What’s Considered a Valid Reason to Convert To Judaism?

Dear Allison,

I really enjoy your articles and Q&A’s. I was hoping you might be able to lend some insight to my conundrum. I come from an interfaith family (my mother is Catholic and my father is Reform). Since my mother was far more religious, they decided I would be raised Catholic. We still celebrated Jewish holidays and fasted for Yom Kippur, etc., but I was very much raised within my mother’s religion. I never felt comfortable in Catholicism, so I started to explore my Jewish roots as soon as I moved away for college.

Now, eight years later, I have just returned from a five-month MASA program in Israel and I am in love. I feel so “right” as a Jewish woman. I have become more observant and would very much like to marry someone Jewish and raise a Jewish family. The problem, of course, is that I am not considered a Jew by Orthodox standards and often find myself shunned even in Reform circles. I am very seriously considering an Orthodox conversion, but I was hoping to hear your thoughts about whether I want to convert for the right reasons.

The strongest reason I want to convert is because I don’t want my children to go through what I went experienced. I was the lost gentile relative within our Jewish family circle, but I was the “Jewish kid” in Catholic school! I identify as a Jew, whether the OU recognizes it or not, but that’s not enough for acceptance in many circles. I don’t want my children or husband to have to face the issues I have. I want to finally be an official member of the “club,” and put questions of my legitimacy to rest.

I also feel my ancestors pulling me, begging me to keep the tradition alive in our family. My great grandfather, who came here from Poland and then saw nearly his entire family murdered in the Holocaust, was very religious and was a classmate of David Ben-Gurion’s. Now, just two generations later, his grandson, my father, cannot read Hebrew, does not pray or attend shul ever, and wanted to blow out the Shabbat candles I lit because he thought the wax would harm the candlesticks.

Something has to give! If I don’t keep our beautiful traditions alive, no one will! The only disclosure I want to make is that I don’t ever think I will be completely Orthodox. I am probably more of a Reform-ative girl (versus Conserv-adox, etc). I try to fulfill as many mitzvot as possible, but I know I will never fulfill all 613 to a T. So, after that long e-mail, my question is, do you think my reasons for conversion are valid? Or am I just kidding myself? Thanks so much for any thoughts or advice you might have! I really absolutely love your site. It has been so inspiring and helpful!



Dear TS,

Thank you for your question and your kind words about the site. In terms of what’s considered a valid reason to convert, the fact that you feel your ancestors “pulling you, begging you to keep tradition alive in your family” is one of the most compelling reasons there could be in becoming Jewish.

From what you describe, it sounds like you have a pintele yid – a spark of Jewishness within your soul. Why else would a girl brought up in Catholic school feel such a pull to keep a tradition from dying out when, as you point out, that very tradition doesn’t even fully accept you as a member of it?

However, we must discuss your “disclosure” – the fact that you see yourself ending up somewhere between Reform and Conservative and not fully Orthodox. I know you gave the OU (Orthodox Union) a bit of a dig when you said that they don’t recognize you as a Jew even though you identify as a one, but we have to take a moment to understand why the OU and Orthodox Jews in general have such standards.

Orthodoxy doesn’t have high conversion standards in order to needlessly exclude people or deny them acceptance into something they feel a part of. As I mentioned in my post about Amare Stoudemire’s Jewish status, traditional Judaism sees the act of converting as the point in which a gentile, who’s only obligated in 7 commandments, decides to take on the responsibility of 613 commandments.

But you should keep something in mind about that obligation. No one keeps all 613 mitzvos nowadays and some mitzvos are done only once in a lifetime (like marriage, hopefully) or infrequently (like holidays). Also, no one – even those of us who are born Jewish and live as Orthodox Jews – keeps every mitzvah that’s required of us. However, one of the defining characteristics of being an Orthodox Jew is that although we may not being actually doing it all, we strive to be doing it all.

So I guess my question to you is – is your saying that you will “never fulfill all 613 to a T” the same thing that I’m saying – an acknowledgement of man’s shortcomings by nature – or, is it something else? Are you throwing in the towel and admitting defeat before you’ve even tried?

If it’s the latter and not the former, than that would be an issue in terms of converting, not only for technical reasons (i.e. you need to be sincere about accepting the commandments when you take them on as an obligation), but for practical reasons as well.

See, the very thing that motivates you to grab the torch of Jewishness and reclaim our beautiful tradition is that you’ve witnessed how much was lost in the space between your very religious great-grandfather and your intermarried Reform father who “cannot read Hebrew, does not pray or attend shul ever, and wanted to blow out the Shabbat candles.”

