Thursday, January 21, 2010

Conversion: How they used to do it

And interesting description of the process of conversion to Judaism in Britain, written in 1853.

The blogger, Mississippi Fred Macdowell, picks up on three interesting points:

-- The author of the book knows of several female converts but no male ones.

-- He claims that the hair of female converts "is shorn"

-- The actual dip in the mikveh took place in Holland:

Formerly in Europe there was only one place where it was legal to convert to Judaism, or at least not particularly controversial, and that was Holland. Consequently, many gentiles wishing to convert went to Holland where they could legally convert. In addition, Jews who had converted to Christianity would go to Holland if they wanted to revert back to Judaism, Holland being the place they could do so safely. In the case of England, I don't think it was really illegal; certainly not by 1853; but traditionally the Jews in England would not convert gentiles, believing that they had agreed to this condition to Oliver Cromwell when he allowed Jews to be readmitted to England in the 17th century.

To these I would add a fourth and a fifth:

-- A prospective convert "has to make himself acquainted with the principal parts of the Jewish ritual". It is completely clear in what depth or how long this is expected to take, but in any case is only referred to in passing.

-- The female converts the author knows converted "generally upon being married to Jews", a motivation which is treated suspiciously today.

As Miss. Fred points out, this is not necessarily a reliable testimony (although the author of the book, Rev John Mills, does say that he relied on several Jewish sources, including the editor of the Jewish Chronicle!). But it does appear that many of the commitments we require from Orthodox converts today were not required then.

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