European Conversions to Judaism

During the past 19 years I have witnessed the revival of European Jewry, especially the growth of Reform/Liberal/Progressive Judaism in Europe. Initially, in the United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands were there established Progressive Movements able to organise National beit din.  But as new communities were formed in cities and countries, where there was only one or no rabbi, a need was felt to establish a central beit din to deal with issues like Giyur, Gittin and other rabbinic matters.  And so the European Union for Progressive Judaism established the European Beit Din (EBD). The EBD is based in London and is able to keep a database of conversion done in Europe and discusses common standards accepted by European Beit Din.

In the 1990’s, the amazing growth of the Progressive Movement in Germany meant that Germans could form their own national beit din.  Switzerland is also now able to form a national beit din.  At present, the EBD provides services for communities in Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Slovakia and Spain.  In addition, it occasionally deals with candidates from European countries with no official Progressive congregation (e.g. Greece, the Balkans, and Norway.)  The EBD also keeps in close contact with the Israeli Progressive Movement Beit Din and with the frequent changes in conditions in place for aliyah by various Israeli authorities.

We have become aware that a number of Europeans have sought conversion by American rabbis.  These Europeans travel to America and appear before an established beit din. Other times, they are being converted by lone rabbis briefly traveling to Europe and interviewing the candidate at the airport. Some conversions are even taking place over the internet.

In some cases, American rabbis might not have been aware of the availability of Reform/Progressive beit din in Europe.  I have provided their contact details below.

I do urge our American colleagues not to consider converting Europeans currently living in Europe.  This conversion may not be accepted should the candidate seek to join a European Progressive congregation, and may cause problems if the person later wishes to make aliyah.  In addition, we find it less than collegial to consider converting people from outside of your country (or continent); and action that goes against the Halachic principle of ‘hasagat gevul’ (see: Walter Jacob, Contemporary American Reform Responsa, #1.) Of course, there is no objection to dealing with a European individual residing in North America.

Contact details of established European Progressive Beit Din:

European Beit Din
Convenor: Rabbi Jackie Tabick

Rabbi Alexander Lyskowoy, Aw Beit Hadin

Av Beit Hadin: Rabbi François Garaï

Allgemeine Rabbinerkonferenz Deutschland
Aw Bet Hadin: Rabbi Henry Brandt

Coordinator: Rabbi Ruven Bar Ephraim

The Netherlands
Av Bet Hadin: Rabbi Menno ten Brink

United Kingdom Liberal Judaism
Rabbi Dr Andrew Goldstein

United Kingdom Movement for Reform Judaism
Convenor: Rabbi Jackie Tabick

Rabbi Ruven Bar Ephraim serves Or Chadash Congregation in Zurich, Switzerland. He also is the Rabbinic Advisor to the European Union for Progressive Judaism.