You have to understand, though, that what happened in your family and my family and most other Jewish families in the last couple generations is that Jews stopped striving to keep the whole Torah and simply started picking and choosing the commandments they found personally worthwhile.

There are many wonderful Reform and Conservative Jews. I was one of them – many of my family and friends still are. But if Jewish continuity is what you seek, you need only look at the intermarriage and assimilation rates in these communities to understand that something is not working when it comes to passing on Judaism to the next generation. I think one of the main reasons for this failure is that when you’re raised to be “a picker and a chooser” it’s very easy, over time, to just pick and choose less and less until you’re left with nothing at all.

I try to demonstrate on JewintheCity.com that you can be normal, funny, open-minded, educated and still be an Orthodox Jew. I understand that making such a drastic lifestyle change seems, well, drastic. But if you want to not only take hold of tradition but also successfully impart it to future generations, the best chance you have of doing that is by living your life as a committed Torah Jew who strives to keep all of Jewish law. It’s only through a sincere and empassioned example of Jewish living that you can hope to convey to your children why they should bother passing the Jewish torch on to theirs.

If you have any issues with specific mitzvos that you’re having trouble envisioning yourself keeping, please feel free to be in touch again.

Best of luck on your journey,


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  • Avatar photo D says on September 28, 2010

    beautifully said.

  • Avatar photo Lisa Feig says on September 28, 2010

    HI Allison,

    Thanks for your interesting column. I am a recent convert to the Conservative Movement. When I began my journey I felt a bit overwhelmed by all that was expected of me. The rabbi gave me this piece of advice: just add more and more Jewish way of living to your lifestyle a little at a time. Once you have incorporated one custom, then add another one. No one can do it all at once. We all try as best as we can. I think you mirrored this advice when you said we strive to fulfill the mitzvot.

    • Avatar photo Kyra says on April 19, 2018

      Hi. I was wondering if you have any suggestions for me as to where to begin. I am a non-practicing Catholic that has become more and more interested in Judaism. Over the last decade I have reached out to my uncle (by marriage) that is Jewish. About 4 years ago I learned at my aunts funeral that our family covnerted to Catholicism when they arrived from Germany and since the area they chose was of strong Catholic faith, they converted. I was excited and at the same time saddened that I was never given a choice. It has taken me years to realize that I connect more with my family’s original faith than my Catholic family. Over the Easter break I was able to spend more time and ask more questions when my uncle was in town. I feel more connected to my uncles beliefs and It just feels right. my desire for practicing what I feel is who I am has brought Me closer to God and prayer. The words from your rabbi about adding a little at a time to my lifestyle was exactly what I needed to begin. I’m wondering if reaching out to a rabbi in my area is the first step. I would love any suggestions, advice, words of encouragement that you can share.

      • Avatar photo Allison Josephs says on April 24, 2018

        Thanks for your comment, Kyra. Which side of your family came from Germany?

  • Avatar photo George says on September 28, 2010

    You said “No one keeps all 613 mitzvos nowadays and some mitzvos are done only once in a lifetime (like marriage, hopefully) or infrequently (like holidays). Also, no one – even those of us who are born Jewish and live as Orthodox Jews – keeps every mitzvah that’s required of us.”
    However, what you might have added is that nobody *can* keep all 613. Some are only for women, some are only for the Cohen Hagadol, some can only be kept if you live in Israel, some can only be kept if you are a farmer, etc.

    Have a wonderful last few days of Sukkot.

  • Avatar photo Kathy says on September 28, 2010

    The important part of this article is that your “whole heart” has to be into. I love and admire this idea because this is exactly what we are asked to do. Thanks, Allison. 🙂

  • Avatar photo Jacob says on September 29, 2010

    Lisa what you said is what I have been doing in my own conversion. I want to follow as many mitzvot as I can, however I want to understand the whys and hows before I do so. As I grow in Jewish exploration I value them more and become more observant because I cherish the obligations. I find beauty in the history and traditions and it is meaningful to ease into my Jewish education rather than to just start following rules because I have to.

    Like Allison said, it is the intention to follow the obligations. If our hearts are not in it, then the value of the mitzvah is diminished. Additionally if we choose not to do the mitzvah at all then we reinforce the secular priorities in our lives.

  • Avatar photo Shelly says on December 21, 2010

    Converting to Judaism is very serious. Once you say, “I am a Jew.” It changes everything. It is not something to be taken lightly. While I have no Jewish blood in me (that I know of) I take my faith seriously. I have been physically attacked for being openly Jewish. I have been shunned by neighbors and co workers. It is a tough lonely road as a single woman. Prepare yourself and be honest with yourself.

