Should We Invite Conversion?

by Gardening Grandma

Three years ago, Rabbi Eric Yoffie said it was time for Reform Jews to actively encourage conversion. “It is a mitzvah to help a potential Jew become a Jew-by-choice,” he told the Biennial assembly.Debatable

Do you agree with Rabbi Yoffie? In the winter edition of Reform Judaism magazine, two Reform rabbis take on the issue. See what Rabbi Stephen Einstein and Rabbi Rosalin Mandelberg, both members of the Joint Commission on Outreach and Membership, have to say.

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71 Responses to “Should We Invite Conversion?”

  1. avatar

    It’s interesting that neither of the respondents to the tactical question of how to interface with potential converts to Judaism invoked the traditional position of sending away the seeker three times to test his/her sincerity. Clearly the Reform movement has become totally open to welcoming conversion, even if Rabbi Mandelberg isn’t ready to solicit it.
    Where we do not have consensus is on the boundaries for those non-Jews who are involved in the life of the congregation — in either of the two broad areas in which congregations must determine the limits, bimah roles and governance roles.
    While I tend to be a hard-liner on bimah roles and relatively relaxed about governance roles, placing any limits will draw criticism from some, not placing limits will draw criticism from others — and I suspect that the strongest criticism on the limits will come not from the non-Jew but from the Jewish partner. And one reason for this is that the non-Jew knows that, in his or her church of origin (I am using church generically — it could be a mosque or other house of worship), there are limits on the participation of non-adherents to the faith.
    Whether we follow Rabbi Einstein’s tactic or Rabbi Mandelberg’s, the core message is consistent, that the welcome mat of Judaism is waiting for whoever wants to hug the Tree of Life, and if you’re not ready for that step, you’re still welcome and appreciated within the implicit or explicit boundaries of the congregation and the individual. What we are failing to do is to communicate that core message.
    Communicating the message may be particularly complicated against the background of a congregation whose clergy do not officiate at interfaith wedding ceremonies. And those who do not like the boundaries will pounce on the “inconsistency.”
    We’re not going to satisfy 100% of the people 100% of the time — but we do have to remember 100% of the time that the synagogue is a Jewish institution, and its standards have to be set in accordance with an informed Jewish fashion. And that always includes welcoming the stranger, hopefully so that he or she ceases to be a stranger.

  2. avatar
    Scott in Massachusetts Reply November 20, 2008 at 7:29 pm

    As a layman in the movement, whose wife chose to join with us almost 16 years ago, and given how many mixed religion families we have in our temples have taken the following as my personal position:
    If, as I get to know someone who is active in our conversation and has not taken the step to convert, I will ask them if they have thought about converting. This may be as simple as that,or I have actually said, you have created a Jewish family, are active in our community, is there any reason you have not officially become a Jew?
    I have gotten various responses over time. Some have gone on to convert, others have started the conversation with their spouses and families. I have had relieved spouses thank me for asking the question they did not feel brave enough to ask themselves.
    I have always phrased the question in terms of welcoming and wanting the person to know he or she is desired as and official member of our people.
    The opportunity may only come up once in a while, but I am never shy when it does. So far I have not had one negative reaction. In many cases it seems like no one ever asked them to join us before.

  3. avatar

    I am a Jew by choice. My choice. I did not convert when my wife and I were married. I did not convert to ease pressure from my wife’s Jewish family. I did not convert when my children were born. I did not convert to feel more a part of our wonderful Synagogue, Beth Shalom; although I had been going there to worship for several years. I converted several years after my wife and I were married and had children, although my conversion had little to do with them. I converted for myself. I converted because I was ready and this was the best way for me to have a truly wonderful relationship with G_d. I am not a “super-Jew” as many converts I know are. I’m just a guy whose trying to balance my spiritual life with everything else. I know many people who’ve converted for many of the above reasons, and that’s their business. Conversion is not usually done for just one reason; our world is not that simple. That said, I consider my conversion to be one of the most selfish and fulfilling acts I have ever done. I did it JUST FOR ME!

    • avatar

      I stumbled onto this blog quite by accident and i’m glad i did! I am a convert also and my circumstances were similar to yours. i was a member of a
      Temple for 10 years before making the final step and although my decision was good for family solidarity, it has fallen short in my life in the greater community. I have not been treated the way i should – in my estimation.

      Would certainly like some discussion about this.
      Thanks. Jane

  4. avatar

    While I have not received my issue of Reform Judaism where this is addressed, as a convert who came to Judaism on her own, I think that Jews need to be more “welcoming” when someone comes forward, and that yes, they SHOULD encourage people. While I am not advocating door-knocking, let us not forget that Jews originally WERE prosthelytizers!
    Judaism, and Jews, are still viewed as rather “unfriendly” by non-Jews. Now why do you think that is? It would have meant so much to have someone help me through this process, which was only made difficult because the difficulty getting in to such an insular community.

  5. avatar

    I wrote a letter to REFORM JUDAISM (not published in its letters to the editor section) at the time of Rabbi Yoffe’s article. I think the point still holds.
    There is an ethical/Zionist implication to conversion outreach that goes unmentioned, but warrants attention.
    If outreach efforts expand and become more successful, Jews by ancestry will shrink as a proportion of the total American Jewish population, while the proportion of Jews by choice will grow.
    Our moral claim to Israel as a Jewish state rests on the foundation that it is the historic homeland of the Jewish people. How does one assert that claim on behalf of someone whose historic connection to the Jewish people and their heritage goes all the way back to, say, last Tuesday?
    I’ve thought about this for some time, cannot come up with a satisfactory answer.

  6. avatar

    I am disturbed by Mark’s comment. However, it is typical of many “born Jews”, who feel that they are the only “real Jews” and that converts have no “right” to a place in Israel.
    Let us not forget that, on a whole, born Jews are not only less active than Jews by choice, but they are marrying interfaith, and not raising their children Jewish, at an increasing rate. The fact that, despite babies being born to Jewish parents, recognition of Jews by patrilineal descent, and people converting, that Jews are a SHRINKING population, is indication that his argument has little, if any, merit.

  7. avatar

    I was touched by the comments of Karin Jones. I have family members who have not…or not yet chosen to convert. Perhaps because “welcome” must go beyond synagogue doors. We “welcome” church visitors. We are welcoming to non-Jewish partners of members. But as individuals in groups, we do tend to be “cliquey”. We talk to each other and only politely include the “other”, particularly if that person doesn’t “look Jewish”. Our institutions are struggling with barriers to becoming a Jew. Where is the welcome? Surely Taste of Judaism is not enough.

  8. avatar

    I am also disturbed by Mark’s comment, but it is typical of the attitude I have encountered from some Jews since I converted 17 years ago. I think the better question is “Who has a stronger connection to the homeland of the Jewish people – someone who CHOSE to identify themselves with the Jewish people or someone whose Jewish identity is an accident of birth and consists of eating bagels on Sunday morning and attending services two days a year?”

  9. avatar

    While I disagree with Mark Iris’ comments on several points, I’d like to point out only one:
    To people outside the Jewish community, we are all just plain Jews. The distinction between converts and born Jews is only really made by us.
    So, if this is an issue of worrying about people saying we don’t have a moral claim because our “historic connection to the Jewish people and their heritage goes all the way back to, say, last Tuesday,” it’s really a moot point.

