What do Jews think of converts?
September 23, 2006 7:35 AM   Subscribe

What do Jews think of converts?

I'm not asking about the conversion process; that has already been discussed on ask mefi. Rather I am curious about the attitudes Jews have towards converts.

I became interested in Judaism via my Jewish girlfriend and I have been quite engrossed in it for a couple of years now. I have not converted though and I have serious qualms about it.

I think my biggest problem is that it feels kind of phony. I certainly wish I was a Jew, I feel like I share core Jewish values, I enjoy doing mitzvot, I go to shul and keep kosher/shabbat (to a reasonable extent) and I even took college-level Hebrew for a year. Yet I still feel like I'm not a Jew, and I think even if I did convert I would still feel uncomfortable saying "I'm Jewish" or "I'm a Jew". I can't help feeling that I'm just putting on a really good act of being a Jew.

I get a variety of different reactions from my Jewish and non-Jewish friends. But I'm wondering what people really think, not what they're willing to say to my face. I suspect most secular Jews think I'm kind of ridiculous for living a Jewish life when I'm not even Jewish. The reason it matters is that one of the biggest parts of being Jewish is the sense of peoplehood, of being a member of "the tribe". But being in a tribe kind of requires the other tribe members to perceive you as belonging to the tribe. So this is a question for all the Jews out there: what do Jews *really* think of converts?
posted by anonymous to Religion & Philosophy (45 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm not a Jew but as I understand it from a number of texts and from my Jewish friends...the cold, hard fact of the matter is that there's only one way to be a Jew, in the true sense, and that's to be born one. Apparently that's a core belief of theirs - chosen people of God, etc.. You can certainly live peaceably as a foreigner in their midst, I'm sure, but I doubt you'll ever be considered a "Jew" by the most devout.
posted by allkindsoftime at 7:47 AM on September 23, 2006


If people are sincere about it, I see them as the same as any other Jewish person who adheres to a similar level of observance. From what you say, it sounds like you're really serious about it, not just wanting to become nominally a Jew so that your girlfriend isn't intermarrying.

There's a concept that the souls of future converts were hanging around at Sinai when the Torah was given. If that doesn't make 'em part of the tribe, I don't know what would.

disclaimer: I'm a somewhat jaded Orthodox-dropout, so what I think is not necessarily standard. In my experience within the Orthodox community, attitudes vary widely, from total acceptance of converts and ba'alei teshuva ("returnees"--born Jews who were not religious and later became religious) to...being less accepting, putting a bit of a stigma on them. The official party line, though, is that you're supposed to see converts as just like everyone else, and you're not supposed to bring up their past.
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:58 AM on September 23, 2006


I'm not a Jew

Oh. Well I am. And I disagree with just about everything you said there about the Jews not accepting converts. Although some orthodox Jews will only accept conversions done by orthodox rabbis.

I can't help feeling that I'm just putting on a really good act of being a Jew.

Probably better than a lot of Jews by birth.

I suspect most secular Jews think I'm kind of ridiculous for living a Jewish life when I'm not even Jewish.

Nah, since a lot of us have seen it many times before. I know I have.

The reason it matters is that one of the biggest parts of being Jewish is the sense of peoplehood, of being a member of "the tribe". But being in a tribe kind of requires the other tribe members to perceive you as belonging to the tribe.

Yeah, perhaps. A lot of people (including Jews) forget that the "tribe" in this sense, in most of America, is the Ashkenazi, the Jews of Eastern Europe. When Ashkenazi interact with other Jewish ethnic groups, they are sometimes shocked to see so much of their tribal culture absent. They always thought certain things they did were Jewish, but they were really just Ashkenazi.

Let me put it another way. If you convert to Catholicism, that won't make you Irish. Irish Catholics will accept you as Catholic, but not Irish. Similarly, converting will make you Jewish, not Ashkenazi. But who really gives a shit about what closed-minded fucks think about you not being Ashkenazi? If you are confronted with that, you can probably find a more accepting community in a decent-sized city.
posted by grouse at 8:04 AM on September 23, 2006 [7 favorites]


allkindsoftime: I doubt you'll ever be considered a "Jew" by the most devout.