    Ask yourself:
    Am I disciplined enough to take on the responsibilities of being Jewish?
    Am I willing to have a TRUE Jewish home? Am I prepared to be examined by a Beit Din?

    Converting is expense! Do you have money put away for books, Dvd’s,etc?

    I wish you the very best in your journey.


  • Avatar photo Ray says on December 11, 2011

    My Mother was Jewish, but it was kept from me for many years (?) Her sister was married to a Jew, I knew he was, of course, but not my aunt !
    Anyway, could I “become” a Jew?
    What are Jewish thoughts on Messianic Jews?

    • Avatar photo Allison says on December 12, 2011

      Ray – if your mother was Jewish, then you don’t need to “become” Jewish – you already are. Welcome home! In terms of Messianic Jews. Jews are *very* into the Messiah (we call it Moshiach in Hebrew). We just don’t think he came yet. We look at what Tanach (the Jewish Bible) describes the world will be like when Moshiach comes and none of it’s happened yet.

  • Avatar photo Marusa says on January 21, 2012

    Both of my parents are more spiritual than religious but they both have Ashkenazic Jewish parents, grandparents, great-grandparents etc. I never grew up with a religion but during my teenage years I wanted to learn everything about Judaism. My question is that since my parents don’t practice Ashkenazic Judaism and I never grew up with the religion am I Jewish? Do I need to convert or am I already considered Jewish?

    • Avatar photo Allison says on January 23, 2012

      Thanks, for your question, Marusa. If you have a Jewish mother who had a Jewish mother (and all the mothers as far back as you know were Jewish) then you’re Jewish – regardless of what you know or don’t know, practice or don’t practice. Welcome home!

  • Avatar photo Angela Marie Wasserman says on January 30, 2012

    My name is Angela Wasserman, my husband Merrill Wasserman is jewish. I was born catholic , but never practiced, but since I been with my husband I wanted to convert to Reform like him. It was never really an issue till his Dad made a stink over me being his wife. In fact he used the term “GOY” that made me sad and I broke down crying over his comment, but my husband said it’s up to you to convert. I have converted in 2003 and be faithfully Jewish for 9 years and love it. I wish that I can do to the next step in my life with my new faith.

  • Avatar photo Janessa says on July 3, 2012

    My husband is Conservative and when we met I studied for two years prior to my conversion (I was raised Lutheran). Judaism spoke to me with its “doing and not just believing”, its lively/scholarly debate, and for so many other reasons. I knew after my Conservative conversion that neither my children nor I would be considered Jewish by Orthodox standards. What are Conservative converts to do to be accepted when they meet/love/marry a Conservative Jew? An Orthodox conversion would not be appropriate in this scenario. I am certain I am not the only Conservative convert who feels this sense of exclusion. Is our only option for acceptance to have my husband begin living an Orthodox life and for me to re-convert Orthodox? Obviously, we would never make this decision for acceptance alone, but it seems the only option for myself and my children to be seen as Jewish. This saddens me.

    • Avatar photo Allison says on July 18, 2012

      Thanks for your question, Janessa. It’s a tough situation, no doubt. But you should keep something in mind – if you’re husband was Reform and you had a Reform conversion Orthodox AND Conservative would not recognize the conversion. Why are Orthodox standards the way they are? In a nutshell, because a gentile is only obligated in 7 commandments, while a Jew in obligated in 613. By converting from gentile to Jew, a person takes on 606 new obligations! The idea is that if you obligate yourself for more commandments, you should be attempting to actually keep them. I’d recommend having your whole family start to study. You can reach out to a rabbi on this list http://www.judaismconversion.org/batei.din.html to learn what you’d need to do to start looking into this process. I think the best way to make an educated decision is to educate yourself – learn what a life of more observance might look like. There have been MANY cases of converts who bring the Jewish spouse towards more observance. Good luck!!

  • Avatar photo Ephraim Travis says on July 19, 2012

    Allison, thank you for continuing this important and timely conversation.

    I am certainly not an expert in the area of conversion. However, I’ve lived in several cities and have formed very close relationships with people from a myriad of ethnic backgrounds, cultures and religions. I’ve also known 3 couples who converted 3 times. I’ve had non-Jewish Soldiers in Iraq attend Jewish services on many occasions. I am sure many who read this would state the same (not the part about Iraq). I’ve also come across several converts who joined Orthodox Jewish synagogues only to rarely be seen. They do not keep Kosher, do not observe Shabbos and they do not send their children to Jewish schools. So it begs the question: Why did they convert?

