In Judaism, a ger (Hebrew: "stranger" or "convert") or ger tzedek ("righteous convert" or "convert of righteousness") is a gentile who has undergone religious conversion (giur) to Judaism by fulfilling the ritual requirements for such conversion accepting the obligations of Jewish religious observance.
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In Biblical Hebrew, the word ger can denote either a convert (and is usually interpreted as such by the Talmud) or a non-Jewish inhabitant of the Land of Israel who observes the seven Noahide Laws and has repudiated all links with idolatry. The word ger tzedek was used to denote a full convert. In post-Talmudic times, the word ger has become synonymous with ger tzedek; Ger is commonly translated by the Greek word "proselyte", and has come to mean a convert to Judaism.
Motivations for conversion
In general terms, anyone who commits to living a religiously observant life is an acceptable candidate for conversion. For a variety of reasons, rabbis have traditionally discouraged people from converting to Judaism, and most will insist that the candidate for conversion demonstrate his/her commitment in word and deed before the conversion is undertaken.
A number of reasons for converting exist: some have theological convictions consistent with Judaism; others are attracted to elements of Jewish religious life; some wish to belong to a particular Jewish community. A significant portion wish to convert because they want to marry someone who is Jewish. This latter reason (see secondary conversion) is considered to be insufficient by most Orthodox rabbis.
- Circumcision (Brit milah) for men
- Immersion (t'vilah) in a mikveh (ritual bath)
- Understanding and acceptance of the obligations of being a religiously observant Jew.
After confirming that all these criteria have been met, the beth din issues a Shtar Giur ("Certificate of Conversion"), certifying that the former gentile is now a Jew.
Variations and controversy
The requirements for conversion to Judaism are intended to avoid any uncertainty about a convert's true status. The certification by a beth din was based on events the completeness of which were carefully defined.
The Reform movement has relaxed some of the requirements for conversion, notably by making brit milah optional, only encouraging t'vilah (immersion), and requiring that converts commit to religious standards set by the Reform movement.
Both the Conservative and Orthodox movements require that all halakhic requirements be met, but they differ on what constitutes a competent beth din. Orthodox rabbis generally do not accept the authority of non-Orthodox rabbis. Moreover, in Orthodoxy, a person who converts under the guidance of a non-Orthodox rabbi is presumed to have an incomplete or erroneous understanding of the law he or she is taking upon him or herself; therefore, Orthodox rabbis generally do not accept conversions under Conservative (or Reform, or Reconstructionist) auspices.
Since the Orthodox movement is not organized in a unified way, Orthodox rabbis will not automatically accept each other's authority. This has led to a general reluctance in the Orthodox communities to prepare and perform conversions.
Consequences of conversion
Once undergone, a religious conversion to Judaism is irreversible, unless there are grounds to believe that the convert was insincere during the conversion process. In such cases – which are rare – a beth din may annul the conversion.
Place in religious life
Halakha forbids reminding a convert that he/she was once not a Jew and hence little distinction is made in Judaism between "Jews by birth" and "Jews by choice." According to halakha, converts face a limited number of restrictions, e.g. they cannot marry Kohanim. Converts can become rabbis (and some have).
- Conversion to Judaism homepage – information on conversion within all branches of Judaism in North America
- Conversion to Judaism on the Itim site (practical information on Orthodox conversion through the Israeli Chief Rabbinate and conversion in the diaspora).
- Intermarriage and Conversion Reading List Introduction
- Frequently asked questions: