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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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< Q18.5.3 TOC Q18.6.1 >

Question 18.5.4:
Traditional Judaism Differences: How does a Reform conversion differ from an Orthodox conversion?


The biggest difference is implicit. Both conversions require acceptance of the "yoke of the mitzvot"; that is, an agreement to live as Jews in accordance with Torah (whether or not the specific phrase is used). However, the interpretation of that phrase differs substantially from Orthodoxy (where it implies acceptance of the authority of Rabbinic law as well as all 613 commandments as written) to Reform (where it is autonomy and choice based on study). The book Conversion According to Reform Halakhah, published in 1990, says "[The phrase] 'According to halakhah' means according to our Reform Jewish tradition. Over the last two centuries we have developed a considerable body of halakhah of our own. Some of it in the form of books of guidance (S. B. Freehof Reform Jewish Practice; P. Knobel Gates of Mitzvah among others); through statements made at synods and conferences (W. G. Plaut The Rise of Reform Judaism; M. Meyer Response to Modernity), and through more than a thousand responsa written by Solomon B. Freehof and [others]. There is therefore a Reform tradition which has been expressed in an expanding halakhah."

Other than that, Reform has different requirements for witnesses. Reform in the United States does not require ritual immersion, and does not mandate b'rit mila for males (although it is strongly recommended); Reform outside of the United States requires both milah/hatafah and tevilah, and tends to be more traditional in general.

The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

[Got Questions?]Hopefully, the FAQ will provide the answer to your questions. If it doesn't, please drop Email to The FAQ maintainer will endeavor to direct your query to an appropriate individual that can answer it. If you would like to be part of the group to which the maintainer directs questions, please drop a note to the FAQ maintainer at

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© (c) 1993-2002 Daniel P. Faigin <>