    • avatar

      As a convert to Reform Judaism I would like to say to a lot of people Jew means Ultra Orthodox. Those funny people with ringlets, beards and hats!

  10. avatar

    The subject of conversion is one that has become very much the center of discussion in my home at present. My wife and I are looking forward to the birth of our first child next Spring and faith observance — or denomination subscription — is important to me. In our household, we are dealing with a rather complex situation, with regard to religious faith; allow me to elaborate…
    I was borne of two families who converted — both in the early part of the 20th century — from Judaism to variations of Christian faith to protect themselves from persecution. My mother and I, independently, chose to “come back” to the Jewish faith many years ago. If that isn’t complicated enough…
    My wife was borne of two families whose histories and heritage tell nothing of subscription to the Jewish faith. My wife claims to be agnostic, citing zealotry and individuals who lack freewill as the primary factors keeping her away from organised religious practices. I respect her choices and support her in every way, but am concerned about what is to be my child’s spiritual centre.
    I do not want to make my child’s choices for her/ him (we do not know the sex yet), but I feel a strong desire to raise the child as a Jew. As the child’s mother is not Jewish, s/he would have to engage in and complete a proper conversion program in order to live life as a Jew. This is the least of my concerns, considering the choice of religious faith and education for the child will need to come from an agreement between my wife and myself.
    I want peace and solidarity in my household, not tension or division. I appreciate that generously educating my wife about my beliefs and convictions will help, but I may still find no satisfaction for my desire to raise my child the way my Jewish heart wishes to.

  11. avatar

    I hope the thread of this returns to the original topic, that is, reaching out to people to convert rather than waiting for them to come to us.
    Thank you Gwen for your kind comments. I go to/converted at a large temple and while everyone has always been nice, connecting with people has been very difficult. I have said, many times, to people, that they (now I am part of “they”) really need to reach out to people who (1) come to our intro class (2) continue to the conversion seminar and (3) show an interest in becoming active at Temple.
    People by nature are cliquey, I guess. And born Jews, being born Jews, I guess do not realize how it comes across to someone who is not converting in order to marry a Jew. I came to Judaism all on my own.
    I heard a statistic a couple of months ago that was not only alarming, but disturbing. If the Shoah had not occurred, the 12 million Jews at the time would now be 59 million Jews. As it is, the Jewish WORLD population is only around 14 million. And dropping. Converts now, as in the time of Abraham, are the future of Judaism.

  12. William Berkson

    As to the original question I think we should be guided by Hillel’s original statement in favor of proselytizing. “Be among the disciples of Aaron, a lover of peace, a pursuer of peace. Love all your fellow creatures and bring the near to the Torah.” (Avot 1:12). I think the concept of “m’karev”, bring near, is to invite and draw people in, not push them; note the context of pursuing peace. With that caveat, I all in favor of making the invitation loud and clear.

  13. avatar

    Aaron David is concerned that his unborn child would have to undergo a conversion to be considered Jewish. Not so in Reform Judaism!
    As I undersand the movement’s position, a child is considered Jewish if there is one (either) Jeiwsih parent, and the child is being raised exclusively in Judaism, affirmed by appropriate life cycle milestones. (This should not be read to imply that the Reform movement’s acceptance of the child as Jewish would be paralleled in other streams of Judaism.)
    Of course, doing this requires not just the acquiescence but the support of the non-Jewish parent — which is beyond the scope of what I can comment on.

  14. avatar

    I believe we should encourage conversion, particularly among seekers who are not actively affiliated with another faith. I live in a small Southern city with an overwhelming Baptist presence from the influence of a recently deceased religio-political evangelical whose adherents would not hesitate to attempt to convert us members of our tiny congregation. I am not suggesting going after his followers, but I think sitting back and hoping people come finding Judaism is no longer the way to go.
    I think we should take an active approach. After all, it is no longer a capital crime to solicit converts (which is what led to the “discourage three times” philosophy). I believe outlets such as billboards, seminars and panels introducing Jewish thought and learning and a more public approach will work for us without having to go door to door seeking converts. There are people out there who believe in God but would not identify themselves as belonging to any organized religion. Judaism is a brilliant path to communicating with God, and it’s time we encouraged conversion.

  15. avatar

    It is now more than 8 years since I completed my gerut (conversion). A few thoughts:
    Like being married, I find being Jewish a sometimes difficult but really wonderful thing. Both require a distinct change in identity, and attachment to something to which you were not born. I find both are elevating in their own ways (and no connection is suggested between the two here–merely an analogy.)
    But like marriage, I think conversion is a highly personal thing, and only the individual can decide: it is inappropriate for us to push such a profound decision. Then again, if someone is living among us and appears to love us, it’s not unreasonable to ask them if they would like to commit…..
    Regarding acceptance: just to balance (but not to minimize) some of the bad community experiences expressed here, mine have been overwhelmingly positive. For example, presently there are at least three Jews-by-choice on the board of my congregation. It has been my honor to be repeatedly asked to chant Torah on Shabbat and Yom Kippur. It’s not worth it to engage the minority who have a narrow-minded genetic definition of Judaism, although they have been with us a long time. There will always be Ezras among us, but there will always be those like Boaz as well.
    On the tangential topic of welcoming: I will confess to be schmoozing-impaired, and I find it difficult to approach someone I don’t know and strike-up a conversation. This is still no excuse for not performing the mitzvah of hospitality–but it does make me understanding when people don’t jump up to welcome me.

  16. avatar

    I feel this is a very difficult subject, one that requires individual thought. I came to being a Jew by choice on my own, but with the help of a friend. Never was I asked if I would convert, but was made to feel included by all the members of our congregation. I had no religious connection to leave so maybe it was easier for me than someone who is connected to one that they must leave. For years before I made it formal most people I met thought I was Jewish. Even other Jews thought I was Jewish and on the night of my formal convertion one of the congregants said “I thought you were going to the classes to help your wife.” Having said all that I feel we should help all that are interested but since I do not want people trying to convert me I think we should not actively try to convert them.

  17. avatar

    Before we develope ideas about approaching potential converts, I think we need to do a better job at educating and changing attitudes of Jews by birth lineage about the validity of Jews by choice. Some of the posts above echo what I have found over the years.
    Jews by choice face many hurdles outside the Jewish community. Then add the snobbery of birth Jews that ‘she is not a REAL Jew’ and instead of striving to become part of the community, we stop participating or limit our contacts. I used to be proud of my conversion till I encountered negative comments repeatedly.
    I also think we need to look deep inside for our motives….might the real reason be to repopulate the Jewish numbers? Reach out to only those that can produce children? It is bad enough that we have Temples that look only at your financial status and marital status to qualify.
    I converted 32 years ago….and only now have found a welcoming Temple, and I initially told only the Cantor and the Rabbi about my long ago conversion. I just have found it easier to not mention it at all to most others.
    I skirt the issue of not having the ‘cultural’ tastes….be it food, music, yiddish sayings, etc. I focus on the spiritual aspects to fulfill my needs.