    I presently have 4 women who have expressed an interest in Judaism. They are bright, intelligent and passionate about finding a meaningful relationship with the Almighty. They attend services as well as my Basic Judaism classes. But this is not enough to convert. Joining the Jewish People because of a feeling is a fleeting moment. Becoming an Orthodox Jew is a great commitment full of challenges. Thus, converting and living as an Orthodox Jew must come from a long and well-thought out mental process. Emotional connectivity is great and often exhorts one into discovery but it will not carry the day when life-challenges as a Jew arise. For a non-Jew who wants to have a deeply committed and meaningful relationship with G-d, one does not have to convert.

    One of the most often asked questions I get as a Rabbi/Chaplain is, “What does Orthodox Judaism say about Gentiles?” If you are concerned about having a place in the World to Come, you still need not convert. Learn, study and adapt to the 7 Noahide Mitzos and you’ll have your well-earned portion in Heaven. Unlike many Christian denominations, in Judaism you needn’t convert to earn salvation from the Almighty. As my Rebbi likes to say, “In Judaism, for a Gentile, it’s keep the Seven and go the Heaven.

  • Avatar photo Andrea Grinberg (Andrea Herzog) says on July 19, 2012

    Hi Allison,
    Someone sent me this q&a as a response to a post I recently made on my website, where I discussed my decision to do a “ger l’chumra” conversion as a result of some missing information on my mom’s history. I’m very glad that I decided to post it (was quite difficult to write about) because the response has been overwhelming. I had no idea how many Jews have had to go through some sort of process like this!
    Shavua tov and kol tuv,

  • Avatar photo Janel says on September 6, 2012

    How beautifully you responded! I grew up Catholic and I’m converting. Your idea of a “a pintele yid – a spark of Jewishness within your soul” is a wonderful way to describe how I’ve felt since childhood.

  • Avatar photo David says on November 16, 2012

    What a beautiful answer to a beautiful question! I just discover your site and I really appreciate the kindness you show in every answer you give. Sorry for this whole novel I just wrote and am still hesitating to post… but I happen to be in the same situation as Janel (a non-jewish mother and a jewish dad) apart from being a man (!), and my mother having had no other religious background at all when she met my dad, at the age of 19. She started an orthodox conversion process before I was born, 2 years later. She took sincerely judaism as her faith during 10 years while she attempted whole-heartedly to convert, but her “giyur” was finally refused by the central orthodox office in Paris, argueing that my father was not religious enough (this might be worth to be noticed by people willing to convert who are already in a couple with a jew!). It has been very hard on her, and later on, she has turned herself to buddhism, but is still very proud of her son to be (a) “jew-ish”!

    I have always been raised by both my parents as a jew; my mother having lost her parents at 16 years old, most of my family cell as a child was jewish, in Paris, and a little in Israel. I used to go to hebrew and basic torah classes. I have grown up in a very moderate (not to say poor) halaHic environment, one would consider worse than reformi: tv on shabat as well as playing music, all of my father’s side of the family being musicians, me as well – eating non-kosher food, and “religion” consisting mainly in family shabat friday meal, doing the blessings of motsi and kidush at my grandmother’s (amazing tunisian sefardi couscous!), as well as fasting on yom kippur, keeping pesaH, and lighting candles in hanukah. No schul attending, until I went to talmud torah and started to learn a parasha for my bar mitsva but in the end, I had to change parasha and go to a reformi synagogue. By the way, I had a brit mila at 8 days, I’m not sure if the rabbi was reformi or if my dad managed at the time to find a jewish mohel – but the brit mila seems kosher to me, but I however do know that there will have to be some drops of blood to be poured during my giyur, which I am looking forward to achieve ASAP b”h.

    Understanding that I was not properly jewish started therefore at 13yo. I have always believed in hashem without any doubt, and when my parents separated (they were not married) at 9yo, I had once seen a jewish character in a movie who went to the sea to cry to G0d, and went under water – performing some kind of mikveh, so when I learnt this very bad news, I was in Israel in holidays and I was very sad and I spontaneously went to cry all my tears in the sea in Netanya and going several times underwater, begging G0d for help. I sincerely think now as an adult that ha kadosh baruH hu, in his mercy, heard the cries of a sincere child to Him, whatever my “status”. He did not bring my parents back together although they kept very good relations afterwards, but I think He kept me somehow protected “under his wing”.

