Conversion History: Late 20th Century

Jewish attitudes toward conversion began to change as spouses of non-Jews remained loyal to Judaism and more converts chose Judaism.

Print this page Print this page

Schindler's revolutionary point was that Jews should not wait for potential or actual partners in an intermarriage to consider converting, but rather, Jews should approach such partners about the possibility. Schindler wanted his movement to do the seeking, to identify and nurture those who might convert and support those who did. He sought to minimize Christian opposition to his proposal by ruling out seeking converts from among those who were already affiliated with another religion. The UAHC's Board of Trustees unanimously adopted Schindler's resolution and endorsed a joint task force created with the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR).

The task force presented its report to the 1981 UAHC General Assembly. That assembly adopted five resolutions establishing an outreach program. In 1983, the task force was re-formed as a Joint UAHC/CCAR Commission on Reform Jewish Outreach and was charged with, among other tasks, developing appropriate programs and visual materials for its various outreach audiences. The Commission has regional outreach coordinators and has produced an impressive array of publications on the place of converts within Reform Judaism.

Other religious movements in America were also reacting to the changing times. In 1979, the Reconstructionist movement developed formal Guidelines on Conversion, including an outreach program. Their program was aimed directly at those who had already converted in order to help them integrate into the community.

The Conservative movement eschewed the original missionary idea inherent in Rabbi Schindler's approach, but nevertheless saw the value of preventing intermarriages by encouraging an intermarried non-Jew to convert and making Judaism available (as opposed to intrusive proselytizing) to those who were interested. In 1985, the movement's Rabbinical Assembly approved a statement viewing the increase in conversions as a "positive" aspect of Jewish life, both as a reaction to intermarriage and as a personal religious quest.

In 1987, the movement held its first Conference on Intermarriage and Conversion and was planning a common syllabus to use in teaching potential converts as well as other related efforts. Also in that year, the Rabbinical Assembly published Embracing Judaism by Simcha Kling, a book explaining Judaism that was especially aimed at potential converts. The Rabbinical Assembly also established Regional Conversion Institutes, which provide introductory courses in Judaism that may lead students to convert, and the Assembly's Committee on Keruv and Giyur issued a Keruv Resource Guide in 1991. [Keruv, according to the Rabbinic Assembly's Statement on Intermarriage, "connotes the attempt to bring Jews and their non-Jewish spouses closer to us and to our established communal standards," and giyur means conversion.] The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism established a Committee on Intermarriage in 1991.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Lawrence J. Epstein is the author of numerous books, including Conversion to Judaism: A Guidebook and Readings on Conversion to Judaism.