Yom Iyun on Conversion

Rabbis Tackle Issues of Conversion for Children at Groundbreaking Workshop

“The Beit Din is the court to all orphans,” said Rabbi Dan Shevitz, quoting the medieval scholar Ramban (Nachmanides) — meaning all rabbis on a Beit Din (religious court) are responsible for the welfare of children, whatever their family status.

Shevitz led this discussion April 30, 2013, as part of an interactive and groundbreaking program organized by the Sandra Caplan Community Beit Din and the Board of Rabbis of Southern California / Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. The Yom Iyun (day of study), “All God’s Children Have a Place in the Mikveh,” tackled practical issues for clergy in the conversion of children.

More than 35 rabbis convened at Temple Akiba in Culver City, from Los Angeles and as far as Pomona and Camarillo. Many serve on the Community Beit Din, which offers a pluralistic alternative to people seeking conversion to Judaism. Rabbis from the Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist movements – as well as trans-denominational rabbis – founded the Beit Din in 2002. The group primarily uses the Rabbinical Assembly Mikveh (ritual bath) located at American Jewish University.

The day’s topics included family formation – how adoption, surrogacy and sperm/egg donation impact the need for conversion – and meaningful conversion rites in the mikveh for the families and children.

“It’s important to me that families have their eyes wide open to the choices available to them – mikveh, circumcision, etcetera,” said Rabbi Jonathan Kupetz, of Temple Beth Israel in Pomona. “I’d prefer that people see themselves as a Jew in the larger world. How do we as rabbis make sure they have the information to make those choices?”

Panelists and presenters included Rabbi Elliot Dorff of AJU, who serves on the Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards. He spoke about in-vitro fertilization and surrogacy, “which we’ve had since Abraham.” He also addressed how the Beit Din might define Jewish identity by birth in these cases, according to halacha (Jewish law).

“We are in a deep demographic crisis as a Jewish people,” Dorff said. “We lost about a third of our people in the Holocaust . . . the facts would argue that we should accept anyone who claims to be Jewish, but that’s a much larger discussion – for another day.”

For more on the Sandra Caplan Community Beit Din, visit scbetdin.us.