The Jewish Theological Seminary of America/Infant Conversion problem


Dear Rabbi,

My wife and I live just north of Milwaukee Wisconsin and have two wonderful daughters who are nearly 11, Kayla and Talia.  We began the process of adopting Talia after the death of our son, when we thought it was unlikely that we would have any more children.  While waiting the two years to adopt from China we ended up having Kayla too, with our two daughters being 11 days apart in age. They are now almost 11 years old.

We were members of a Conservative synagogue at the time, and took Tali to the mikva under the guidance of the Rabbi. Unfortunately, looking back, we've discovered that the process was lacking. The Rabbi has left the area under some clouds although we continue to remember him fondly. Tali was a little over a year old, the Mikva was in an Orthodox Shul, and the Rabbi had a degree and an Orthodox Semicha.  I think the problem is that I don't think he had a particular specialty in conversions, and I don't know if you could call the people who signed her certificate a Beit Din.  There was the Rabbi, the Cantor, and a prominent member of our shul.

For the last five or six years we've been members of a local Chabad congregation.  About two years ago we moved two doors away, and have significantly elevated our observance. We attended shul regularly, I was often called in to fill out a minyan, and we were very involved in the community.  We have a kosher home, and in all respects do our best.

We sent our girls to a local non-Orthodox Jewish dayschool for a couple of years, but when they began to release the older teachers, we transferred them to the Orthodox dayschool.  My daughter Kayla, our biological child, fared poorly there, particularly due to the peer group and some challenges she has learning.  There were (and still are) only two other girls in their grade, a couple in the year behind and one in the year ahead of her.  There were also social problems interacting with one of the other girls, which in this environment comprised half of their grade.  We took them out an put them in public school and she's thrived ever since. As to the education, what they receive is far better than what they had. Their religious education has been supplemented at home, weekly at Sabbath services, and Sunday and Tuesday Hebrew School.

They recently started a Bas Mitva club with their synagogue peers at the Chabad. The main Rabbi has now told us that Tali's conversion was not sufficient for our shul. (I'm very frustrated that he decided that the timing was right to tell us 5 or six years after we had joined, a year and a half after we pulled the kids from the religious school.) It was also intimated that if they were sent to a religious day school everything else could be overcome.  We've tried that and we can't go back. We spoke to another Orthodox Rabbi on the west side of Milwaukee as well who says the same thing. Its all about the fact of going to a religious school regardless of the quality of the school or the existence of a peer group. I've found the arguments to be somewhat illogical given the facts at hand. We've resigned from the synagogue and will likely join a nearby conservative synagogue where we have many friends. (My wife and I grew up in kosher homes, attending conservative synagogues.) Although I also intend to join a tiny little shul near our house for the Sabbath.

My fear is that the conversion Tali has had might not be viewed as Jewish by anyone, which would be an even worse tragedy because that's the way she identifies herself. If she is now told that she's not Jewish, that would hurt her terribly in many different ways.

We would like to fix anything wrong with her conversion, and would be willing to do anything except put them back in a bad school.

We would be grateful for any ideas or alternatives.  

Thank you,


Dear Adam,

Thank you for writing. This is indeed a serious question.

I would invite you to call me at 215-572-9175 - too much to cover in an email.

Secondly, I would urge you to convert this question to private rather than public.

Best wishes

Rabbi Dov

The Jewish Theological Seminary of America

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Rabbi Barry Dov Lerner


Write to me with questions about Jewish customs and law, history, philosophy and tradition for answers from a Conservative perspective or conversion. I am a graduate of The Jewish Theological Seminary and a member of the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly. Having served in congregational pulpits since 1970, I now am President of the Foundation For Family Education, Inc. a non-profit educational endeavor. I established it to create new formats of hands-on programs and provide free educational downloads at In addition to general informational questions I welcome your questions about programs for social action, outreach to dual-faith families, inter-faith clergy projects, healing services, education for conversion, adult education for the congregation and the community. If you have questions about Informal and Formal Education I am ready to share my extensive experience with Youth Activities, Camping and Religious School/Hebrew High School on a congregational, community and national/international level.


I have served in a Conservative = United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ) pulpit for more than 35 years and serve the Conservative movement, the Jewish community and the community at large on a wide variety of Boards and Committees. I have worked enthusiastically with dual-faith families and taught candidates for conversion with a great sense of fulfillment, and I am very proud of 25 years on the Jewish camping staff of Camps Ramah and United Synagogue Youth. My greatest source of pride is my family! Ask me about them, please!:-)

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