The Conversion Process and the Covenant

For the Israelites, acceptance of the covenant was twofold: identification with the people through circumcision in Egypt and acceptance of God at Sinai.

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As soon as immersion occurred, with its prerequisite acceptance of mitzvot [commandments], the two-phased process was completed. The gentile became a Jew--an integral, covenanted member and full participant in the fate and destiny of the Jewish people. Conversion was complete.

What was required for men--circumcision to recall the peoplehood covenant at Egypt, in addition to immersion required for all converts--was not required for women. Naturally, both men and women are equally and fully partners in the covenant. But women's acceptance of the religious destiny of the Jews is thought to embrace also acceptance of sharing in the communal fate of the Jews. The "daughters of Israel," as Jewish women are fondly called in the literature, are thought to need no physical mark to remind them of their identity with the people; it is believed to be part of their souls, unlike men who need the reminder to be carved on the most intimate part of their bodies.

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Rabbi Maurice Lamm

Maurice Lamm is the author of many books, including The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning. He is the president of the National Institute for Jewish Hospice, and Professor at Yeshiva University's Rabbinical Seminary in New York, where he holds the chair in Professional Rabbinics. For years he served as rabbi of Beth Jacob Congregation, Beverly Hills, CA.