    Spiritually, this issue has always been present in my mind, being – as Janel – a non-jew for jews and a jew for non-jews, with a jewish face and name, some might even wish to say sarcastically “a jew to the jews”! This situation has brought me through several points in my life where I was searching the truth and the meaning in all that. My first reaction, around 16 yo, was to start wondering who was that guy in Galil who had said 2000 years ago that G0d was for everyone, you know.. the “hangman”, but b”h I never got into it – much too spooky and morbid, and with the time, I got to understand better how false the whole christian doctrin is. I also read the quran – briefly, as it didnt speak much to me neither, reading that jews were sons of pigs… However, I don’t hate arabs at all, and I know that somehow, islam is much closer to judaism.

    At 19 yo I traveled to India and saw the pagan world and one year later discovered the animist world of black Africa. I was still looking for the truth, and after having seen the christian, muslim, pagan and animist worlds, during a holidays in Israel and in the Sinai desert at 21 yo, I remembered for the first time that there were actually laws in judaism, as I had forgotten the small amount of ones I had ever known so far.

    At 23 yo, I started a 5 years love story with a jewish girl who helped me to bind again to judaism. I had already made my first step on my own since Sinai – avoiding mixing dairy and meat – but meeting her made me start eating only kosher meat, and living together, we decided together to keep separate dishes, even though none of us had seen our parents do so, but it seemed natural and more convenient. We also followed the laws of nidah, although she did not go to the mikveh, and anyways, it was a bad move to live together unmarried. I started conversion lessons at the time during two years, but finally dropped them, having to deal first with my time-consuming medical studies. We always did a kidush on sabath and used to keep shabat from time to time, especially when in Israel, but I was aware that I had to make at least one mistake, which in the end pushed me towards not keeping it at all. I also started NOT to put tefilin anymore, as in this period, I was slowly considering and accepting that I was not a jew, although my girl friend always considered me 100% jew and never made a single negative or painful comment. In 2001, our love story ended and since then, I have been living alone, and kept on following by my own the laws I learnt.

    Since more than 10 years now, I have strenghtened my kosher keeping in all areas, wine, no-gelatin, no-animal fats, kosher lepesaH etc.. I have continued to learn more and more about judaism, mostly by my own, and always had and have in mind to improve all that I do, in every aspect of my life, in order to become properly, sincerely, and humbly (that’s the hardest part) jewish. I have progressively “implemented” more and more rituals, more praying, more celebrations (sukot, purim, simhat torah, fasting on tisha beav), more knowledge, more practice, but mainly, I have realized by learning more – how little I know: the more I learn, the less I know, and bigger the wisdom of the wise of Israel to my eyes and of Moshe rabbenu’s oral and written torah.

    The point I want to make here is that I had to wait until I was 35 (a couple of years ago) to actually thank G0d for having me done not jewish, by reference to the morning prayer “she lo asani goy”! I have never been “angry” at G0d for not making me a jew, as I always considered myself a jew regardless the actual laws, but still, I used to feel some little sadness because of my situation, but always looked forward to go back to a conversion process. Since two years, I’ve understood that nothing comes by chance, and I am glad to have gone what I have gone through. I have many jewish friends and acquaintances, and I often note that most of them don’t know much the jewish religion, and its source of perpetual marvel. I therefore thank G0d not to have made me a jew, because, if he had done so, maybe I would have been like a lot of the ones I know, who don’t consider religion at all as an important matter, and who would settle willingly with non-jews. Through this whole process, I have understood and accepted all my situation, and reinforced my knowledge of the torah and my practice of the mitsvot. I accept now that I was not ready for conversion at the time I started 15 years ago, and feel much more confident today to go through a conversion – orthodox of course. Furthermore, I understand now that whoever is not jewish but who firmly believes he/she is jewish “inside”, must go to a process through which he sincerely accepts to be non-jewish, as a pledge of humility, in order to go towards a spiritual rebirth as a jew after the mikveh in the end of the giyur process.

    I don’t recommend anyone converting to reformis or to any other liberal movement. I talked to a girl recently, a non-jew from both parents saying she had always felt jew and who was supposedly willing to convert, but “not to wear clothes like religious women” or wigs etc… she was in a reformi movement with a woman rabbi! Her own personal history seemed to be marked by a feeling of rejection by jews… Even if I told her that converting to reformis, she would still keep this feeling of rejection, she thought it was the road she had to go through. I explained her that it was not like if she was on a road, and that the first stop was “reformi”, then further on the road, the second stop “orthodox”, but two completely different and opposite roads. Reformis in France really show their nature, and … who is actually going to believe a guy pretending he’s a rabbi, who’s smoking his pipe on shabat, takes his car and the elevator, and gives you kicks with his knees while you’re reading your parasha on your bar mitsva to make you go faster… It’s not to Hashem’s laws to adapt to our world but the opposite, and all pretendedly reformi or liberal movements are non-jewish-sense in my opinion.

