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Answer By: 
Rabbi Mark Washofsky
Parent holding the hand of an infant

Is it the policy that men must be circumcised prior to conversion? My 8-year old son wasn't circumcised. My husband is Jewish, I'm not. I would prefer for him to make his own decision when he is older, or when it can be done with a local anesthetic.

Jewish law prescribes several rites for conversion. A male proselyte is circumcised, and both male and female proselytes immerse in a mikveh (a ritual pool) or other suitable body of water. If the male was already circumcised before his conversion, a drop of blood is taken from the spot that was once covered by his foreskin. This procedure is known as hatafat dam b'rit.

Conversion is not simply a choice of a new belief system, but a decision to join a historical community that defines itself in ethnic and national as well as religious terms. Circumcision is the eternal sign of the covenant (b’rit) between God and the descendants of Abraham. However, circumcision does not create Jewish identity. A boy who is born Jewish is a Jew, even if his parents do not have him circumcised during infancy. While we would encourage him to become circumcised upon reach religious majority, we treat him as fully Jewish with respect to bar mitzvah and other community rites.

Answer By: 
Rabbi Stuart Federow

My husband and I are in the process of adopting an African American baby boy. We had him circumcised by a doctor -- as he was already 2 months old, my husband was concerned about safety. Must he really undergo a conversion ceremony to be Jewish?

Yes, he must undergo conversion to be Jewish. The reason is quite simply that the conversion ceremony is the "naturalization" ceremony that makes one a "citizen" of the People of Israel. Without it one would not be considered to be a Jew, in the same way that one who immigrates to the U.S. is not considered a citizen of the U.S., until he or she is naturalized. Similarly, you may get rights and privileges, palimony and the like, if you were not legally married to your husband, but without the legal marriage you would not be his wife.

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