace each other as brothers & sisters united together in all of this His grace.
Sueiyin Siuyin Ho