  18. avatar

    Doris, you are Jewish, period. There’s no need for you to explain to others.
    It does sadden me to hear about your and Karin’s difficulties with acceptance, especially since I have been so fortunate to be surrounded by a Jewish community that has not only expressed acceptance of my Jewish identity, but had made me feel valued as well.
    I was reminded of an article I read last summer about converts in midieval Europe-I was surprised to learn that there was a written record of such creatures. But the history shows they often had a tough row to hoe even among their fellow Jews, and even then their experiences of acceptance were varied. Here’s the article (it’s a little long, and not exactly light reading, but I was captivated anyway):

  19. avatar

    It is possible to be welcoming towards non-Jews without pressuring them to convert. By all means, we should embrace anyone who expresses interest in converting to Judaism, but we should let the potential convert make the first step. Approaching a non-Jew and suggesting he should convert implies that there is something deficient about his current religion. Judaism teaches that a non-Jew can live a moral life and have reward in the next life without converting to Judaism. Let us be friendly to all people who enter our synagogues regardless of their religious affiliations.

  20. avatar

    Ruth B. – Thank you for your simple acceptance statement.
    I did read the article link and then went on to read another at that site “Sharing Jewish Space”
    The last half of the article has provoking thoughts on the current situation. It too is a long read……
    When I recently went to Israel for the first time and learned of the difficulties for Reform Jews. I was very saddened but also encouraged by the small forward steps that have been achieved. But I came home feeling I would not be welcomed to live there and would always be considered an outsider and unworthy.
    I also have periodically have been checking the JewsByChoice site and do see a huge variety of experiences.
    So I still ask, the question ‘why’ about this new topic, and are we putting the cart before the horse in education/changing attitudes within our ranks toward inviting converts. Is this just an American issue?

  21. William Berkson

    As I said, I don’t think we should be pushy, but inviting. But, as I argued early in my ‘strengthening reform’ series, we should not hesitate to say, when asked, why we think Judaism is a better religion. If lived it should make us better people and make our lives more fulfilling. As you say, and as Rabbi Akiva said, “all is according to the majority of deeds”, but the concept of ‘better’ is that Judaism is the strongest system for helping us and our children to better deeds.

  22. avatar

    We must extend welcome to all…or we risk alienating and hurting people. I was raised Jewish. My mother is from Cuba and partly Sephardic and underwent formal conversion in her teens to seal the deal. I was blessed with a great adoptive father who is Jewish, but my biological father was not. I never gave my racial background much of a thought until I was dumped by a Jewish fiance over his family’s concerns that my mother’s Reform conversion didn’t make me sufficiently Jewish and would ensure that any children could not go to Israel under the Law of Return.
    To say this attitude devastated me would be an understatement. I can change a lot of things, but not DNA. I totally did not expect it because I had grown up Jewish, with Jewish parents, involved in our Temple. My ex-fiance was totally secular and had gone to temple once, because I dragged him there…but he was ethnically Jewish and wanted to move to Israel someday.
    After my experience, I did not attend Temple for many years. I wandered spiritually, trying to make myself fit in any non-Jewish setting I could….churches, ashrams, sanghas. Anywhere that my race would not be an issue. I intermarried and had a child. I never wanted her to be made to feel less than because of her DNA, so I felt ambivalent about her interest in Judaism. I missed Temple with all my heart but was afraid to return.
    Finally, after years of hurt and fear of rejection, we are back in temple. And we are blessed by a welcoming congregation. My daughter (who is obviously not white)does deal with some kids at school telling her she is obviously not a “real Jew”…but she is dealing with it.
    Reform Judaism is ethical, spiritual and beautiful. It has so much to offer…a really universal message of tolerance, faith and human dignity. But we do need to deal with the remnants of some ugly tribal attitudes about “other” that make it hard for converts and their children to feel 100% welcome. Reaching out to the community at large is a great way to signal that Jews by choice are not just tolerated, but wanted.

  23. avatar

    I must correct Larry Kaufman on one small point: only AMERICAN Reform Judaism recognises patrilineal descent. It seems to me (by Aaron David’s spelling of the word “organised”) that he is a Canadian. Canadian Reform Judaism requires conversion of the baby when the mother is not Jewish. In order to convert, both parents will need to appear before the Reform beit din before they will be brought to the mikvah. The beit din will want to hear how the mother plans to support the raising of a Jewish child without being Jewish herself. Aaron–I suggest that your first step, even while your child is still unborn, is to join a synagogue or, if you have already, to have a conversation with your wife and rabbi about how to proceed.

  24. avatar

    Thanks, Erin, for making the distinction for me between US and Canadian positions regarding patrilineal descent. I had missed the subtlety of spelling in organised.
    But in my interfaces with Canadian Reform Jews, I’ve gotten the impression that there is some sensitivity to how we use the word American — they want us to say North American to be sure they are included — so it strikes me that using United States or U.S. is a more appropriate way to make the distinction between north and south of the border.

  25. avatar

    I could care less about “who is really a Jew” or not. The fact is, we have no right to be so picky when we are such a small population to begin with. If someone with no connection to Judaism whatsoever comes knocking wanting to join the Jewish people, we should welcome that person with open arms and cut the crap.
    On the other hand, I don’t think we should be knockong on doors or hanging signs. To me, Judaism is cultural more than it is religious, and there’s something creepy about prosthelytizing.

  26. avatar

    I like what Phil said about not being picky, given how small a population we are. And I agree that prosyletizing is generally creepy…but I definitely do distinguish between prosyletizing (like going door to door or being invasive & pushy trying to convert people)and outreach (like inviting people to services and actively welcoming people who have an interest in learning about Judaism).
    It seems like a week doesn’t go by without some article or another bemoaning the low birthrates (with the exception of the ultra-Orthodox)in the Jewish community and encouraging young Jews not to intermarry and to breed more. This is accompanied by a lot of hand-wringing about the future of the Jewish people. As if the only real way to get more Jews is to breed them. Which begs the question: Do we want more Jews attending temple and participating irrespective of DNA, or do we want more people who are ethnically Jewish?
    I find it absolutely creepy and offensive when the whole “who is a real Jew” debate gets going. On many levels. Because we do discriminate based on DNA. No getting around it…otherwise why do a formal conversion for a newborn adopted by a Jewish couple? That sends the message that adopted children are not as “real” to the couple as a biological child would be. There should be no additional step to bring in an adopted child…by virtue of the adoption, they are a full member of the family and therefore Jewish like their parents…unless they are being categorized as somehow “other” because of their race.
    Another example…noone is arguing that someone ethnically Jewish is not fully Jewish if they have never set foot in a temple or synagogue and have received zero Jewish education. Why? I guess there is something magical about their DNA. Meanwhile, those with only one Jewish parent have to have parents who can afford a temple membership and have to jump through every hoop and be a Torah scholar in order to qualify…and might still fall short of the mark in the eyes of Orthodox Jews if the Jewish parent was Dad instead of Mom. It is the one thing that I still struggle to reconcile, because it is racist and indefensible.
    If we want to live up to an inclusive message and we want to appeal to universal principles we can not divide humanity into a special, better “chosen” people and (by default)a lesser loved people apparently not chosen to be special by God. That paints a picture of a God unworthy of our devotion and respect. If all we are about is being cliquey and xenophobic, then why should we bother to preserve Judaism? Or, do we get that the “chosen people” is an ancient tribal notion that had its use in its time, but does not give us the right to treat non-ethnic Jews as second class citizens in 2008? If we are really an ethical people, can’t we do better than this?

