A Midrash teaches, “When a person wants to become part of the Jewish people, we must receive him or her with open hands so as to bring that person under the wings of the Divine Presence” (Leviticus Rabbah 2:9). Sadly some rabbis make it very hard to become Jewish.
So does it matter if you become Jewish through an Orthodox, Conservative or Reform Beit Din? For some people it does and for some people it doesn’t. Here are the view and personal experiences of four non-Jews who entered Judaism through different gates.
ONE VIEW: I had my beit din/ mikva 5 years ago with a rabbi who is associated with the Reform movement. In the city where I live, there is one Reform congregation, one Conservative, a Chabad, and a Renewal congregation.
When I started dating my husband (born Jewish) 8 years ago, I was a lapsed Lutheran and I had significant theological problems with Christianity in general. I had many questions about Judaism, very few of which my then-boyfriend could answer, as he was raised with little observance. He bought me the “Jewish Book of Why” but I still had more questions.
When he received a mailing about the “Intro to Judaism” course given at the Reform synagogue, he told me about it and I signed up. I had no intentions of converting when I started, but when the course ended, I found myself very sad not to have any excuse to go back, so I signed up for a Hebrew course and started reading more about Judaism. Two years later I made the decision to convert, and a year after that I became Jewish.
During the learning process, I did consider other branches. I attended some Chabad services and events, and gave serious thought to converting there. I felt that my Jewishness and the Jewishness of any potential progeny would then be more universally recognized, and traditional Judaism has much appeal to me.
But I also struggle with other aspects of traditional Judaism, such as the strict gender roles for women in communal prayer. And, I was making many friends at the Reform congregation, and had a great rapport with the rabbi there. So in the end, I converted there, mostly because of the sense of community.
We are not looking to move from this area, so I’m not worried about the acceptance of me personally as a Jew in more frum communities. I do worry a little bit about the status of our potential children though.
By the way I consider myself Jewish, period. Not a “Reform Jew”, though we are members of a Reform congregation. I’m continually striving to learn more and incorporate more observance, and there are definitely aspects of Reform I’m not happy with. We attend various events in each of the 4 local Jewish congregation. Ruth Ann
VIEW TWO: I converted with the Conservative movement. Like Ruth Ann I was attracted to traditional Judaism, but simply could not come to terms with the role of women in traditional circles. (I’m female.) Oh, how I tried! But I really couldn’t. And, at the same time, I met two wonderful Conservative rabbis in my Introduction to Judaism class. I connected with them and wanted to learn with them, so it was an easy choice from there.
It isn’t a closed issue for me, though. It cuts me to the core that my conversion isn’t valid in some circles. I very much envy those brave folks who seem to just brush this off as nonsense – I let it get to me far too much. Logically, rationally, in theory, I believe fully that my Conservative conversion has made me a Jew. But because a vocal minority would argue with this statement, I must admit
that I feel…just…there aren’t words for it.
I made the best choice I could. I love the Conservative movement and would shout from the rooftops that I am a proud Conservative Jew, if I were a born Jew and nobody could question my identity. But as a convert, Conservatism has been a surprisingly tough choice. I’ve had conversations with several people who converted through the Reform movement. They always seem much more confident than I. I’m convinced that this says something notable about the Conservative verses Reform question.
A THIRD VIEW: I first converted reform, because it was the only branch in my area and the one I was most familiar with before I started learning. I soon was put off by the fact that most of the congregation knew less about Judaism than I did, and weren’t interested in learning more. I also couldn’t get around the idea of Halacha not being binding. I did not attempt a conservative conversion, because most conservative Jews I know give lip service to Halacha (some of it), but are in fact unobservant of most Mitsvot and are not interested in changing that.
In fact most are very antagonistic to a large part of Halacha which is disconcerting to me. I am now converting with an Orthodox rabbi, because I find the community to be warm, I like the community wide commitment to Halacha and Jewish learning. I also wanted to ensure that my children and I would be considered Jewish in Israel and all over the world.
A FOURTH VIEW: One of the important differences between Orthodox Rabbis and non-Orthodox Rabbis is that very few Orthodox Rabbis would present the views of non-Orthodox converts in their own, sometimes critical, words. Non-Orthodox Rabbis are not like that. Non-Orthodox Rabbis are much more accepting of diversity within the Jewish community and much more welcoming of non-Jews who desire to join (or rejoin—see below) the Jewish people.
Most non-Jews who become Jewish already have a Jewish soul. This Jewish soul could never make sense of the trinity, and always resented the claim that good people who do not believe in Jesus are not going to heaven. Their Jewish soul attracts them to Jewish people. This Jewish soul is in a Gentile body because it is a Gilgul; a reincarnation of an ancestor who was Jewish and was cut off from the Jewish people; usually due to marriage to a non-Jew 2-7 generations previously.
Some people who become Jewish are new souls who are here for the first time. Perhaps for them it is more important to do an Orthodox conversion. The others are simply returning home where they belong, You can learn more about Kabbalistic teachings of Gilgul–reincarnation and how in manifests itself in people who become Jewish in a book entitled: God, Sex and Kabbalah by Rabbi Allen S. Maller and by going to his web site: rabbimaller,com
THE TALMUD’S VIEW: Our Rabbis taught (Jews that hurting the feelings of converts, and wronging them in any way, was prohibited by six commandments): “One who wounds the feelings of a convert to Judaism transgresses three ‘you must not’ commandments and… one who oppresses a convert to Judaism transgresses three more” (Talmud Baba Mezia 59b).
And Rambam in his letter to Yemen refers to the custom not to mention that a person is a convert to Judaism. The custom began centuries earlier in Christian countries where a person converting to Judaism was in danger if the word spread because the Church could and often did put him to death. In later generations and in Muslim countries the prohibition was expanded to tell those who were critical of converts to keep their mouth shut. This was the case in Yemen and should be the case in Israel today.