outline of map of state of Oklahoma in royal blue, with white words on top that says "Judaism in Oklahoma"

By Ty Faulkner Branum and James M. Branum

Thanks to very helpful data provided by the American Jewish Archives, we now have solid evidence to prove what many suspected — that we have a historically high number of conversions to Judaism in Oklahoma, which raises another question: why Oklahoma?

In this essay, we will be exploring some of the possibilities.

Our Data Sources

Our data for this analysis is drawn from information provided to us by the American Jewish Archives, which included the following data points for the 50 United States and the District of Columbia:

  • Total reported conversions to date
  • Reported conversions from 2013-2023
  • The date when conversion data was first provided to the archives

Unfortunately, the data from AJA has a few limitations, most notably that the data includes information on most Reform conversions and some Conservative conversions, but has little information on conversions in other Jewish movements. Also, the data collection depends on individual rabbis and batei din forwarding their information to the archives, so these reported numbers are likely lower than the actual numbers.

For comparative purposes, some other data from other sources was also tabulated, including:

How noteworthy is Oklahoma’s Jewish Conversion boom

Oklahoma has a relatively small Jewish population (ranking 43rd among the 50 United States and DC), but it has a disproportionately large number of converts, with the second-highest percentage of converts among the broader Jewish population at 7.16% (behind only North Dakota with 10.25%).

Oklahoma also has a very high rate of more recent known conversions (1.33% of the total Jewish population of Oklahoma is reported to have converted between 2013 and 2023), coming in 2nd behind only Arkansas (with 2.38%).

Why are so many people converting to Judaism in Oklahoma and states like Oklahoma?

In discussions with local rabbis and community members, we heard two major factors that came up as primary motivations for conversions in Oklahoma: (1) the religiosity of the general population makes it more likely that people will choose another religious path rather than quitting religion altogether if they are unhappy in the religion of their upbringing, and (2) the need for LGBTQ+ people to find supportive spiritual communities, and their perception that the Jewish community is generally more welcoming and affirming than many local Christian churches.

To confirm this, we compared state rankings on possible related factors.

The ten states with the highest percentages of recent conversions are Arkansas, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Mississippi, Wyoming, Utah, Kansas, West Virginia, Missouri, and Nebraska.

The following chart shows some points of comparison about these states:

StateRanking of 50 US+DC on %  of known convertsRanking of 50 US+DC on % of recent converts (2013-2023) among total Jewish pop.Rankings of 50 US+DC on total Jewish population% of Adults in each state who identify as Evangelical Protestant Christians in 2014Ranking of 50 US+DC by % of Evangelical ChristiansRankings of 50 US+DC by % of adults who attend services at least once a week% of Adults who attend religious service at least once a weekLGBTQ+ Equality Tier (High, Medium, Fair, Low, or Negative)US Census Region
South Dakota635125%272436%NegativeMidwest
West Virginia884439%7746%LowSouth

Looking at these statistics, a few trends seem noteworthy.

  1. These ten states are located in the South, Midwest, and West regions. None are in the Northeast.
  2. Most of these ten states had small Jewish populations, except for Missouri (20th place) and Kansas (28th place).
  3. Five of the ten states also had very high numbers of Evangelical Christians, but some did not. Notably, Utah had the lowest number of Evangelical Christians of any state.
  4. All of the states had relatively high rates of at least weekly attendance at religious services.
  5. All of the states had poor scores on LGBTQ+ equality, with scores in the bottom two (of five) tiers.
  6. Nine of the ten states were non-coastal states, except for Mississippi which has a small bit of coast on the Gulf of Mexico.


This analysis is a starting point, but many questions remain, including:

1. What are the conversion rates among other Jewish movements, including Orthodox, Reconstructionist, and Humanistic? And would the addition of these numbers change the rankings?

2. How does the availability of Jewish infrastructure to welcome converts affect these trends? Is there a correlation between the number or type of synagogues in a community and conversion trends?

3. How does the internet change these dynamics, including the possibility of online training for conversion?

4. What does religious life look like for converts? Are they more or less likely to attend Shabbat services, engage in home rituals, or belong to a synagogue?

5. How are synagogues changing because of the infusion of so many new converts?

By jmb

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