  27. avatar

    I converted a number of years ago. Prior to my conversion I had studied Judaism – Bible – had good Jewish friends – had attended temple for quite some time. Yom Kippur was of the holiest experiences. I converted on my own. It was a decision made entirely between me and G-D.I had a rabbi who was very understanding and helplful.He knew me better than I knew myself.
    The prayers, the service, everything spoke to me almost intuitively as though this was what I had always sought.
    There were others who could not understand my experience as Holy. Family – friends – some Jews.
    But primarily family. How could they understand?
    Even now – it is impossible to explain. How do you explain your innermost feelings to someone who has not had an experience? Of your first view of mountains – of a beautiful sunrise?
    Try to show them – but??—
    I have since tried to return to life and worship as it was before. It is not the same. Spiritual home is for me Jewish worship. I apologize to my christian friends but that is it. I tried.
    Many thought that I was advocating “Jews for Jesus” by returning. Nothing was further from my mind or heart. Jesus came to show God to the rest of the world – The Jews already had G-d – a gift. That is why we speak of “the chosen”.
    Conversion to Judaism? Jew by Choice? Yes – invite – share –
    welcome. No door knocking but accepting of those genuinely interested. Judaism and Jews have much to offer those who truly seek. Share faith and love of G-d.
    As for me? I only know that the richest experience has been that of Judaism at its best-truly spiritual, truly godly – truly inspired by the Holy Spirit, – and “the spirit of God came upon them.”

  28. avatar

    This discussion has gone far afield from the original question — which was in effect Shall we be active or re-active in approaching people already in our midst about formally affirming their connection with us and with God as viewed thrugh a Jewish prism.
    But it is absurd to suggest that a non-Jew (by his or her own definition) may unilaterally assert “I am now a Jew” and be communally accepted as such.
    Remember that Hillel’s succinct statement of what Judaism is all about was followed by Go and study. And when we study, we learn that God makes special demands on those who would be Jewish, while leaving the door to the World to Come open to the righteous of all nations (righteous defined here in terms of the Noahide laws).
    Phil and Laura P may be concerned about what a small people we are. But our job is not to recruit “members.” Our job is to make and serve and be Jews. If we erase quality from the equation in the interest of quantity, as Hillel again said, What are we?

  29. avatar

    Noone is advocating throwing out “quality” in favor of quantity. Just advocating that some outreach could go a long way in welcoming those who are genuinely interested and willing to embrace Judaism into the fold. Just advocating the end of treating Jews-by-choice as somehow less than Jews by birth. Because the fact that this idea that not ethnically Jewish = a decline in “quality” is our moral Achilles’ heel.
    The question in 2008 is…do we cling to the rigid tribalism of the past and make ourselves unfriendly and inaccessible to people who (if made welcome) would embrace Torah, or do we celebrate the universal message of Reform Judaism, inviting in and embracing all sincere seekers? Our viabilty as a modern, ethical and relevant religion depends on our answer.

  30. avatar

    Now there are three threads here —
    1. The originally posed question — do we ask the non-Jews in our midst to become Jews, or do we wait for them to ask us.(In neither of these alternatives is there even a hint of advocacy for knock-on-doors proselytizing.)
    2. The “embrace everybody with open arms” which seemed to me to be what Phil was advocating, and was the point with which i was disagreeing.
    3. The digression from the originally posed question, to discuss how we welcome the Jews-by-choice in our midst. The “policy” of the movement is very clear on this, with one major exception (see below) — but neither the movement nor any of its congregations, nor any of the members of those congregations can legislate or enforce individual behavior, nor control social insensitivity whether by those born into Judaism or those who found it later.
    What’s the policy of the movement? The Jew-by-choice is a Jew. Simple as that.
    The unresolved issue? Is it appropriate, and if so, under what circumstances. to call attention to the prior status of the JBC?
    The tradition says No. Thus I remember how outraged some people were when, at a Union Biennial, in celebration of an anniversary of the Outreach program, all those who had chosen Judaism were called to the bimah at Shabbat services for an aliyah to the Torah — outraged because attention should not have been called to their (former) status.
    And I remember equally vividly how some 200 people, many with tears of joy in their eyes, accepted the invitation.
    It’s been my experience that a significant number of those who have chosen Judaism want their former status to be known — look at what people say about themselves here on the blog.
    But they, and those who prefer that their former status be forgotten, and those who were born into Judaism, all have to remember that being born into Judaism doesn’t automatically confer menshlichkeit (the quality of behaving properly).
    So to those who feel they have not been welcomed properly, I can say I’m sorry that’s been the case, but I can’t apologize for somebody else’s misconduct. And I can also say that there are also born Jews who have felt spurned or not properly welcomed in some of our congregations. (When I was saying Kaddish for my father, I went almost every Friday night to the same congregation — and in the course of those eleven months, other than the rabbi and the rebbetzin, no one ever greeted me or made me feel welcome!)
    And to go back to the original question — should we invite conversion of the non-Jews who are already in our midst, or shall we wait for them to raise the question? — it seems clear that the reason the question comes up at all is again a matter of menshlichkeit — the fear that asking the question might be interpreted as invalidating the existing status of the “candidate.”
    Scott of Massachusetts deals excellently with that issue in the second comment on this thread. Let’s all go back and read it, and learn from it.

  31. avatar

    What a wonderful, thoughtful and respectful discussion. May it continue. Well three Jews, Four opinions- so let me add mine.
    I am an African American middle age Jew who was adopted as a teen by a European Jewish single parent, whose family left Europe fleeing Hitler.
    My grandmother- may her memory be a blessing, upon learning that she was to have an African American teenage grand daughter simply said, we will “raise her Jewish” and that was that- which later included formal conversion.
    In typical Jewish fashion, grandparents were Zionists, mom was a radical and grand daughter becomes Reform and Observant. My grandmother lived long enough to be delighted and my mom was left wondering how did SHE get an observant African American /Zionist Jewish daughter?
    Rebellion? 🙂
    I am very open that I am Jewish for several reasons, I find that even among Progressive Jews I have had to deal with, “funny you don’t look Jewish” BTW- what does a Jew look like?
    I also choose to actively confront and challenge Jewish racism ( as A JEW) within some parts of the African American experience.
    Yet at the end of the day I am blessed and richer because of both of my cultural markings and experiences.
    How many people can claim both the “people of the book” as well as the people who risked life and limb to learn to read a book?

  32. avatar

    The taboo against proselytizing stems from a respect for other religions, not from any concern over “quality”. If a potential convert approaches us, he is driven by an inward spark that connects him to Judaism. If someone proposes going to non-Jews and pressuring them to convert, I have to wonder why.
    Judaism does not believe in “perfecting” others by getting them to convert. It teaches that it is possible to be righteous regardless of what faith you belong to. Let the non-Jew decide for himself which path to righteousness (conversion or the Noachide laws) is best for him.
    I also find the concerns over low synagogue attendance misplaced. If the Jews in the area aren’t joining your synagogue, maybe you should ask them why. Converting under the guidance of a rabbi who can’t get his own community to show up is not an attractive offer.

