Meaning of Conversion for Judaism

Prof. Zvi Zohar
Rappaport Center for Assimilation Research and the Strengthening of Jewish Vitality
Bar Ilan University

Zvi Zohar analyzes conversion in the rabbinic tradition. He demonstrates how, in the world of the sages, conversion was linked to the process of being born (or re-born). Zohar presents sources showing the emphasis placed by the Jewish legal tradition on circumcision and ritual immersion, rather than on knowledge and acceptance of the commandments of Jewish law. A specific focus of this lecture is legal rulings of central 20th century halachists. Zohar further draws on examples from the Jewish forced conversion in Spain in the 15th century and cases from the Cairo Gniza to illustrate his theory concerning the centrality of the ethnic component in the process of becoming Jewish.

Zohar’s talk is followed by a response by Moshe Lavi, highlighting the importance of the acceptance of the commandments as part of the conversion process.