Internet Makes Jewish Conversion More Accessible for Some, Non-kosher for Others


One woman's story highlights the wonders of 'online conversions' but is a proper conversion really possible through a screen?

The morning of her conversion, Diana Sewell was so nervous she “was running around like a headless chicken” in her Australia home. Meanwhile, some 9,000 miles away in Georgia, her rabbi was dealing with computer difficulties.

Neither of those things put a stop to Sewell fulfilling a 60-something-year-old dream of converting to Judaism — with a little help from the internet.

After nearly an hour-long online conversation with the beit din, or rabbinical court, whose five members were located across the U.S., the rabbis accepted Sewell’s conversion, contingent upon her going to a local river to immerse herself, the final ritual in the process.

“I didn’t walk on the floor that day, I floated,” Sewell, 82, told JTA.

Just as online learning is becoming more common in the secular world, it has also emerged as a tool for potential converts to learn about Judaism. Sites offering “online conversion” range from one-person outfits to those affiliated with little-known groups like the Union of Jewish Universalist Communities to the organization behind Sewell’s conversion, Darshan Yeshiva, whose faculty includes rabbis ordained at various liberal seminaries.

But just as with online degrees, suspicion surrounds conversions relying on long-distance learning.

By JTA and Josefin Dolsten