Friday, June 24, 2005

"Conversion"

I really kind of thought I wouldn't make this political (who was I kidding?) but I was over at the Jerusalem Post site reading columns, and this column by Jonathan Rosenblum caught my eye.

Discussing how conversion is not the 'answer' to raising Jewish demographics (something I actually quite agree with), Rosenblum writes: Anyone can obtain a "conversion" in America that involves nothing more than reading a book or two or learning the first verse of Shema. Yet the rate of "conversion" for non-Jewish partners in mixed couples is dropping. That statistic shows why "conversion" on easy terms only increases the core problem facing world Jewry - the perception of Judaism as something trivial.

I guess it's possible that there's a bais din or two out there that just hands out conversions like lollipops, where all you need to do is learn the first verse of the Shema, read "The Jewish Book of Why", and you're in. But having taught a Hebrew class for conversion students, (back in the day when I was a rabbinic student) and having been a shul secretary in a community with a large proportion of Jews by choice, I have to say that I think this is hooey.

I've seen a lot of people go through conversion. I've seen some leave because Judaism wasn't really what they wanted. I've seen patrilineal Jews agonize over what it means to 'become' Jewish when you were raised Jewish. I have seen people sweating over Hebrew and a huge new vocabulary reassured by their rabbis and teachers that they do not have to become a Soloveitichik to be Jewish. I have never seen Judaism presented as something trivial. (Could this be why non-Jewish partners of Jews are not converting? Because they take Judaism seriously, and do not want to trivialize it by converting pro forma?)

I think what bothers me about this is the dismissiveness, the assumption that anyone whose conversion doesn't meet Rosenblum's standard is faking it, trivializing it, stupid, mislead, or all of the above. There's no interest and no sympathy, certainly no idea that among all these 'conversions' (love the quotes) are thousands of stories, experiences, ideas, possibilities. It makes me wonder how many people he's actually spoken to who've gone through a Reform or Conservative conversion. (That is what this is about, right?)

I guess I feel protective here. No one I have ever met became Jewish through a process that resembles becoming a minister in the Universal Life Church, and yet I suspect they're in there in the quotation marks too. Aaach!

4 comments:

Eliyahu said...

Hey b, test your link. doesn't work for me. i like your comments, which i mostly agree with. http://barefoot_jewess.blogspot.com/ is one very serious convert here in blogland - her photos are great.

Elisheva said...

Very interesting...EC (a convert)

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Mr A said...

I have issues with watered down conversions. Hence, the State of Israel, considering the migration of desperate guest workers should only accept orthodox conversion. Other forms of worship are fine with me. But the conversion should be real to avoid that form of immigration fraud. The issue is not that there is so much intermarriage but why that is the case. I and all my Jewish male friends had to take Asian (mostly Filipina) or Hispanic wives. There are a few conversion efforts underway (orthodox of course) and we hope that joing the jewish people in full attracts the other great women. In the mean time, Filipina women are the fastest growing segment of the non-orthodox Jewish Community, perhaps the best wives and the most religious. When they convert, they continue to take religion seriously. We should be and should have been activily introducing Judaism to women in the Philippines and Central America. Jewish men need women of valor!!!