I'm not sure what you considering "the most devout," but offhand I can think of at least three converts in the community I grew up in (far-right Orthodox) who are married to born-Jews, who are accepted (and whose kids are accepted) as full members of the community. One of them was invited to speak at my (all-girls school) about his journey...he was once an altar-boy in a town in Texas.
posted by needs more cowbell at 8:07 AM on September 23, 2006


as I understand it from a number of texts

I forgot to ask, what texts are those exactly?
posted by grouse at 8:10 AM on September 23, 2006


I'm not a Jew but as I understand it from a number of texts and from my Jewish friends...the cold, hard fact of the matter is that there's only one way to be a Jew, in the true sense, and that's to be born one. Apparently that's a core belief of theirs - chosen people of God, etc.. You can certainly live peaceably as a foreigner in their midst, I'm sure, but I doubt you'll ever be considered a "Jew" by the most devout.

That statement, Allkindsoftime, is pure, unadulterated bullshit.

Anonymous: Let's be very honest here. More than half of Jews in this country enter into interfaith relationships and many do bring their partners into the Jewish faith before or after marriage. There are many reasons for this: converts tend to be more faithful than people born into faith; couples want to raise their children in a loving, single-faith environment; or the couple wants to be part of an exclusive religious community.

Some possible things to look at: Laurel Snyder's new book Half-Life, Jew-ish Tales from Interfaith Households, out from Softskull Press is a good read about how interfaith couplehood can work. I interviewed Laurel a few weeks ago, and you can find the interview on the page that links from my profile.

Also, look into the Dovetail Institute, which has a lot of resources for interfaith couples. We have an interview with that group too.

Something to remember is that if your Jewish partner is spiritual, not religious, then that will place a strain on your interests to become a worshipping Jewish person.
posted by parmanparman at 8:10 AM on September 23, 2006


Anon,

Of course, I could argue, if you trace your bloodlines back far enough...it's likely a matron was jewish.

You're observing judiasm (quite well, I might add); why not, this new year, treat yourself as jewish. And if you're really having qualms...why not see the rabbi in your shul?

You're not the first person going through this, and he'll likely, have great advice.
posted by filmgeek at 8:13 AM on September 23, 2006


the cold, hard fact of the matter is that there's only one way to be a Jew, in the true sense, and that's to be born one.

And even that is complex. I was out with a friend last night who was raised observant, who had just come from Temple, who feels Jewish to her core. And yet because she's got a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother, she feels alienated. She had even tried to "convert" but ran into trouble. The sad joke of it is, she is jealous of me, who has a Jewish mother, which apparently makes me more of a real Jew than she is, despite both my mother and I being raised wholly atheist. She's been dumped by guys who want a Jewish girlfriend/wife and don't think she fits the bill.
I've always thought one of the best things about Judaism is the lack of evangelizing, but that's just ridiculous.
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:13 AM on September 23, 2006


You have been participating in the Jewish customs for a couple of years now, but have not officially converted. Maybe you don't consider yourself a Jew because you haven't completed the rite of passage. In which case, if you're serious about it, why not convert? Or maybe to you Judaism is like an impenetrable in-group that you don't feel deserving of because you were born to the wrong people (I don't think this is God's perspective).

Regardless of the reason, you don't have to say you're Jewish right now. You can say, "I study/follow/am inclined toward Judaism"...

Those who know you well know where you are in your life. Those who don't know you well won't need specifics.
posted by mynameismandab at 8:27 AM on September 23, 2006


Hmmm...while I understand that converts would be welcome to make sure than a couple's children will be raised in the jewish faith, I have always been curious how a conversion not involving a marriage would be accepted. Any comments? Thx.
posted by bim at 8:32 AM on September 23, 2006


And even that is complex. I was out with a friend last night who was raised observant, who had just come from Temple, who feels Jewish to her core. And yet because she's got a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother, she feels alienated. She had even tried to "convert" but ran into trouble.

What's the complexity? If the mother was Jewish, then Jewish; if not, then not. What was the trouble when she tried to convert? (Not trying to be snarky, but it's straightforward; may not be the most rational in situations like your friend, but it's straightforward.)

