Answers to Quora Questions by Yair Davidiy
(27 April, 2018, 12 Iyar, 5778)
A relatively recent Polish convert to Judaism.
The question was:
Is it true that thousands of people migrated from Poland and Germany to Israel and converted to Judaism?
Someone else may be able to give you some kind of more authoritative answer, than what we are giving here, with more statistics. Here are my impressions from a few historical works, from anecdotal evidence in Israel and the IDF, the Media, and from interviewing a source in the Rabbinate.
Outside of Israel: In the Past
In the distant past it may be that there were converts from Poland and Germany but it was probably not a mass phenomenon. Until recently most converts who came and stayed and who were religious were from Russia and from Western Nations i.e. the USA, Ireland, North Ireland, Scotland, England, the British Dominions, the Netherlands, Belgium, with some Scandinavians and Germans. They came as a steady trickle over the last 300 years. Later, after the foundation of Israel this tendency continued in Israel from 1948. It was the main source of converts up until the big immigration from Russia in the 1980s.
Under the Ottoman Empire a few Russian Gentile families (mainly "Subbotnicks" i.e. former Christian Sabbath keepers) converted to Judaism and settled in what became known as Palestine, especially the Galilee. They were not that numerous but they were qualitatively important. They included well-known families.
There were also others, e.g. Two brothers from Ireland converted to Judaism and in the 1870s were among the founders of the Ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem.
After the Holocaust there were Gentiles who drifted into the new Jewish state of Israel with the wave of Jewish refugees. Some of them were married to Jews, some converted, and some did not. These would have included non-Jews, mainly women, from Poland and Germany, and elsewhere.
At present in Israel a good portion of the converts are of Russian provenance although Westerners and others from all over the world are also to be found. Among the Russian converts women predominant and are considered the most genuine.
Sources of Interest
Russians in Israel
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Russians in Israel are mostly members of mixed families, more specifically, Halakhally non-Jewish members of Jewish households living in Israel. Few are descended from Russian Subbotnik families, who have migrated to Israel over the past century. People of full or partial Russian ancestry number around 300,000 of the Israeli population from the immigrants from the Soviet Union and post-Soviet states. This refers to all post-Soviet disaspora groups, not only ethnic Russians, including all ethnicities from the Former Soviet Union Republics.
.... Their religious affiliation is largely atheist or Non-religious, though about 40,000 follow the Russian Orthodox Church according to recent census and it is estimated about 10,000 are embracing Messianic Judaism. A notable number of the community have also undergone conversion to Orthodox Judaism due to affiliation to the Jewish community through their ancestry or because of marriage.
... In 1988, a year before the immigration wave began, 58% of married Jewish men and 47% of married Jewish women in the Soviet Union had a non-Jewish spouse. Some 26%, or 240,000, of the 1980s-1990s immigrants had no Jewish mother, and were thus not considered Jewish under Halakha, or Jewish religious law, which stipulates one must have a Jewish mother to be considered Jewish.
More than 4,000 Gentiles converted to Judaism in Israel last year , according to government statistics.
The data was announced at a weekend event sponsored by the Conversion Authority of the Prime Minister's Office.
A total of 4,239 people made the seminal change in their lives, including 1,936 people from countries in the former Soviet Union, and 1,647 who were from Ethiopia and other African nations. The remainder hailed from a variety of Western, Middle Eastern and Asian countries.
The USA and Overseas
In the USA there are also quite a few converts to Orthodox Judaism. Most of these are of West European origin but others, including Afro-Americans, are also present.
Orthodox Conversions also take place in other places, especially the Netherlands, but the numbers are small. In England the Jews have (or had) a de facto agreement with the Anglican Church not to convert Christians so prospective converts usually go to the Netherlands. Nevertheless a few cases of conversion do take place in England itself.
Points of Interest
[USA] 10 revealing facts about Orthodox Jewish converts
By Uriel Heilman, July 6, 2015 5:45pm
Of the RCA [Rabbinical Council of America] 's Orthodox converts:
78 percent are women
72 percent are ages 20-39
45 percent have Jewish ancestry
80 percent cite 'spiritual-intellectual search' as their reason for converting.
' Converts who were raised as Jews (for example, a Reform Jew who learns she is not Jewish according to Orthodox law because her mother wasn't Jewish or didn't convert Orthodox) may have faster conversions because they are more familiar with Jewish law but still must commit to the same strictly Orthodox level of observance as all other Orthodox converts.
Answering the Question:
Getting back to the initial query: If Germany and Poland did contribute significantly to Jewish demographics it seems to have escaped the notice of contemporary historians. On the other hand, those acquainted with immigrant groups from Europe, especially Germany and Poland, in places like Australia do find those of Jewish origin. Even family names, such as Levi, are in evidence. This however is testimony to Jews leaving rather than Gentiles coming in.