  33. avatar

    When talking about encouraging individuals to convert, it helps to identify who those people might be.1. Those married to a Jew and involved in differing degrees in the life of the synagogue, 2. Those who come to Judaism without previous meaningful religious affiliation, 3. Those who come to Judaism from another tradition that for some reason no longer seems to “fit”. As a member of Group 3 I probably would have converted years sooner had there been an easily discernable doorway with a welcome mat. As it was, even though I joined Yiddish and Hebrew classes, the rabbi never mentioned I could learn about the religion as well or made any welcoming gestures. I had to wait for a Reform congregation with a Taste of Judaism and an approachable rabbi to finally come through the door.

  34. avatar

    I agree very much with what Brian in Bexley said. The truth is that if Judaism (e.g., Reform or Conservative) continues to rely upon genetic fallout to fill its ranks, it will die! The ultra Orthodox, with their habit of having many children, seem intent on replenishing the future ranks of Judaism,
    If the more liberal/less judgmental branches of Judaism want to replenish their ranks, then they need to embrace those who are not born Jewish but who, nonetheless, love this religion and its people. For more than 30 years I loved Jews and their history, ethics, and accomplishments. I was an Evangelical Christian but unhappy.
    Finally I realized that I had a Jewish soul and needed to convert. I wasn’t marrying anyone Jewish and my children are grown so I don’t have any “ulterior” motives for converting — just love of Jews and Judaism. Judaism needs to embrace people such as myself who are willing to undergo its classes and learn about it and pay whatever they must to belong.
    Does anyone need FEWER friends? Do Jews? I say embrace everyone who is willing to go through the classes and the mikveh and the abbreviated brit milah. Judaism in its thousands of years of history has embraced many outsiders who loved its people — examples are rife in our Bible, Ruth most prominently.
    I for one can say to the Jews in my day as did Ruth to the Jews in hers, that your people are mine and your G-d is my G-d.

  35. avatar

    Thank you, Julie, for your comments. I came to Judaism in the same sort of way you did — from another tradition, but one that no longer worked for me. I came to Judaism despite the fact that, as you said, there was no “welcome mat” such as there was for newcomers in the Christianity I left. I found Judaism largely through Jewish dance classes that were taught in Davis, CA, in a synagogue just blocks from where I lived as a teenager. But I didn’t formally convert until the age of 45. I wish that Jewish “welcome mat” had been out decades earlier. If it had, I probably would have married a Jewish man and raised Jewish (instead of Christian) children.

  36. avatar

    I love Judaism (at least liberal Judaism, I admit I have no first-hand knowledge of other branches since I converted under the auspices of Reform) because of the points made by Joseph and others.
    Joseph put it perfectly by saying that “Judaism teaches that it is possible to be righteous, regardless of what faith you belong to.” Bravo!!
    Coming from a background of Evangelical Christianity, such cerebral open-mindedness is what drew me to Judaism. The type of Christianity I was involved with taught that there was only ONE way to G-d and all other ways were doomed to hell (the latter a concept that Judaism, refreshingly, as little to say about).
    But Joe, I have to admit I disagree with you in regard to your notation that the “taboo against proslytizing stems from a respect for other religions.” Um, no, not really. It stems from a respect for self preservation! Jews were proslytizing at some points in history until it was made clear that doing so would amount to their heads on a platter! There were several points in history in which it was made clear that proslytes and the Jews who might have encouraged or helped them to consider becoming Jews were to be executed. Quite the damper on reaching out, I would say.
    Still, Judaism survived, as it always does and always will. Yet another reason why I love this, the original way of worshipping G-d.

  37. avatar

    Perhaps a change in terminology would be in order. I “converted” over 30 years ago and found the term problematic even then. I didn’t turn inside out or become a different kind of person–like most people who “become” Jewish, I realized–and long training confirmed–that Judaism IS my family and my world view. When I think about it, it’s more a matter of ADOPTION . . . I have become part of the Jewish family and, as such, Jewish values and history have become my values and history. If anyone can actually trace their lineage back to Abraham, I’d be very surprised. Don’t most of us feel that Jewish history–whether by metaphor or adoption or bloodline–we are all part of the same family? I hope those who look at Jews as a race (it’s a fine semantic line between “bloodline” and “race”) are becoming a thing of the past.

  38. avatar

    This topic has been going on for over 2 years. Ironically I found in the URJ Eilu V’eilu Archives, starting with December 11, 2006, Vol 10, week 1, opening statements by Rabbi Mandelburg and Rabbi Einstein. The series (weeks) makes for fascinating reading and I would encourage all to check it out.

  39. avatar

    As someone who converted to Judiasm, who always felt I had a ‘Jewish soul’ long before then, I would say that it doesn’t matter if you ‘market’ conversion or not. The hardcore people who want to be Jews tend to keep perservering until they make it.
    However, I wonder about the many hoops we put people through in order to join our faith. I sinerely doubt that Ruth the Moabite had to do much more than declare she would live as a Jew and then do so. Today it is much more complicated.
    The rise of Christianity in the world probably has more to do with how easy it is to ‘join up’ just by showing up. We don’t do that in Judaism. We put up so many barriers. Perhaps this has been an understandable act of self protection. Yet, the result is that people are often dissuaded or discouraged and turn away.
    I wonder if it would be possible to develop a pre-full converstion stage of ‘commitment’ to Judaism that is a lot easier for people. I could be wrong… It’s just a thought…

  40. William Berkson

    Sharon, in Second Temple times they had a thing called called a ‘ger toshav’, which means something like resident stranger. A ‘ger toshav’ I think just had commit to obey the seven laws of the ‘sons of Noah’–basic ethical laws plus not doing idolatry–and then they were to have full status under the law in ancient Israel, just as a native would. Something like a ‘green card’ vs citizenship.
    It’s more complicated than that, and I’d have to look it up. But the point is that there is precedent for what you are saying.
    I like your idea.

  41. avatar

    Larry, I don’t entirely disagree with you. It’s just hard for me to understand the whole , “you must be a born Jew to be considered Jewish debate”, especially in the Orthodox community. Although I grew up Reform, I’m deeply disturbed that the state of Israel would frown on my upbringing, especially if I ever wanted to become a citizen. Yes I have a Jewish mother, but I’m sure if I tried to get residency, I’d have a problem. Every single one of us on this board would have a hard time proving we were “Jewish enough”. I guess that’s the point I’m trying to make. Who cares?
    Ann, you don’t have to apologize to anyone, nor explain your personal choice. If you have family and friends who can’t deal with your conversion, that’s their problem. You’re a Jew, and that’s it.
    Dee, I love your story. It’s truly inspiring. Mazel tov!

  42. avatar

    Phil, there seem to be several intertwined strands in your last comment, and many of them don’t jibe with my undertanding of either the policies of the state of Israel or the positions of the Orthodox community.
    The Orthodox community would consider you Jewish as the son of a Jewish mother. Were you not the son of a Jewish mother, their yardstick would be conversion according to Halachah. Factionalism within the Orthodox community might create a problem where one faction doesn’t accept the halachic credentials of another faction — but that’s not our issue as American Reform Jews.
    The state of Israel would take no position whatsoever on your Reform upbringing. You would be eligible to take up residence under the terms of the Law of Return, nor would your upbringing be a bar to citizenship.
    As the son of a Jewish mother, your status should not be questioned were you to want to marry in Israel — which is not to say that someone in authority might not hassle you to prove your religious bona fides. Given that Israelis do not enjoy the separation of religion and state, it’s important that those of us who care about those issues support the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism and the Israel Religious Action Center. When I say “support,” I’m not just talking about moral support — I’m talking about sending money.
    I’m not sure I follow your comments on proving we’re Jewish enough, followed by the question, Who cares? As Reform Jews, we don’t have the concept of being Jewish enough — but since it may be an issue in Israel where life cycle events are involved, we should all care.
    The other issue that’s been put on the table here — a digression from the original question discussed by Rabbis Yoffie, Einstein, and Mandelberg, on inviting the conversion of folks who are already participating in our communities — is the question of making the person who has taken that step feel welcome.
    Clearly some of the people who have commented here (and I’m sure there are people who haven’t commented but who feel the same way) do not feel that they are fully accepted as Jews by some of their fellow-congregants.
    Well, after we’ve said Shame on you to those who are not living up to Jewish standards of hospitality and welcome — what next? As I said a week ago, we have no way to enforce menshlichkeit, and it’s not a genetic trait in the DNA of all Jews, however they came to their Jewishness.
    One What Next might be to organize (or re-organize) Outreach committees in our congregations, so we program our welcome activities instead of leaving it to chance. Insofar as an Outreach committee reaches out to those who have not taken the step of affirming Judaism for themselves — we’re acting along the lines of Rabbi Yoffie’s 2005 Biennial suggestions. But insofar as the committee s reaching out to those who have taken the step — we walk the tightrope between welcome and emphasizing an otherness that is precisely what we don’t want to emphasize.
    Are we damned if we do and damned if we don’t?

  43. avatar

    I had read an article in the New York Times,(maybe about a year ago, not sure) addressing the fact that Israel is getting more and more strict with who they consider Jewish.
    Among the people in question were a group of American born reform jews, all with Jewish parents, all being told, “sorry, you’re not Jewish enough to live here”. I’m well aware of what you’re saying, and you’re right.
    However within the last few years, israel has been bending the rules as they see fit for whatever reason. I’ll have to see if I can find a link to the article I mentioned.

  44. avatar

    Phil, I know the article to which you refer–here it is:
    The State of Israel would have no problem with any Reform-proof of Jewish identity regarding the Law of Return–ie, you could make aliyah to become a citizen of Israel based on non-orthodox documents of Jewish identity.
    The issue is with the Rabbinate, which would come into play if you needed to get married or buried in Israel.
    This is one of the reasons why I would take a relatively more conservative (small-c) approach to encouraging conversion. We need to be absolutely transparent about what obstacles a potential ger tzedek might encounter should they (or, if female, their progeny) join up and decide to make aliyah.

  45. avatar

    I don’t think one can underestimate the emotional impact that Israel’s policies regarding who qualifies under the law of return has on people. I think that is partly why there sometimes seems to be a two tiered class system…you can be a Reform Jew in good standing in the US and be totally ineligible to move to Israel. Recently our temple had an event where we were joined by folks from 2 local Consevative synagogues. A gentleman who is studying to convert in our temple was told by a gentleman from the Conservative shul that converting in a Reform temple would not make him a “real” Jew.
    Unfortunately, that attitude is alive and well out there.
    Israel’s policies can be a sore subject for Jews who were raised to be Zionist and may have even (like me) at one time considered moving there…only to have it pointed out that, hey, since your mom had a Reform conversion you are SOL. I have been to Israel and loved it, but how much love and support can I throw at a place that doesn’t want to know from me? How do I teach my daughter to love a place that may reject her? How do I tell her that she is a real Jew and affirm her identity when the Jewish state (and some local Jews who follow Israel’s lead) says otherwise? This is a tough issue that leads to a lot of ambivalence. It is a sad fact that there are many of us who sometimes feel like second class Jews. I agree that it is imperative that we support progressive Judaism in Israel…because until the vise-grip of the ultra-Orthodox is broken, many American Reform Jews will continue to be treated like red-headed stepchildren.

  46. avatar

    Apologies to Larry for the continued digression from the original topic…but I have to point out that Laura’s statement you can be a Reform Jew in good standing in the US and be totally ineligible to move to Israel is inaccurate. Reform and Conservative conversions done outside of Israel are recognized under the Law of Return–so you can move to Israel. It’s just that the state-supported Rabbinate there will not recognize you Jewish, just as they won’t recognize the thousands of patrilineal Russian olim. It’s a problem, to which Laura’s painful personal history can attest.
    A hypothetical: say I’m blessed with a daughter, and am somehow successful in raising her with a strong Jewish identity into a knowledgeable and engaged young adult Jew. Let’s say she goes away to college and falls in love with a nice young Modern Orthodox boy named Cohen. She’s even willing to adopt his family’s version of halachic living and jump through their hoops to “convert”–but it won’t matter. That tradition holds that Cohenim can’t marry converts…..
    It’s a little far-fetched. But as a giyoret it does weigh even on my fully-and-enthusiastically-Jewishly-committed conscience.
    Now, I am Jewish not because it is easy, but because I am compelled from deep in my gut and soul. I feel I could not deny this part of my identity any more than I could deny or change being heterosexual. If we “invite” conversion, I think we had better be absolutely certain that they have a fire in their belly to be Jewish, and strengthen them to stand up to the Ezras among us who hold to a narrow definition of Jewishness. If we are to “invite”, it needs to be with full disclosure: you are joining a beautiful gem of a people and a deep and thoughtful religion, but they have some heavy baggage–be prepared to help carry it.

  47. avatar

    You all are making some great points. I think as Reform Jews, maybe we need to get a little more serious as to who we are. We never do though. We just walk away and shrug.
    If we stand firm towards the Ultra Orthodox Rabbinate and say, “to bad, we’re here, we’re secular and Jewish”, maybe we’ll get somewhere. No group has ever made it anywhere without some sort of pioneering spirit.
    I’d also like to add that generations of our families were killed for who they were; ie. Pogroms, the Holocaust, etc. Hitler nor the Russian Czar gave a crap about what type of Jew you were.

  48. avatar

    BTW, Thanks for the article Ruth. That’s the one.

  49. avatar

    I am a convert to Judaism. Unlike many Jews-by-birth in my city, I attend Temple fairly regularly, support Temple with my finances, and support Jewish charities. Most of my family are Christians, and I observe my holidays alone while they observe theirs together. I have done this by choice because Judaism makes my heart sing. Yet, I also feel many times that I am not a “real” Jew in the eyes of those born Jewish.
    Where will Reform Judaism be in 100 years without the convert? Every Jew today is a Jew by choice, and, in my geographic area at least, a majority of Jews-by-birth are not making that choice.

