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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 (86)
April 7, 2014
Re No you are wrong
It is the Torah that defines our Judaism, and hence, it is the Torah that defines "Who is a Jew." And yes, our Judaism is an essential state of us that is built-in and can not be undone by any "choices" we take in our lives.
Yisroel Cotlar
Cary, NC
April 3, 2014
No, you are wrong.
Jewish identity was NEVER EVER RELIGIOUS - Not in the days of the bible, not during the exile, not today and it will not be so in a gazillion years. It was ALWAYS a TRIBAL identity that goes by LINEAGE. And because its a tribal identity it allows people to join in and they get obsorbed into the already existing Jewish commnuties and the lineage continues. It is NOT *MY OPINION*. It is just how Jewish identity always was and still is. It is offensive of you to deny who you are and to deny the FACT that there are millions of non-religious atheist JEWS. We exist, get over it. I don't care how you define yourself, but you are the one who is denying a very real identity, which is not a religious one and no matter how many times you are going to sceam out "its a religion" it is simply not going to change the facts of history and present day reality - that it is not.
April 3, 2014
Sorry, H - you're still wrong
Judaism is a religion - it is not a race or a nationality or anything else. You can join it, you can leave it. You decide to leave (as I did) then you simply aren't Jewish.

It is ignorant (and offensive) for you or any other Jew to tell me or any other human being that they must be "Jewish" because YOU say so. It doesn't work that way.
April 1, 2014
"Obviously not' - you are obviously very ignorant. Jewish identity was never ever religous. Today there are millions of Jews and the world and most of them are not religous or even anti religion or atheists. There is a lttle thing called reality - you might want to snap into it.
April 1, 2014
Obviously not
Judaism is just another religion... you can join it, you can leave it. If you leave, then you are no longer Jewish.

There is no Jewish race... there is no Chosen People... and while we are on the topic, there is no god in my opinion... you are a member of those groups you consider yourself a member of. Period. No one else gets to decide for you.
November 5, 2013
" joining and forming all sorts of idolatrous cults and heathen practices. "

You seem to be insinuating that all other religions are idolatrous heathen cults. That is offensive.
Jason Suggs
October 25, 2013
Why don't we all just respect everyones opinions and beliefs? The thing is, when someone asks a question, there will always be an answer and that answer will be different from everyone else's. The people of the Hebrew scripture believe that a convert will always be "Israel," but according to your own beliefs, you may be taught the opposite. You should actually look at it like this, "Is this answer correct according to their background?" and not according to yours. All interpretations differ too. And it is true that our souls yearn for the connection to The One, some people are just more in touch with themselves spiritually - so the desire is stronger in those. Only those who seek The Truth shall find it. What you are (religion/faith/ethnicity) no longer matters when you have realized you are already One with G-d.

May the peace and blessings of G-d be upon you.
South Africa
October 16, 2013
We are not a "philosophy", we are a tribe, a people, that have existed for 3300 years and have fought to keep our identity for 2000 years of exile. converts are people who get "tribal membership" and are added in. the different communities absorbed different people into them but always kept their identity. and yet we still share a predominant amount of common ancestors, the tribes of israel who lived in israel.
October 2, 2013
Nuremberg Laws
There were plenty of such people as your sister (and their children ) who found themselves in boxcars on the way to Auschwitz. She can consider herself whatever she wants; much of the world and all of the anti-semites will still consider her and her children as Jewish.
Chicago, IL
July 29, 2013
RE: no longer a jew
"I feel so sorry for those who have succumbed to the idea that they are Jews for life no matter what. What a despicable trick to force on someone."

For all readers that don't know the bible too well and I don't care which one you have at home, let's clear this comment for a second. This is not a "despicable trick" forced by men on anyone. G-d Himself repeatedly said so. And since He loves his children no matter what, I don't see where this could be a bad thing even for someone who isn't too observant. I can't believe that noone replied to that for over a year.
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