Other than that, I agree with what grouse said.
posted by inigo2 at 8:33 AM on September 23, 2006


I was talking to an orthodox friend about this and he said there is something like a hazing period where the convert might be made to feel unwanted, but with persistence this is overcome.

Something about some verse that says if you ask three times you can't be refused, so rejection is part of the formula.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:33 AM on September 23, 2006


parmanparman - I suppose now you're going to tell CunningLinguist that his friend is a "pure, unadulterated, buillshit(ter)"? Glad I'm not the only one out there that's realistic about the fact that some Jews don't see converts as equal.

One of my best friends happens to date a delightful girl who's parents frown on the relationship because he wasn't born Jewish. Don't for a second think that because you consider yourself an open-minded Jew, all Jews must be.

grouse - texts:

Who is a Jew?

Conversion to Judaism

And much of what I've read over the years in the Bible.

I'd like to point out that I prefaced my statements with "as I understand it." Perhaps my understanding is wrong. In the Conversion to Judaism link, however, I read the following:

Halakha forbids reminding a convert that he/she was once not a Jew and hence little distinction is made in Judaism between "Jews by birth" and "Jews by choice".

I can only speculate that they must have had to start forbidding it for a reason. Its in our inherently evil human nature to be exclusive of others. Jews are no better than Americans, Germans, Japanese, Canadians - any other race (or religion or whatever) there ever was. We're all human.
posted by allkindsoftime at 8:39 AM on September 23, 2006


The texts you are citing are Wikipedia?! Enough said.

I'd like to point out that I prefaced my statements with "as I understand it." Perhaps my understanding is wrong.

Please, if you don't know what you are talking about, just leave the discussion to those who do.

I was out with a friend last night who was raised observant, who had just come from Temple, who feels Jewish to her core.

Since you say "temple," I assume she is Reform or Reconstructionist. The official position of the Reform movement is to recognize patrilineal descent, so if any Reform Jews are giving her shit, she should tell them where to get off. And most won't.
posted by grouse at 8:54 AM on September 23, 2006


grouse -

Next time, read the part that follows the "however."

I'm in an interracial relationship myself - when it comes to racial exclusivity, I know *plenty* about it, thanks.
posted by allkindsoftime at 9:07 AM on September 23, 2006


Hi Anonymous,
Err... you are aware you posted this question on Rosh Hashonah, correct? ;)

I'm going to guess that most of AskMefi's Orthodox/Conservative population are probably off at synagogue today and are unlikely to answer this one. Which is a shame.

From the perspective of this lapsed Jew who grew up in a Conservadox household:

If you'll convert, you'll be accepted as a Jew by most Jews you meet. My guess would be 75% of us will welcome you with open arms and view you as someone just as Jewish as Mr. Kaplan or Mrs. Goldenberg.

But Judaism also has the unique-ass paradox of being a religion that acquired some of the characteristics of an ethnic group over time. You can thank punitive anti-Jewish measures throughout the Christian world that forced Jews to live in seperate, isolated communities for that.. As a result, there are some Jews who are, ahem, rather "posessive" of Jewishness and have doubts about people who join up with us.

My advice is: Just ignore 'em.

Every religion has its gossipy old ladies and its provincial, self-absorbed exclusivists. They're a minority among us and if you find that your congregation in the city where you live is too full of 'em, just find another congregation. Most cities are big enough to have a full variety for all your Judaic needs..

But my best advice is, as other posters have said, is to speak to a Rabbi. If you don't have one you are familiar with, research your local congregations and get in touch with the rabbi whose synagogue comes closest to your preferred take on Judaism (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, etc). More than likely, they'll be able to offer the advice you need.

If you choose to convert, we'll be here with open arms, falafel and apple cake. It's all good.
posted by huskerdont at 9:28 AM on September 23, 2006 [1 favorite]


The rabbi of a very large (reform, but on the conservative sided of reform) congregation nearby is a convert, and a couple of the "old guard" made a few eyebrows-raised comments about it for the first two weeks or so, but that was about it. Other than that, I've never known it to be any kind of deal to anyone. Converting absolutely makes you (and your future children if you're a woman or reform man) a jew, and nobody with any sense is going to thing differently.