  50. William Berkson

    Jill, as you probably are aware, traditionally Jews are required to treat converts at full Jews, and in fact normally are not to even mention that they are converted, so that no distinction is made. Of course, Reform Jews also are supposed to treat converts as full Jews.
    So if anybody is not being a “real” Jew, it is those people born to Jewish parents who discriminate in any way against converts. They are violating our traditions, not you. I hope this discrimination is a rare occurrence, but perhaps some of the those posting here can tell us how rare or common this is, from personal experience.

  51. avatar

    William, the people who regularly attend Temple are wonderful to me, and I’ve not experienced any overt acts of discrimination.
    I can’t speak for others, but I think the feeling of not belonging is, in part, my problem. I wonder if other converts feel like “frauds” at times. It’s been a challenging thing for me to sink myself into a culture that is so foreign without feeling as if I am a bit of a poser.
    However, you don’t have to do much reading on the internet or in some Jewish magazines to realize that you are not so welcome by some Jews. That’s not any more difficult to accept than letting go of Christmas, Easter, and almost every other aspect of my life before Judaism. It just makes you feel a bit like a second-string Jew.

  52. avatar

    For irony, consider –
    Most Jews-by-birth in Israel are not very observant and would probably refuse to pursue an Orthodox conversion if they had to, especially if they had to agree to observe Orthodox custom.
    The bible is full of conversion stories of various sorts, but now it is treated by Orthodox authorities as only legitimate through them.

  53. avatar

    I think that accepting new members into the Jewish Community is good because new blood will allow new ideas into the Religion. I am Roman Catholic by tradition , but I also know I had Jewish ancestors in my family when they lived in Spain. Twice I tried to convert, but somehow I wasn’t able to. My admiration for Judaism is always great. I read Moshe Ben Maimonides and Spinoza whenever I have free time to do so. The point is basically that being a Jew can and should always be open to those who want to convert. The best Jew I ever met is a man born in Venezuela and he does practice Judaism for many years of his life. His name is Jesse and he is a good example of conversion. Happy Hannukah to all!!

  54. avatar

    Listen. Maybe I’m playing devil’s advocate here, but try this on. I do not mean to offend anyone by what I’m about to say, but it’s time to tell it like it is.
    If you converted, shut up. right? I mean I can’t help but wonder if some of you converts bring it on yourself. Do you have to tell everyone you meet that you “converted”? You can’t have it both ways, and I say that with all repect.
    I’m sensing some paranoya here. You brag about how you converted, then get upset when people question your choice, and say that you’re being discriminated against. It’s almost laughable.
    If you want to be considered a Jew, then be one! It’s not necessary for you to explain over and over again. You’re a Jew, that’s it. Enough said.

  55. avatar

    Phil, I thought this blog was a good place to address this issue. I do not bring up my conversion at Temple, and I rarely bring it up with my Christian friends since they don’t care.
    I was hoping to get a little advice, a little support mainly because I don’t want to bring my conversion up as a matter of discussion with my Jewish friends. I think converts have some unique issues sometimes, just like new mothers, newlyweds, or anyone traveling a new path/
    Apparently, I was mistaken. Thanks for the welcome.

  56. avatar

    Again, no need to take offense to what I said. If you scroll up and read my previous posts, you would see that I have no problem with converts, and actually feel that us born Jews should do more to welcome you all within reason.
    However, I’m seeing a pattern here. I have a feeling the issue is with you Jill, not the people at your temple who you think are “un-welcoming”. That’s my point.
    What are people doing to you to make you think you aren’t welcome?
    Also I’d like to add, I’ve asked converts why they’ve chosen Judaism after they finish telling a group of people that they were born something else, and they get all flustered.
    I’m just basing my opinion on personal experience. Again, no need for offense.

  57. avatar

    Phil, I think you may not have completely read my second post. The people at Temple are not unwelcoming; they are wonderful! And, I’ve admitted that part of the issue is with me. It is difficult to assimilate into a new culture, even when you are in total agreement with the beliefs and values of that religion and culture.
    As I stated earlier, my feelings of being unwelcome come from magazine articles, internet articles and other materials that have made me aware that some Jews are not so keen on converts.
    I can’t imagine how what kind of conversion preparation those converts who get flustered must have had. I had to complete the equivalent of a college course entitled Basic Judaism, write numerous reports, complete a Jewish project, drive 240 miles round trip every 2 weeks for over 7 months to meet with a rabbi, have a beit din, and have a mikveh at an Orthodox temple. I assure you, I can tell you why I am Jewish and not be flustered at all.
    Perhaps it was just your form of communication that made me take some offense. I find it amusing that someone would tell you to shut up then tell you not to be offended. Perhaps there might be a more gracious way to state your case.
    Peace out.

  58. avatar

    As a Jew-by-choice I find this topic interesting. I’d like to put something out there as food for thoughts.
    Torah, and by greater extension, Judaism is a way in which to connect to G-d. But it’s not like any other ‘religion’. As we all know, logic dictates that Jews should not exist today. Yet, here we are. Why? Because the Jewish/Torah way of connecting with G-d is complete. To expand, while other religions/faiths have ways to connect with G-d, it is not a total connection. Pieces are missing. But not with Judaism. Why? Because Torah contains ALL the ways in which to connect with the Divine. The only disagreement is whether or not we have to ‘observe’ all those ways. As a Reform Jew with a ‘mystical bent’, i’d like to propose that the 613 mitzvot are designed to help us correct deficiencies in our characters. However, unlike the orthodox viewpoint, some aspects of our characters are already ‘fine’, and therefore we don’t need to perform certain mitzvot anymore. So we can explore and try different mitzvot to see which ones resonate with us. If they do, i suggest it’s because that particular miztvot connects that part of our souls that needs ‘some work’ in order to connect that part of our soul with G-d.
    So what does this have to do with conversion? Simple, if Judaism/Torah has the means in which to have a total connection to G-d, why wouldn’t we want ALL people to share in that total connection?
    ~ Chaim

  59. avatar

    I think this discussion is very interesting.
    I am a born Jew (with a Jewish mother) and belong to a congregation that is 100% welcoming to Jews by Choice (Beth-Torah in Overland Park, Kansas). We have very active “Jews by Choice” (we don’t refer to them other than as Jews) who are very active in the choir, on the Board, and in all aspects of our congregation. They bring new life, vitality, and energy to our congregation, and by extension, to the Jewish People.
    I, for one, am glad for and appreciate everyone who finds in Reform Judaism an excellent way to live one’s life!

  60. avatar

    I might be very lucky,then:I was born from a Jewish father and a Catholic mother and had never ANY sort of connection to Judaism;but,when I spoke to Orthodox jews about the possibility of converting,they were always incouraging me,and never gave me the cold shoulder.
    Now,this can be for 3 reasons:
    1) I’m lucky
    2) My father is Jewish,so they might want to have me “back”.
    3) Those Orthodox guys I spoke to,were only Chabad,and,as far as I know,they are frendlier than other Orthodox jews.
    I really don’t know the right answer….