    I hope this personal testimony will inspire some people positively. I wish to thank you again for this great space of jewish discussions – kol ha kavod! Shabat shalom! Bye!

    PS: I am single and looking for a pretty G0d-fearing jewish wife in her late 20’s to marry, and to create a jewish family who would be moving between France, England, the USA and ultimately Israel be ezrat hashem! I will be happy to exchange emails. I shall be a good father and husband b”h. Shalom lekulam!

    • Avatar photo Bella says on May 24, 2019

      David you have such a wonderful story! Thank you for sharing with us! So glad you found your Jewish faith. Wish you much luck and hope you found your Jewish wife!

  • Avatar photo Cynthia says on December 10, 2012

    From birth until age 11, I was raised in Torah, Mishna, Talmud, and I know Hebrew. I spent two years during the 1980’s in the Holy Land. My mother was Jewish, however she died when I was ten years old, for the next two years I was allowed to continue to observe without restraint, but my father was not jewish, he is from France, and his mother and other family began to steer me towards the Christian church. I was allowed to observe sabbath and my torah. Although I have a jewish mother I am not fully accepted. I have been alone most of my life, but that hasn’t stopped me, I just want everyone to stop looking as if i committed some crime. I did not choose my parents, and I would never torture a child with two faiths. I love my father but I want my own Identity, my birth name was Esther, but my father’s family thought I should have an american name. I am totally confused and alone. Please tell me the truth, if I am not jewish? what am I?

    • Avatar photo Allison says on February 18, 2013

      Thanks for your comment, Cynthia. I don’t know who looks at you like you committed a crime but you are 100% Jewish and you should never be treated differently. Sorry for the way you’ve been treated!

  • Avatar photo Alice Hamilton says on February 9, 2013

    After reading this article I am quite curious as to what 7 commandments you believe the gentile is obligated to? I’m also interested in knowing what some of the 613 commandments a jew is obligated to, especially ones outside of
    of the 10 God gave to Moses. Thank you.

  • Avatar photo Tamar says on February 20, 2013

    Before there was a Jewish people and before there were 613 commandments, there was Noah, and there were the 7 commandments G-d gave him. After the Flood, the world was being rebuilt and the people in it, beginning with Noah, were given 7 ways of interacting with the world to maintain it. Those 7 were: Believing in G-d who Created and Runs the world, not to curse G-d, not to murder, not to steal, not to engage in incestuous, adulterous, bestial or homosexual relationships, not to eat a limb torn off a living animal, to establish a justice system enforcing the above six. These all are ways of preserving order in the world, and of preserving humanity, and of preserving the connection with G-d and the world. The people then were charged with these ways, and in keeping them, they were assisting G-d in maintaining the world, and were elevating their own souls, achieving total righteousness. When the Jewish people converged as a nation by Mount Sinai, they were effectively taking on more responsibility in keeping the world order. They were partnering with G-d to assume some of the more spiritual ways of preserving the world, thus serving as a bridge between the rest of the people and G-d. The rest of the people of the world (who numbered far greater than this small nation) still had the responsibility and privilege of taking care of their 7 arenas of life. And in fulfilling those arenas, they accomplish greatness and righteousness. However, if a member of the Jewish people, a member of the people who chose to take on more arenas of responsibility, were to only keep 7, he would be falling short of his goal. He has 613 areas of responsibility and privilege. However, he is not alone in assuring that they get taken care of; rather, every member of the Jewish nation is linked with the other and can fulfill areas that the other lacks. Certain commandments can only be fulfilled by a Kohen, a member of the Levite Tribe, some can only be fulfilled by a man, some by a woman, some can only be fulfilled in certain places, or certain times, and thus through the composite of all of the individuals’ efforts, the 613 are maintained as much as possible. At Mount Sinai, G-d gave the Jewish people an outline of all those 613, fitting them all into 10 general categories. These 613 as well can be broken down into many parts, such as Halachot and such as the laws dictated within the 5 Books of Moses, or hinted to in the Books of the Prophets or Writings, all of which develop into the lifestyle of the Jew. Here- http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/613_mitzvot.html- is a list of the 613, as compiled by Maimonides but there are varying versions of the list; however, all of which take into account the same laws, and are just divided, applied, or stated differently.

  • Avatar photo Ann says on August 11, 2013

    I have spent my whole life in the Catskills in NY. My friends refer to me as knowing more about Judaism than they know and speak as much Yiddish as they…..they say “Jewish through osmosis”. Over the years, I have searched for “religion…..questioning /interrogating our priest at the age of 10….and leaving very dissatisfied with his replies, as I vividly recall. At 18 I searched by joining other kinds of “christian” churches.
    I too have a Jewish female great grand-mother. And acknowledge that 613 laws is much more observant than I would “choose” if I were to ponder conversion. It has been 35+ years of learning so far, yet, I still …I guess, would just choose to be as religious as my friends are……After all…that’s about as religious as I ever was with any religion…ever.
    Please tell me why you consider it throwing in the towel…when non-converts get to be as religious as their parents, friends, relatives? Why would I want to have to go find all new friends and go to a shul where none of my friends attend? Also…holidays are spent together….with family and friends…..so, why would I want to ostracize myself before I begin?
    I have orthodox friends… a few…..yes….and when the majority of my “Regular Jewish” friends know “they” are visiting me, the negative comments fly. The regular Jewish people don’t even like the orthodox Jews, …members of the same religion.
    I too have a pull and a searching feeling. But to complicate things, I had a terrible car accident 21 years ago and all my memory for new learning has gone to the wayside…as well as my ability to read and retain or pay attention to new material.
    Is there any hope for me to become a convert with all this as stated? Or, should I just forget about looking, seeking or joining any religions in my old age?
    Thanks for pondering this conundrum for me.

  • Avatar photo Rabbi Jack Abramowitz says on August 13, 2013


    You ask great questions and that is a lot of balls in the air. The reality is that there is no “one size fits all” answer. The two questions are (1) do you want to? and (2) is it feasible?

    Only you can answer #1. I will tell you that if you were to adopt a new lifestyle, you should still be able to be friends with your friends. (The fact that what you call “regular” Jews don’t like the Orthodox – well, that’s troubling. How would it be if they didn’t like black people or gay people or Muslims as a class of people, as opposed to having issues with individual members of any group? I’m guessing that would be unacceptable. So why is it okay to hate on the Orthodox en masse? Perhaps you could enlighten your peer group as to whatever misconceptions may be driving that mindset. We’re actually pretty nice!)

    Anyway, if you decided it was something that interested you, then it would be time to address question #2. For that, you should contact a local Orthodox rabbi and arrange to meet and discuss. (Not every rabbi works with potential converts so you might have to call a few or ask for a referral.)

    But your ability to do so is immaterial until you decide that it’s something you want to do. That part is up to you; nobody is going to try to convince you because Judaism does not actively solicit converts. If someone is motivated to convert, we might work with them, but we’re never going to try to talk someone into it.

    I hope this helps! Good luck!

  • Avatar photo nathan says on September 16, 2013


    You bring up a good point. Why do potential converts need adhere to all the laws more so than Jews. The truth is that all Jews are equally required to keep the laws. But when they don’t keep them they still remain Jewish. A potential convert on the other hand will not be converted (othodox) unless they sincerely want to live that way.

    You do need to speak with a number of Rabbis though. You may be surprised to find out that you can be accepted. Or you may learn that you still need to grow in certain ways and then be converted. But even if you can’t convert Orthodox, a good Rabbi will help you find comfort and meaning in the way you are now.

    Personally, I feel you have the correct motivations, but you need to study more and take it more seriously if you actually want to convert.

  • Avatar photo Mindy N Barry Weinstein says on October 10, 2013

    Great answer!

  • Avatar photo Sinéad Nic Chlochaire says on December 16, 2013

    Not to be pedantic but why do you use the word mitzvos instead of mitzvot which is the Hebrew plural of mitzvah ? Is it a dialect thing ?Otherwise very interesting article.

  • Avatar photo Teresa Yonts Mackey says on January 2, 2014

    TS, your post made me cry. I'm crying for the loss of your traditions in your family. I'm crying because I know EXACTLY how you feel even though I was raised as christian. I never EVER felt that I belonged to the Christian faith. Something is MISSING, and after quite a lot of study and reading the Torah, I find what's missing is TRUTH. My people have been misled for over 2000 years, You have a heritage that is G-d given, and it belongs to you. Grab it with all you are and hold fast to your Jewishness!

    I said I would never convert to Judaism, but that's exactly where I am. I didn't realize that my DEEP LOVE of the Jewish people had a reason. I feel CONNECTED to Judaism and its people on a level I've only felt as a mother to my children.

    I look at the 613 laws we are to follow, and I look at the world around me. It's no wonder there is such depravity in the world. Man doesn't even try to follow the 10 commandments much less 613 laws. I believe that we can't pick and choose what laws we follow that G-d gave us. We should strive to follow them all. This will be hard for me considering I live in a city with less than 3 Jewish families. But, this is where I am, and G-d knows the struggles I will have to face. My struggles will pale in comparison to the struggles the Jewish people have dealt with for thousands of years. Am I willing to try to follow all of His commandments? Yes, is the answer. Will I be perfect in this? No, I'm sure I won't be, but He knows my heart. My heart is Jewish. He said He would be our G-d and we will be His people. My life will be lead as a Jewish woman's life striving to keep His laws and praying that He gives me what I need to do so.

    I have SUCH remorse that I didn't come to this realization before my three girls were grown. I've ROBBED them of their TRUE G-d. Now I can only pray that he will show them that their hope is NOT in Jesus but in the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He is the ONE true G-d, and I thank Him for showing me who I am and where I need to be!

    I wish you peace in your decisions. May the G-d of our nation bless you and give you strength.

  • Avatar photo Vivien Hallberg says on March 27, 2014

    I started reading theses pages as I am going to visit my daughter in Israel. She converted to Judaism when she was at University and later married an Israeli Jew (I hope that this is the right way to describe him as I don’t want to give offence). She in fact has led him into being Orthodox, they have been married, very happily for 20plus years now and have given me 10 beautiful grandchildren. I did find it very hard to understand the path that my daughter has taken and it is very hard that in some ways I am excluded from their lives, although I am always made welcome when I visit. But I am happy that she is happy, that she is doing what is right for her. Every time I visit, her friends tell me how special and wonderful she is. She is still my darling daughter although her path is not for me. Is it wrong, because I am not a jew to pray for her and her family. I love her so much.

  • Avatar photo Nathan says on January 3, 2015

    I would like to add one thing. As brought up in previous posts, many potential converts ask why more is demanded of them than of born Jews. I think this question is best answered by looking at the acceptance of mitzvot in a different way. Since especially in our days most people are not living perfectly according to the Torah, we must understand that accepting the mitzvot means something a little different. Lets say someone wants to be an American. They will have to accept the laws of the country. Does that mean that they won’t speed, etc. No, it means that they accept responsibility for the laws. They accept the fact that if they speed they will get pulled over and fined. It is the same with the mitzvot. A convert must similarly accept responsibility for all the laws. This means that God will judge them as he sees fit in case they ever transgress any law. This is with the understanding that God is merciful, but He still has the right to judge us in his wisdom as he sees fit, whether in this world or the next. With this understanding, there really is no difference between born Jews and converts. The born Jew is automatically responsible to keep all the laws and God can judge him as He sees fit. The convert must accept this extra responsibility.

  • Avatar photo Mr. Cohen says on January 26, 2015

    Babylonian Talmud, tractate Bechorot, page 30B:
    If a Gentile is prepared to accept the entire Torah,
    except for ONE religious law, we do NOT accept him.
    Rabbi Yosi ben Rabbi Judah taught:
    Even if he rejects ONE law of the Sages.

  • Avatar photo Shah iqbal says on August 25, 2017

    I want convert to Judaism just I’m Jewish by blood . I need no certificate from any other to accept or reject me as a jewish. All pakhtoon r from this holy blood.

    • Avatar photo Jonathan Stebbins says on April 15, 2018

      Hey Shah,

      While there are a number of groups who claim to be one of the Lost Ten Tribes, there are unfortunately limited ways to verify this. I would definitely do some more research on the subject before assuming anything. The Ethiopian Jews are recognized as verified Jews, but even they were recommended to undergo formal conversions to make everything above-board. With the question of “Who’s Jewish” getting more and more complicated, the stringency for proving Jewish identity as gotten higher.

      Even if you are correct, being Jewish by blood may not be enough if there was at any point a non-Jewish matrilineal ancestor. The Jews lived and prospered in Spain for hundreds of years prior to the Inquisitions, and thus most people of Spanish heritage have some level of Jewish genes by virtue of population mixing. This, however, does not mean that all Spaniards are Jews.

      However, in Judaism “blood” is viewed as the life-force of a creature, the interface between the body and the soul. On some level every Jew desires to serve their Creator with all their heart, all their soul, and all their might. We desire to elevate our life-force into a transcendent vehicle for spreading light and goodness. Every person has the power to devote their lives to their Creator, the One Who Encompasses Everything, to do what is personally asked of them. Our tradition says the everyone, Jew or not, has the ability to connect to their life-force and harness it for making this world a place fit for everyone. Best of luck on your journey!


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