Facing the Realities of an Orthodox Conversion

Rishonah recently posted this insightful comment on the Upgrading a Non Orthodox Conversion post.

For 10 years I lived as a Reform Jew (although I didn’t officially “convert” until I was 20 years old). It is one thing for a single ger/giyores to “upgrade” to a halachaic conversion and yet another thing when there is a non-observant partner involved (Jewish or not). When you go before a Beis Din who only follows the laws of the Torah and tell them you wish to convert; you are also implying that you will observe the 613 mitzvot as well as maintaining an optimal environment where you can observe the Torah’s precepts. It is very difficult, if not impossible to have a non-observant mate. I’ve ‘heard’ of stories where someone converted and lived as an Orthodox Jew and either their mate was not observant or went off the derech or something like that. But it becomes very problematic in relation to the validity of the conversion.

Both your cousin and his wife must commit to maintaining a fully kosher home; complete with being located in the community, taharas hamispacha, sending children to Orthodox day schools, etc. In some cases, the Beis Din will not even consider the non-Jew for conversion unless this two-fold commitment can be verified. It is one thing to have “Jewish knowledge” but quite another to be willing to give up many things simply because, “the Torah says so”.

I myself struggled with this during the chag. I went to Pennsylvania to visit my family; but stay in the frum community for yom tovim and Shabbat so instead of a 10 day vacation with them, it was a 5 day. They could not fully understand why I would travel all that way and spend so little time with them. I could not bear to say no to the lemon merague pie my Grandmother made for me. So what that I left the crust; the intricrate ways of halacha is such that I will never try to balance a chag with my non-Jewish family again. I have not officially converted; the pull from the goyishe world is difficult and painful. It should not be suggested unless the person is truly willing and the probablity for success is great.

I have no real advice other than do nothing more than casual mention of the issue. I would not press it, because even if the non-Jewish wife is gung-ho you still have your cousin and the children to think about. If they seem like they would rather have the big house in the mixed neighborhood, the 1 day Pesach with a drive up to the Catskills afterward, the dinner’s at Outback Steakhouse, the children taking drama classes instead of studying advanced Chumash; any of this – it’s not worth pursuing. You gain a lot, but the entire family needs to be willing to see that gain. If you were born a non-Jew and wish to become Jewish, it takes so much more than just signing a document, change shul membership, and cut out bacon from your breakfast. You need to acquire and be acquired by a nation that exists outside of physical and ethnic boundaries. It’s a lot to ask from a non-Jew; and should not be asked (in my opinion).

6 comments on “Facing the Realities of an Orthodox Conversion

  1. Rishona – first of all, continued hatzlacha in your journey. Since you picked up on my initial post, thought I’d continue here. There are many unaffiliated cousins on my mother’s side but this cousin (forgetting her non-O-Jewish status for a moment) stands out because of her knowledge, interest and sincerity. She diligently made sure her daughter attended the only Jewish Day School in their community, and they sold their house to be able to move closer to the school, which also put them into a community with an Orthdodox shul about a block away, and frum neighbors.
    Another cousin once pointed out that very few of the male cousins even had Bar Mitzvahs, virtually a rite of passage to American Jews – which gave birth to the saying “a lot of bar, a little Mitzvah”). The only one I recalled was in a Reform temple in the Bronx, followed by a meal in a treif restaurant in Manhattan. The others didn’t even have that.
    Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld, in a speech given at a Bar Mitzvah at his shul, pointed out that of all the nations on earth, the Jewish people are the only one who’s size has not changed since the end of WWII. Every other nation has grown. That thought seems to reside in the frontal part of my brain.

  2. LC thanks for your support. I realized my post sounded so bleak. It is funny I have always ‘passed’ as a Jew because of my family circumstances. I wonder how I will feel when the day comes and I am pronounced 100%. I still have to go through a marriage ceremony and my daughter will have to go to the mikvah. It is sad to say, but my relatives who are very dear to me I know still will not see me as a Jew.

  3. Josey –

    kol hakavod to you! A friend is now struggling with a similar issue, and I have seen how difficult it is for her.

  4. Very good comment. I have been undertaking the conversion ‘process’ for about a year. As it has already been mentioned on this site, intermarriage produces a lot of very complicated situations. I am living proof of that. I am middle aged and at the time my father married my gentile mother it was a definite no-no. I was raised with all kinds of barriers to the Jewish side and even the Gentile side. My mother died in adolescence and along with her I lost contact with that side of the family. But I knew only too well that I wasn’t considered Jewish. I am surprised now at the acceptance at my daughter’s day school of intermarriage, gentile spouses are active at synagogue etc. I grew up in an era of shame and disdain for intermarriage. The children are ignorant to all the machinations of Jewish/gentile affiliation, but are left with no clear status as adults. I question my path towards conversion almost everyday, even though I have lived without any contact to my gentile origins for 35 years. I know though I was destined to go down this arduous path, but came to it very late in the day.

  5. You bring up a good point about dealing with various levels of observance in a family. It can really cause problems. Its one thing to become more observant on your own, its another thing altogether when you have to get your spouse to agree with you. It was certainly a factor in the demise of my marriage. And just so you know, I blogrolled you. Hope you don’t mind.

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