  61. avatar
    Spc Randall Wirth Reply January 8, 2009 at 7:48 am

    I would just like to say as a person seeking conversion that just knowing that so many have had great success with converting and being welcomed into the jewish community makes my wanting to convert stronger. I am currently serving in Iraq on my second tour i was raised catholic but my family has always held a somewhat non denominational view of christianity, during my first tour i lost my faith completely and became an atheist after time i lost my anger towards G-D and held to my own personal beliefs about him. Recently, a friend of mine out here started a bible study course because the small outpost that we are in doesnt have a chaplain so more and more that we talked the stronger my faith in G-D became and i spent a few nights just reading scripture specifically in Tanakh( aka old testament) and after a dream i had i made the decision that when i come back to the united states after my tour is over that i will seek conversion to judaism. i personally feel it is the right path for me and i am trying to learn as much as i can now so that i can hasten the learning process and become a member of the jewish community.

  62. avatar

    I believe that conversion to Judaism is in many respects like an adoption – Israel becomes your home and the prophets your ancestors – in this respect conversion in no way diminishes Jewish claims to Israel.
    I also believe very strongly that reaching out to non-jews would actually help to destroy the menace of anti-semitism.
    Because many people still believe that Jews are a ‘race’, and, quite obviously, one can’t ‘convert’ to a race. Once people realise that anybody, of any race can be Jewish, it will help to destroy this aspect of anti-semitism.
    At the same time, this will hopefully also destroy the arguments of those who equate Zionism with Racism.
    Jews need to open the communities and embrace converts. I have met so many people who are facinated by Judaism but don’t feel that they can make the next step.
    We are priviliged in our beautiful faith – should we not make it easier for others to share in it?
    Randall Wirth – good luck with your future study, I for one welcome you for taking your first step towards the Jewish community!!!

  63. avatar

    I am a former x-tian, and have decided to stay a foreigner until Mociach comes. He will sort out who belongs to which tribe and also who is a “Jew” and who is not.
    I find it offensive when both “sides” want to “convert” the other.
    Who will gather the foreigners?
    Yeshayah (Isaiah) 56:2-8 Blessed is the man who does this, the man who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil.” Let no foreigner who has bound himself to HaShem say, “HaShem will surely exclude me from his people.” And let not any eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.” For this is what HaShem says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant– To them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off. And foreigners who bind themselves to HaShem to serve him, to love the name of HaShem, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant– These I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” The Sovereign HaShem declares–he who gathers the exiles of Israel: “I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered.”

  64. avatar

    Tur.Yoreh De’ah No.268
    MT Hilchot Isurei Bi’ah 13:9
    Karo’s Shulchan Aruch 268:10
    I’m grateful to groups such as Be’chol Lashon and the International Israelite Board of Rabbis and Kualanu. A proper perspective on the Jewish experience must include those whose feel they are Jewish, in a manner which involves standing in the foot steps of Ruth the Moabitess and the House of Gershom. The door should never be shut on the proselyte who comes. the reform interpretation of the Mishnah in its elementary states appeases my current status at Springhill Avenue Temple-Congregation Shaari Shomayim Mobile AL. The guidance provided by Rabbi Kunstadt has been encouraging and I finally feel welcome. SHOULD JUDAISM RETRACT THE HAZMANAH:What is the Torah Basis for such. Judaism is that baderech to Mt Zion!

  65. avatar

    Well, between the baal tshuvah in my husband’s family, and my fundamentalist Christian neighbors, I get the feeling that everyone wants a piece of my soul. I will say that my fundie neighbors are always “on” . Every interaction is to “minister” and to “Be a blessing and an encouragement” to others. (their words) I say convert em’ all. After a few generations you won’t be able to tell the difference. What exactly are we so worried about? Or are we secretly harboring feelings that “they” aren’t quite as good as “us”?

  66. avatar

    I read an article last year on the subject of whther converts should be saught. The point of the article simply stated was, that while searching for converts may not be the method of choice due to the inevitable negative reactions that “non-jews” will have, we should as jews create an environment that encourages those who wish to join the fold to be able to do so and welcome them with open arms. The reason for this view is that, if some one wishes to convert is that they posses a jewish sole but through no fault of their own were born to non-jewish parents. Their choice to convert to judaism is simply because they wish to “rejoin” the community that their sole belongs to.

  67. avatar

    I converted 16 years ago. I found a supportive rabbi and temple. Members were extraordinarily accepting. It’s troubling to hear that perhaps that is the exception. I received more skepticism from non-Jews than Jews – with the exception of the Orthodox Jews I encountered. A few years ago my daughter, who also converted, and I were told we were not welcome at an Orthodox Torah study class because Reform conversions are not recognized. On a recent trip to Israel, my Orthodox guide made a few comments about my being a Reform convert. This attitude troubles me deeply. Can I truly not be considered a Jew unless I am converted by an Orthodox rabbi?

  68. avatar

    Yes, I believe you should seek out converts, especially those already married to Jews. As for anyone coming in from the outside, make sure you have something to offer first.

    I became Jewish because I wanted to be religious. I didn’t try to join the Orthodox or Conservative branches, because of some things in my personal life I knew I wouldn’t be welcome, plus there weren’t any other choices without going into the city. I believed then & still do that Reform Judaism is a valid expression of the Jewish faith.

    After the newness of Reform Judaism wore off, I couldn’t find any “religious” Reform resources other than a few books, & they weren’t really about G-d. That drew me to Orthodox resources & practices which were meaningful, but with a little voice in my head reminding me that these were not part of being a Reform Jew. All that talk about neo-tradition is fine as far as private devotions go. At some point you need a religious community to sustain it beyond Shabbat services & an hour of Torah study. Reform Jews need to quit being embarrassed by religious expression & thinking it’s not for us. Some scholarship & publishing from the URJ on religious study for laypeople would help us establish a religious Reform identity. Rabbis have to open one night during the week for adult education consistently, like the Orthodox do. Build it & they will come, even if it takes years. Someday you might even get a minyan!

    I guess I tried in my head to make Reform Judaism something it wasn’t. When I realized there was really nothing there to hold on to, I left the temple for good & haven’t been in one since. Sorry, but blind loyalty to a foreign country that won’t recognize me as a Jew along with celebrating cultural heritage isn’t enough.

  69. avatar

    My story is complicated as I am sure my mom is jewish but even she didnt know that, we were all created through Catholic paths. I decided to be a jew when I was 15 and I learned to read Hebrew alone. I found that my mom has kashrut habits and I started to observe her ways of making food and opinions about Jesus, they are totally jew. Then I made a research in Avotaynu and I found out. my great-great-grandma was jewish in Italy amd married a Catholic man and followed his religion.

    No one rabbi believes my mom is jewish because I have no documents, and here in Brazil the orthodox rabbis say “only in Israel, not here, it’s forbiden”, the non-orthodox Synagogues charge a huge price for a course of judaism (around 3000 dollars, with this price I would go to Israel), and well, in my case after so long living a jewish life the best I can, trully sure my mom is jewish, I passed all these years thinking that a conversion process would not be fair, however, I consider myself as a jew but no rabbi does.

    In brazilian standards, I think they do not discourage three times only but many congregations make several tests, I had quit a job when a orthodox rabbi said I was ready to go to NYC and be converted, then suddenly, he denied… I was unemployed and I had to shave to find another job, he turned his back and never spoke to me again.

    Now I want to formalize my conversion, even I believe I am a jew by birth, there’s no other way I guess, but is there a way less unrespectful, or at least possible to finish this 20 years process?

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