Also, everyone knows someone who seems "more Jewish" than they are -- either more observant, or more orthodox, or Israeli, or Hasidic, or a Cohen, or whatever. The thing is, it really, really doesn't matter. If you feel like converting is the right thing for you, do it, and if one or two confused people don't like it, hang 'em. The vast majority of jews will be extremely supportive.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 9:44 AM on September 23, 2006 [1 favorite]


bim: while I understand that converts would be welcome to make sure than a couple's children will be raised in the jewish faith, I have always been curious how a conversion not involving a marriage would be accepted.

In my experience within the Orthodox community, people who convert simply because they feel drawn to Judaism would be looked upon *more* favorably than those who want to convert because they want to marry someone Jewish. The idea is that being Jewish is serious business, that once you commit to it you are taking on a whole heck of a lot more commandments, and if you are not sincerely interested in and committed to keeping those, you should not convert.

In the eyes of Orthodox Judaism , once you convert, you're Jewish and there's no going back. So if you get divorced years down the road, you're still obligated to keep the mitzvot--but realistically, if you converted only for the sake of marriage, you're not likely to keep the mitzvot. Better that you hadn't converted in the first place than to convert and then sin by not keeping the mitzvot. Obviously, in that case the preference is that you don't marry someone Jewish, either--either have a sincere devotion to Judaism that exists independent of your potential spouse, or don't convert.

allkindsoftime: I think the crux of this is that in some Jews' eyes, there's only one way to be a Jew--to be born one. So yes, the only way to be accepted by every single Jew is to be born Jewish. There are rotten apples in every bunch. Not being accepted as a Jew by a few people does not negate the acceptance of your [family, spouse, friends, rabbi, self], if you have it, and that's what matters.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:51 AM on September 23, 2006


I'm also Jewish and have always been extremely impressed by those who go through the proactive effort to convert to the religion. Let's be honest - many of us who were born into Judaism were sent to Hebrew School against our will and rebelled by not learning a thing, stopped attending synagogue services once our parents could no longer force us to (as noted by the fact I'm writing this post at the moment instead of attending Rosh Hashana services), married outside our religion and picked up on at least the secular aspects of Christianity as a result (hanging Christmas lights, having a Christmas tree, Easter Egg hunts for our kids, etc) and are not even affiliated with a synagogue.

Which is why I, as a Jew, in no way consider myself *more* Jewish than someone who was born outside the religion but felt attracted to it's laws, principals and morals and voluntarily chose to go through the long and difficult conversion process. That is far more impressive to me than someone whose only claim to Judaism is having come out of a Jewish woman's vagina.

For whatever anectodal evidence is worth, my brother-in-law converted to Judaism and is very involved and completely accepted within their conservative synagogue (the majority of his and my sister's social circle is made up of synagogue friends). Similarly, growing up my parents circle of friends was also largely made up of people they met through the synagogue, many of whom had a husband or wife who had converted and were always treated as an equal.
posted by The Gooch at 9:51 AM on September 23, 2006


What's the complexity? If the mother was Jewish, then Jewish; if not, then not. What was the trouble when she tried to convert?

The trouble involved not letting her talk to the rabbi she wanted to discuss conversion with, instead shunting her off to a younger one that she'd gone to school with and didn't feel comfortable with. Basically, not being at all receptive to her attempts to convert. (And she's fully aware of the three rebuffs etc)

I just meant it's complex because here's a girl who has lived her whole life as an observant Jew, but doesn't feel properly Jewish. And she regards me, who's never been to temple and thinks it's laughably preposterous not to put cheese and bacon on a burger because of some ancient desert laws, as more of a "real Jew" than she is. I'm just trying to assure anonymous that his feelings aren't off base, if someone like my friend has these issues too.
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:58 AM on September 23, 2006


Gotcha; interesting stuff, I see what you mean about complex now...thanks.
posted by inigo2 at 10:05 AM on September 23, 2006


If you want someone else to say what you've been hearing lots of times already:

We have experience with converts all the time, and you're welcome in our community. In fact, it's a part of Jewish law (sadly I don't remember whether Torah or Talmud) that once someone has converted, it's a sin to ever remind them of it. (Which is to say, allkindsoftime is flat wrong. By Jewish law, there are several ways to be a Jew, and you're specifically not allowed to favor one over another.)

