CARR 99-101


Contemporary American Reform Responsa

62. Return to Judaism of a Baptized Jewish


QUESTION: A student in this year’s Confirmation Class has a

brother who is a “Jew for Jesus.” Her mother, although born Jewish, practices Christianity. The

girl was privately baptized when she was five. The father is a committed Jew and wants his

daughter confirmed. Under what conditions can we confirm this girl? (Rabbi M. Feinstein, San

Antonio, TX) ANSWER: It is clear that we have a confused religious situation in this

family, as every member seems to be going in a different direction. It is, therefore, necessary to

ascertain whether this young girl and her father are sincere in their motivations, or whether her

interest in a confirmation at the synagogue represents part of a family quarrel. If these problems

have been resolved, then we should approach the young woman as an adult, and ask for an

affirmation of her Judaism, a declaration of haverut, as for any repentant

apostate. Most of the traditional material which discussed apostates is only

peripherally relevant, as it deals with those who converted under duress. Here the conversion of

the mother and the baptism of the child were voluntary acts. Those converted under duress

should be permitted to return to Judaism in as simple a manner as possible. In cases

of duress such individuals were readmitted to the Jewish community (and we must remember

that this was a corporate community, not merely a congregation) without any action on their part

except their desire to rejoin the Jewish community. No ritual bath or anything else is necessary.

This is the law as finally stated in the Shulhan Arukh (Moses Isserles to Shulhan

Arukh Yoreh Deah 268.12; Abraham Gombiner, Magen Avraham, to Shulhan Arukh

Orah Hayim 326), based upon a verse in Jeremiah (3.22), “Return you recalcitrant children.” This

Biblical statement, as well as similar Talmudic statements, is cited by Elijah Gaon of Vilna in his

discussion of the above mentioned passages of the Shulhan Arukh. It

has been generally felt that one should not embarrass such unfortunate individuals and make it

easy for them to return to the Jewish community. So Rabenu Gershom, who lived in the

Rhineland in the eleventh century, felt that one should simply admit such individuals and not in

any way remind them of their previous apostasy (Mahzor Vitry, pp. 96 ff). Solomon ben

Simon Duran (Responsa #89) also felt that no ritual bath or any other act was required.

These thoughts were incorporated by Joseph Caro in his Bet Josef (to Tur Yoreh

Deah 268). However, in instances where the apostasy was not under duress, and

where the apostate may have caused considerable trouble to the community, then a process

akin to conversion was demanded (Hai Gaon in Aderet, Responsa, Vol. 4, #292; Rashi to

Kid. 68b and Lev. 24.10). At the very least, a ritual immersion in the miqveh was

demanded (Moses Isserles to Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 268.12) as well as a promise to

become an observant Jew before three witnesses (Joseph Ibn Habib to Alfasi Yeb. Chap.

4). Examples of this more demanding point of view may be found in Zimmel’s Die Marranen

in der rabbinischen Literatur. The young lady involved in this instance does not

quite fall into either historic category. She was not converted under duress. On the other hand,

she is also not an apostate who left us and caused us any problems. We, therefore, recommend

a middle road. We would admit her with a simple ceremony which will impress the seriousness of

her decision on her and formally make her part of the Jewish community. Whether immersion in

a miqveh is required will depend on the traditions of the community.January 1984

If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.