Here's a great tip:
Enter your email address and we'll send you our weekly magazine by email with fresh, exciting and thoughtful content that will enrich your inbox and your life, week after week. And it's free.
Oh, and don't forget to like our facebook page too!
Contact Us

Is a Jew Who Converts Still Jewish?

Is a Jew Who Converts Still Jewish?

 Email

Question:

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?

Response:

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.

Footnotes
1.

Sanhedrin 44a.

2.

See Joshua 7:1–26.

3.

48a.

4.

Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha-ezer 44:9.

5.

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.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
 Email
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
110 Comments
1000 characters remaining
Evie Scottsdale March 26, 2017

I wonder if a convert Jew is really a Jew, because in Israel they are not accepting this anymore. And even if the convert is converted Orthodox. Now if the convert is Conservative or Reform , this conversion is like nothing. Reply

Chabad.org Staff March 28, 2017
in response to Evie:

A person who has converted according to Jewish law is Jewish. If some conversions have been questioned in Israel it is most likely because the rabbis want to ensure that the conversion was done properly. Conversion also affects children etc so it's important to be cautious. Reply

Andy October 15, 2016

if I tell you that I am not Jewish, do not insist in your response that I am. Don't gleefully say I can never be anything else but Jewish, ever. Is it really really hard to convert is it? And this cnversion is not religious, not cultural, it's not customary or elitist? You don't see even a little baby superiority complex in any of that? Gods beautiful, inspiring, breathtaking, awesomely rendered pig not have clean enough flesh for you? That is so amazing. Thank you!, so much! Your words have touched .my soul, which I remembered do you remember me saying that I am not Jewish? God must be talking backward you all. Right? Yes smite your enemies, which now I can see why. Perhaps if you try making friends, God won't be like having to break his own commandment. For you. Again. With the smiting. Unless you' think that's what he wants. Don't say it. I told you. I know your don't think you are offensive and ignorant, but you do have a lot of enemies. Wow Reply

Sonia lakewood, nj October 10, 2016

at least jewish women dress with modesty others dress dishonesty when going in public
and second of all God is spelled God not G-d Reply

Joshua Jerusalem October 10, 2016

Once you are a Jew,you have a Jewish soul. You have a soul that stood at Sinai and promised to keep Torah.

None of us can opt out of that promise. Whether born or mikvahed, you are confirmed to have a Jewish soul and that means your soul made an eternal promise which binds us all forever.

You can take on an idolatrous religion, which merely means you can count on being punished in this life or the next. Your promise to be true to Gd and GD ALONE still stands, regardless of your trying to "convert out".

The State of Israel may not take you under the law of return, but your promise at Sinai stands forever.

As for me, I am keeping the promise I made at Sinai. Reply

Anonymous Mars 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? Reply

Craig Eliot NYc 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. Reply

Sueiyin Siuyin Ho Australia June 1, 2015

Joshua Aaron and Anonymous, I am in agreement with both of u! Reply

Anonymous USA May 27, 2015

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! Reply

Marina Kropp May 7, 2015

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. Reply

Anonymous April 30, 2015

"...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? Reply

Joshua Aaron April 22, 2015

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. Reply

Anonymous USA October 17, 2014

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? Reply

Marina Kropp October 5, 2014

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 Reply

Sueiyin Siuyin Ho Australia October 5, 2014

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. Reply

Elizabeth Boston July 3, 2014

Sorry, you cannot demand that Jews be something other than what we are.

We are not a religion. But we do have a Jewish worship practice. If you do not have a Jewish mother, you can claim your Jewish SOUL by adopting that worship practice. An orthodox rabbi can teach you what you need to know and walk you through the procedure. It will take a year OR TWO or even several years. If you REALLY REALLY WANT to be a Jew, you will stick with it and you will succeed.

We are not a race.
But we do have a lot of DNA in common with other Jews. That is a fact. It is FALSE to claim our DNA resembles European DNA. In fact, it resembles Jewish DNA. BUT anyone who feels s/he has a Jewish soul can get his/her Jewishness VALIDATED by going in the mikveh and promising to keep the 613 mitzvot. (Men have one more step in this process.)
There are a hundred thousand black Ethiopian Jews in Israel right now (and others elsewhere). Their DNA is neither Jewish nor European. But they have Jewish souls. Reply

Chaim Kansas City July 3, 2014

To H and Anonymous: once you are either born of a Jewish mother, or are "naturalized" by going in the mikveh and promising to keep all the mitzvot, your soul is forever Jewish. You may sin by becoming an atheist or joining a non-Jewish group, but you still have a Jewish soul and you are subject to Divine punishment as such. That is the straight halachic deal.

To the Jewish lady who was in the Mormon church: You probably need to repent. I suggest you telephone an authoritative rabbi in another city and arrange for whatever act of repentance they require. Then join the local synagogue AS A JEW, WHCH YOU ARE. And so are your children. Gd bless you and Welcome Home!

To moron in Maryland, YES, you ARE a Jew, free and clear. Try various synagogues, pick one, and attend regularly to get to know the folks. Then ask help in converting to keeping kosher and keeping Shabbat. Tell them your family didn't know how, but you want to. Welcome HOME!

Read Yisrael Cotlar's post below. He knows. Reply

Yisroel Cotlar Cary, NC July 2, 2014


As explained in the article above, A Jew is a state of being that can never go away. If one is born a Jew, they remain a Jew, even if they tragically adopt beliefs that are antithetical to who they really are.

That being said, there are actions/beliefs a person can have that put one in the category of a "mumar", one who intentionally rebels against their Judaism. This can have Halachic ramifications (not being part of a minyan and more) and is an issue to be dealt with an expert Rov. Reply

Anonymous June 29, 2014

(1) If Judaism is a religion than, when a person chooses to be an Atheist or converts by choice to another religion than that person is not a Jew because that person does not practice Judaism and/or do not believe in G-d.
(2) If Judaism is a race, than based in DNA science, every Jew should have matching DNA as do the Arabs, Asians, Hispanics, etc are a race of people based on the fact their group of people all have matching DNA . And all DNA tests have proven that Ashkenazic Jews have the same DNA as all other white Europeans, which means that Ashkenazic Jews are not members of the Hebrew race of the 12 tribes. All Sephardi Jews, and Jews whose ancestry is of the Levant area such as Iraq, Iran, Algeria, etc, all having matching DNA. The Ashkenazic Jews, and Ethiopian Jews do not have DNA that match the Sephardi Jews or any Jews of the 12 tribes. The Torah is clear that all converts must follow the laws of G-d. Reply

Anonymous Philadelphia June 25, 2014

I have two questions.
1. Do you recognize born Jews who have become Messianic Jews or Completed Jews as Jews?

2. Do you count them in a minyan? Do you count those born as Jews but now converted to another religion in a Minyan? Reply