Oh, and one more thing: We get it hammered into us every year at jewish school that the religion is shrinking. So, really, we need you.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 10:08 AM on September 23, 2006


As a conservative Jew, I'll say that anyone who takes the time to go through the whole conversion process and has the sincere desire to adopt the religion as his or her own is a REAL Jew. Conversion is a long, arduous task consisting of lots of classes, trials, and dedication. The conversion process is designed to weed out those who are not truly committed to becoming a Jew. My aunt went through this process when she married my uncle (she used to be Catholic) and our family adores and respects her even more after watching her resolve, sincerety, and dedication. She is one of the family through more than just marriage, and probably knows more about the religion than any of us. Like any group or religion, Judaism has those who shun outsiders; but, thankfully, has a vast number of people who welcome new members with open arms. In my personal humble opinion, one who makes a consciencious choice to adopt a religion and follows through with the learning and training has more than earned the right to be considered a true member.
posted by galimatias at 10:29 AM on September 23, 2006


Grew up Orthodox, now I'm an atheist.

It's a fact that if you get an Orthodox conversion, you will be 100% Jewish according to essentially all Orthodox people. It's also a fact that some (hopefully a small minority) will "look down" on you even though they are emphatically not supposed to. This might, for example, mean they don't want their kids to marry you or your kids, but they will not have a halakhic leg to stand on. Imagine if you were a Black Jew by birth. There would be some racists, of course, but your race wouldn't be a "legitimate" objection for anything.

It's also a fact that if you get a non-Orthodox conversion, most Orthodox Jews will not officially recognize you as Jewish. Then again, this will hopefully not concern you as you wouldn't be Orthodox. I presume since you're posting on Rosh Hashanah that you aren't heading in that direction, but it's something to be aware of. Of course, converting to Orthodoxy generally requires you to pretty much be Orthodox ahead of time, so it's not like you can just go to an Orthodox rabbi as a formality to be safe. Being a man, however, it wouldn't matter as to your kids' Jewish status w/r/t the Orthodox, so that's one less thing to worry about.

I can't speak about the rest (i.e. the majority) of Judaism.
posted by callmejay at 10:36 AM on September 23, 2006


Though people often conflate them, Judaism, the religion, and Jewishness, the ethnic identity, are separate or at least separable things. Many people identify as Jewish without routinely practicing or deeply believing the religion, and indeed some identify as Jewish atheists. Part of the trouble may be that it's not really possible to adopt an ethnic identity the way you can convert to another religion.
posted by RogerB at 10:41 AM on September 23, 2006


Happy New Year, or Shana Tova, is all i can say :)

being jewish is about believing in the values that the tanach teaches us, and appreciating the basic principles that separate Judaism for any other religion. It seems to me from your post that you have a lot of respect and appreciation for the Jewish religion, which is a lot more than some born jews can say. therefore, I say, do what feels right for you. A change of religion is kind of wierd, i can imagine, but i'm sure you'll get used to it and will learn to love being Jewish. it really is a feelign of belonging into a community of some truly spectacular people.
posted by alona at 10:41 AM on September 23, 2006


I presume since you're posting on Rosh Hashanah ...

May I point out that we don't have any idea when this question was asked -- since it's anonymous it was entirely up to matt or jess when it got posted in the green.
posted by brain cloud at 10:45 AM on September 23, 2006


Yeah, but I would assume Matt and Jess are pretty up-to-date on those...hopefully...
posted by allkindsoftime at 11:23 AM on September 23, 2006


I suspect most secular Jews think I'm kind of ridiculous for living a Jewish life when I'm not even Jewish.

