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Jewish conversion for Jews from Spain?

Rabbi David SperlingNisan 15, 5779
20
Question
I enjoy reading your Daily Halacha. I am not Jewish, but wish I was. My ancestors were Jews from Spain, and a generation ago I lost my lineage. Spain has offered people like me a chance to return to Spain and gain citizenship over the past few years. My last practicing Jewish family member who was a direct ancestor was my Grandmother on my father?s side. But my Grandfather was Catholic and thus his family was Catholic. I have always wanted to reconnect with my Jewish roots but find it difficult to return. Although I have always felt a deep spiritual connection to my Jewish heritage. As a child I remember going to Shabbat services, and I can still sing the songs and remember some of the prayers. I used to go with my Jewish Aunt as a child to the services. My question is, why is it so difficult for me to convert back to Judaism? I can prove my lineage. I had always hoped that one day I could return, and restore my heritage. My ancestors had to flee for their lives, I know they would not be pleased with us losing our heritage. Is there special consideration given to people like myself when trying to convert back? It was not my choice to leave in the first place, but I do have a desire to return. What can you tell me or recommend? Thank you for your time.
Answer
Shalom, Thank you for your question. What an interesting background you have! It must be amazing to know your ancestry in such detail – and to have such a rich family history. As you probably know, Judaism flows though the mother – and as you only have Jewish relations on your father's side, according to Jewish religious law, you do not have the status of being considered a Jew. As to converting, that is a very big undertaking. The reason why it is (in your words) “so difficult”, is because of the huge obligations being Jewish places on a person. Being Jewish means being obligated in all the laws of the Torah and the Rabbis, living a religious life, and being part of an active religious community. Such an undertaking is not entered into lightly. So, before we convert people, they need to undergo an extensive “training” period where they can not only learn about how to live as a Jew, but can also decide if such a life is really for them. You ask if I have any advice - may I suggest that you start by doing two things. Firstly, start learning about Orthodox Judaism. There are many good books, and websites you can learn from. Secondly, see if there is a Jewish community in your area, and try approaching the local Rabbi. Let me add, that being a Jew is certainly not for everybody. There is nothing wrong in remaining a non Jew with Jewish roots. You can still be proud of your heritage, and even express it by becoming a lover of Israel and the Jewish people. There are many fine people who find deep meaning by becoming true supporters of the people of Israel. Blessings.
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