Eh, I think it's just fine.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:24 AM on September 23, 2006


Walter Sobchak: I'm saying, I see what you're getting at, Dude, he kept the money. My point is, here we are, it's shabbas, the sabbath, which I'm allowed to break only if it's a matter of life or death...
The Dude: Will you come off it, Walter? You're not even fucking Jewish, man.
Walter Sobchak: What the fuck are you talkin' about?
The Dude: Man, you're fucking Polish Catholic...
Walter Sobchak: What the fuck are you talking about? I converted when I married Cynthia! Come on, Dude!
The Dude: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah...
Walter Sobchak: And you know this!
The Dude: Yeah, and five fucking years ago you were divorced.
Walter Sobchak: So what are you saying? When you get divorced you turn in your library card? You get a new license? You stop being Jewish?
The Dude: It's all a part of your sick Cynthia thing, man. Taking care of her fucking dog. Going to her fucking synagogue. You're living in the fucking past.
Walter Sobchak: Three thousand years of beautiful tradition, from Moses to Sandy Koufax...
[Shouting]
Walter Sobchak: You're goddamn right I'm living in the fucking past!
posted by ludwig_van at 11:28 AM on September 23, 2006


Wow, lots of snarking. Let's all calm down, eh? It's a good question.

Although I'm not Jewish, I have a good friend who went through the conversion process to become Orthodox. From his perspective, it was highly worth it.

The historical background, as I understand it, is this: in the first several hundred years of Christianity, the Jewish faith had an enormous problem with conversion. That is to say: whole Jewish communities would convert to Christianity, or whole Christian communities would convert to Judaism, almost immediately, simply on the whim of fervent members or leaders. Naturally, these instantaneously-converted communities wouldn't be very steadfast; and there were often attempts to re-convert to or from Judaism. All this taught a lesson: that conversion, on the practical level, ought to be something careful and well-thought.

This has nothing to do with the racialness of Judaism, and to say that it does is to misunderstand it. Conversion has never been frowned upon by Judaism; haphazard and unthinking conversion has. This is the source of the idea (quoted above) that 'he who asks three times will not be turned away;' the interpretation of this saying is that persistence is rewarded because it proves seriousness.

Unfortunately, not being a Jew, I can't tell you how it will be for you, but my friend was very well recieved. Beyond that, galimatias has good advice. Good luck.
posted by koeselitz at 11:34 AM on September 23, 2006


...and, though it's been said, it bears repeating. This statement:

"I'm not a Jew but as I understand it from a number of texts and from my Jewish friends...the cold, hard fact of the matter is that there's only one way to be a Jew, in the true sense, and that's to be born one."

... has absolutely no basis in reality. Any Rabbi can tell you: the Torah, the Talmud, all the commentaries are in favor of conversion, and endorse methods to do so. There are historical reasons why later the methods were made more difficult, as I mentioned, but at no time has Judaism considered conversion to be bogus.

posted by koeselitz at 11:38 AM on September 23, 2006


Conversion has been part of it from the beginning. Abraham's family and servants were all converts. Of course, they were Hebrews, not Jews, which didn't exist until after the Babylonian captivity. But the Abraham story is where the Jewish tradition of circumcision comes from, and we're talking mostly about adult males who had been raised as idol-worshippers.

As a non-practicing and fairly ambivalent Jew, I do find it a bit strange when I meet someone who is enthusiastic about converting to the religion that I have more or less rejected. In fact, I'm sure that I played a major role in one potential convert's decision not to go through with the conversion, not through active argument, but just through my lack of enthusiasm whenever she talked about it. But hey, if you want to be Jewish, be Jewish. It's no skin off my...back.
posted by bingo at 12:02 PM on September 23, 2006


As a non-practicing and fairly ambivalent Jew, I do find it a bit strange when I meet someone who is enthusiastic about converting to the religion that I have more or less rejected.

I wonder if this can be part of a not-hostile-but-nevertheless-a reaction from those born Jewish to those converted to Judaism.

I was born and raised in a denomination that is primarily comprised of converts (Unitarian Universalism); I was third generation. Because the denomination was so familiar to us, so much part of my family and family history, sometimes we would have a bit of an eye roll reaction to the enthusiastic "newcomers," who seemed to us to share certain traits. But the newcomers who stayed and attended and did their committee work (very important in the UU world ha!) quickly became part of the community. Of course, now I don't do anything with or for the denomination, so I am of no use while many former newcomers are still around.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 12:40 PM on September 23, 2006


You might want to consider if you are drawn to the closeness of a Jewish community, and the sense of belonging to a tribe, that attracts you, or your religious faith. And then don't worry about it. Go ahead and convert. You may always have a slight sense of being outside, or not, but it's likely to be minor, and will be much less important than following your heart and spirit and being a Jew.
posted by theora55 at 12:45 PM on September 23, 2006


Yet I still feel like I'm not a Jew, and I think even if I did convert I would still feel uncomfortable saying "I'm Jewish" or "I'm a Jew". I can't help feeling that I'm just putting on a really good act of being a Jew.

you have your own answer there. if you're not comfortable, don't. maybe you're just not ready yet



I suspect most secular Jews think I'm kind of ridiculous for living a Jewish life when I'm not even Jewish


look, just like Christians/Buddhists/atheists/Hindus/etc, some Jews can be assholes, too. why would any reasonable Jew think that you're "ridiculous"? you're doing good -- you live a Jewish life, you studied Hebrew (just keep doing that, even if you don't convert in the end, it'd be a waste to lose what you learnt) and I'm sure you read and study Tanakh. why would they have a problem with that?

it's not like you're a white 15-year-old kid from the suburbs who dresses like 50 Cent and talks in a deep baritone and uses gangsta slang around the dinner table with his parents -- what you do is not immature, it's not a fad (as if!), you're on a path. it may take longer than you thought. by keeping Kosher, you're already doing more than many Jews-by-birth

and talk to a Rabbi, if you end up converting because you feel comfortable doing that, you won't be a "second-class Jew", you'll be a most special member of the congregation, a Jew by choice. you'll embrace a persecuted minority, and a religion in danger of fading away. Jews-by-birth haven't really chosen, to a certain extent. and most of them have learnt Hebrew as kids, when it's easier -- your effort will be appreciated, not mocked

and if you don't "look Jewish", don't worry. intermarriage is already taking care of that -- you see blacks and Asians in shul a lot, they're the kids of mixed marriages. "looking Jewish" and being Jewish are entirely different things, sometimes
posted by matteo at 1:21 PM on September 23, 2006 [1 favorite]


(and anyway, as Cunning Linguist and others point out, identity issues are an integral part of being Jewish -- both Jewish by birth and by choice. you're not weird at all, anon)
posted by matteo at 1:24 PM on September 23, 2006


if you convert and practice judaism, you are jewish. end of story. if you travel to israel you will meet sephardic jews, russian jews, oriental jews, ethiopian jews, perhaps even arabic jews. faith is stronger than ethnicity.
posted by petsounds at 3:56 PM on September 23, 2006


One fly in the ointment for you, anon: for reasons quite unrelated to the sincerity of one's conversion, the chief rabbinate in Israel has recently announced that they will no longer recognize as valid conversions performed outside the State of Israel. This has much to do with Israel vs. diaspora politics, but it does mean that if you convert abroad, you would likely have to undergo a second conversion if you ever wanted to make aliyah or marry in Israel.

Add to that that the American Jewish scene is a lot more open to and understanding of conversion. Israel, where the orthodox rabbinate has a deathgrip on all sectors of religious life, people are far more suspicious of converts. In most anglo communities, conversion is reasonably common and is usually treated with all the tact that it would be in the U.S. But all bets are off when you step outside those communities. Secular Israelis will likely think you're off your rocker for converting in the first place. And religious Jews may condescend to you.

That's not to say that you shouldn't convert. It sounds like you're well on your way there anyway. Given that Judaism is foremost a religion of practice, the longer you keep the mitsvot, the more "Jewish" you will probably feel. But, one's relation to the State of Israel is a big part of being Jewish as well. And in that domain, you may never find yourself feeling truly at home.

The question that only you can answer is whether or not the prejudice and chauvenism of a segment of the Jewish people will have ultimate influence over your decision. In a small way, your choice will affirm either the openness or the tribalism of Judaism.
posted by felix betachat at 4:05 PM on September 23, 2006


Grouse and RogerB do bring up valid points. The one area where you may feel ostracized from "Jews From Birth"(JFB) is in the area of "shared culture".

Even though I'm criminally non-observant today, when I meet a fellow JFB, I feel an immediate bond because I know it's likely we share universal (or at least American) Jewish childhood experiences in common - like having gone to Hebrew School, Jewish Day Camp and/or Jewish Sleepaway Camp, having been Bar or Bat Mitzvahed at 13, belonged to similar Jewish Youth Groups, having grown up eating the same type of ethnic foods, etc.

This is certainly a small enough issue to where it shouldn't even weigh on your decision to convert at all. It's just something to think about.

As a real life analogy, my wife's family graciously includes me in their Christmas and Easter celebrations without any attempt to make me feel like an imposter. Still, it's hard not to feel like an outsider at times because I have no "shared" memories of anxiously waiting for Santa to arrive on Christmas Eve, opening Christmas presents under the tree on Christmas morning, participating in Easter Egg hunts, etc.
posted by The Gooch at 5:13 PM on September 23, 2006 [1 favorite]


the chief rabbinate in Israel has recently announced that they will no longer recognize as valid conversions performed outside the State of Israel

well, the President of Israel thinks non-Orthodox rabbis are not rabbis at all, so, really, many things about Israel are indeed puzzling, even for Jews-by-birth who are not Orthodox (ie, the majority of them). but we all assumed here that anon does not live in Israel nor he wants to move there in the immediate future (if he just visits, he'll be OK)

The Gooch: the difference is, you don't have memories of Christmas, but Christianity's cultural and demographic dominance (at least in the West) makes you very aware, even as a Jew, of what Christmas is and what are the saints and who's the Virgin Mary etc.
the Goyim don't really have the same knowledge of Jewish rituals, of course, because those don't belong to some sort of collective consciousness -- I mean, what year is it, 2006 or 5767? and how many Goyim know how to wrap Tefillin?
;)

but you have a point -- shared memories are important, in a way, like, if a Jew by birth who has gone to Hebrew School as a kid and has fond memories of his bar mitzvah becomes a pork-eating atheist who has sex with cheeseburgers and drives ONLY on Saturdays, well, that Jew by birth will have some strange cultural "advantages" over a perfectly observant Jew by choice. of course. but that's what makes things interesting, in a way. I really think it's not a contest on who's the jewier Jew, it's a spiritual path. anyway good luck to anonymous, and L'shana Tovah everybody
posted by matteo at 6:04 PM on September 23, 2006


Theologically and historically, the position of Judaism has been to treat converts as full-fledged Jews. The debate has been over what consyitutes conversion.
posted by vega5960 at 9:18 AM on September 25, 2006


constitutes
posted by vega5960 at 9:18 AM on September 25, 2006


As a person not born to Jewish parents, but whose place of worship is a Jewish community here in the sf bay area:

- i do run into Jewish folks who occassionally say "You're not Jewish!"

- and there is a great rabbi named Michael Lerner out here who says "What does it mean to be Jewish? It means you spend your life asking yourself the question: What does it mean to be Jewish."

I subsribe to the latter in which case I have been Jewish for the last 2-3 years. But I understand the sensitivity of the former.

A dear Jewish friend of mine says there are 3 kinds of Jewish: cultural, religious and genetic. I'll never be genetically Jewish, but I am part of Jewish religious community and many of my friendds are Jewish and I participate in Jewish secular culture in a since.

In the end, there are many who will not accept someone who was not born Jewish and many who will. All depends on the person.
posted by django_z at 11:34 AM on September 25, 2006 [1 favorite]


I assume your girlfreind is most probably not orthodox, as if she were you guys would probably not be dating... but having said that - in orthodox judaism, a convert, especially in a case where the wife is jewish and the husband is a convert, the children would be considered total jews even if the father did not convert- since judiasm goes according to the father.

a convert (a ger tsedek, as it is called in hebrew) is considered to be a son of abraham himself... judaism does not seek converts and in fact tries to dissuade people from converting... but people that do convert are accepted in the community and treated no differently then anyone else... I know many people that are converts and they are treated with much respect for their journey and are always welcome and invited for shabbath meals and supported by community members in explaining to them rituals of which they may be unaware, etc...


see also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_view_of_marriage
posted by Izzmeister at 4:28 PM on September 26, 2006


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