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 Questioning vs. Insincere Converts

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BRNechama

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PostSubject: Questioning vs. Insincere Converts   Mon Dec 19, 2011 4:44 am

The following comment was left in another thread:

maculated wrote:

With regard to deciding it's not all for you, I'm curious, as an Orthodox convert do you feel free to do this? During my Orthodox conversion process (which lasted two years - and I do primarily learn from Orthodox sources), I was supposed to disavow myself of any questionable material and "swallow the pill" without question. Any very specific questioning was seen as insincerity and a result of not being "ready" to convert. You wouldn't feel like your identity was questioned if you picked up a Book of Mormon out of curiosity or, in your learning, decided that a particular mitvah had no value today?

My point spoke more to the people I know who were raised in observant communities who just walked away from most of it. In Orthodox circles, you do that as a convert, they declare you an insincere convert and revoke your paperwork. Converts are baby Jews, and telling someone that they must never go back on their beliefs from two years of studying *or else* was something I just couldn't deal with. Jews by blood have "blood" so they get a pass in hopes that "one day" they'll mature into what is right.

I think this is a very important comment to make; and one that I think that anyone who is considering converting via Orthodox auspices must be aware of. The stringency in requiring converts not to question and to "fall in line accordingly" varies not only from community to community; but also from circumstance to circumstance (i.e., the convert is a bit older, or a bit younger than the average convert). For example, I know of a man who was converted when he was 14. He straight out told the Beis Din in Israel that he "didn't believe in any of 'this', and will leave it all behind once I finish yeshiva". They converted him (along with his 7 brothers and sisters & parents) anyway. Today he lives life as an Orthodox Jew....but it does make you wonder. Shocked

As far as revoking conversions, there is talk of that in the news, but I've never really heard of it happening in real life. I think this is because halachaically (in accordance to Jewish law), the practice is controversial. Now I am far from being a rabbi or any expert in halacha, but there are sources where the precedent was set to not nullify a conversion; even in the unfortunate case of having an agunah (a "tied" wife). Basically a Jewish woman married a Jewish male convert. He refused to offer her a get. She appealed to the Beis Din, and pointed out that he was no longer an observant Jew, so the marriage she be nullified. However the Beis Din would not use the argument that he was no longer observant to nullify the marriage...meaning that they still considered him Jewish; even though this would mean that she would remain an agunah, and never be able to remarry without a get from him.

But make no mistakes, I am no fan of encouraging insincere converts or suggesting that people convert in a Jewish community that is not in alignment with how they want to live Jewishly. I had an Orthodox conversion, true, but by deciding to leave it, I've created a whole host of complications that should not be a part of healthy spiritual development. I have to be very careful because my actions and choices, even though they are personal, can affect the validity of my Beis Din and the acceptance of subsequent converts produced by them. The spiritual weight of all this is very heavy. Sometimes I feel like Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale (from The Scarlet Letter) when I really think about it.

I remember distinctly two Shabbosim after I had my Reform conversion (which took about 9 months...but because I wanted to learn and explore...not because my rabbi took so long), another convert was presented to the congregation. She was the fiancee of a local Jewish man, and they had asked the rabbi to marry them; after which he suggested conversion for her. I had only seen her a couple of times in synagogue prior...and him, never. They attended one more time between the conversion and the wedding ceremony, and that was it. I would like to think they just found another congregation. But the honest truth is that I was deeply hurt. Hurt because I invested much soul-searching, time and effort into conversion. And her someone else did not, but they received the same "reward" in the end. Sad

This happens across the spectrum; including in the Orthodox community. For example if you are financially well off, curiously, you don't have such a tough time with conversion.

Back to my case, in retrospect, a Conservative conversion would have probably been much better for me. In my case, the conversion dragged on for so long (6 years), that I was honestly terrified of dropping out....because I had put so much into it....& I would have to start all over again. Then again I do believe in the divinity of the Torah, and the responsibility that I have to accept the mitzvot (which are key tenets to believe if you are an Orthodox Jew). But my observance level isn't there; and may not ever get there in all honesty (especially since I am romantically involved with a non-Jew). Did I think this when I went to the mikveh? No. I thought that it would come together...and just gel. But it didn't.

So with that being said, I think you definitely have different levels of insincere converts; although I've stopped being offended or hurt by the actions of other converts. You have the type that are converting primarily for marriage (so the conversion is just a formality). You have converts who were very gung-ho to begin with, but then fall off the boat at some point (in that they no longer believe in G-d or switch religions all together). And then you have converts who convert, but for whatever reason, adjust their relationship with Judaism and the Jewish community...but still see themselves as Jews.

Thoughts on this at all?
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PostSubject: Re: Questioning vs. Insincere Converts   Mon Dec 19, 2011 7:12 pm

I am currently pursuing Orthodox conversion, and I can understand where you're coming from, but ultimately I look at it differently. Conversion, to me, is a formality. As far as I'm concerned, the conversion itself is so that other Jews will accept me. It will be the formal reconciliation between what I feel in my heart (that the Torah is divinely given and should be observed in its entirety via committed Jewish observance) and the expectations of Jewish communities.

For all intents and purposes, I've been told by some Rabbis that I could say I was born Jewish and get away with it (my greatgrandmother told my grandmother and mother that she was Jewish, that they were Jewish, and raised my grandmother Jewishly...my grandmother later converted to Christianity).

Ultimately, the drive to conversion is a drive for recognition, essentially, so that there is no doubt to anyone that I'm Jewish if/when the question arises.


I've met seemingly insincere converts. It doesn't bother me too much though. Ultimately, their conversion and their sincerity is between them and Hashem.
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Bee

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PostSubject: Re: Questioning vs. Insincere Converts   Tue Dec 20, 2011 7:58 pm

http://www.torahcafe.com/musicvideo.php?vid=7c3f3862a
Torahcafe.com has a 17 minute Q & A about the controversy of converts.
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Mychal

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PostSubject: Re: Questioning vs. Insincere Converts   Thu Dec 22, 2011 3:01 pm

I'm with you, Rabbi-in-Training. God called me to be a Jew and I accepted. The hole that had been in my soul and plaguing me for about 12 years--and which was there even when I was in church every week, singing in the choir, etc.--went away and I feel at peace with myself. That's how I know I've made the right decision and that I'm doing what God wants me to do.

I consider myself a Jew already, and while I want the conversion so I'll "be official" and other Jews will recognize me and I'll get to do honors in synagogue on Saturday, it's much more important to me that God recognizes me as a Jew. And I feel that God and I are good with it. That's what will give me strength when someone somewhere (you know it'll happen) questions my Jewishness.
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PostSubject: Re: Questioning vs. Insincere Converts   Thu Dec 22, 2011 5:33 pm

Mychal wrote:
I'm with you, Rabbi-in-Training. God called me to be a Jew and I accepted. The hole that had been in my soul and plaguing me for about 12 years--and which was there even when I was in church every week, singing in the choir, etc.--went away and I feel at peace with myself. That's how I know I've made the right decision and that I'm doing what God wants me to do.

I consider myself a Jew already, and while I want the conversion so I'll "be official" and other Jews will recognize me and I'll get to do honors in synagogue on Saturday, it's much more important to me that God recognizes me as a Jew. And I feel that God and I are good with it. That's what will give me strength when someone somewhere (you know it'll happen) questions my Jewishness.

Thumps Up
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maculated

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PostSubject: Re: Questioning vs. Insincere Converts   Thu Jan 12, 2012 6:33 pm

Sorry I just up and left you, BR, but I left for my honeymoon the very next day. I will contribute shortly. :)
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maculated

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PostSubject: Re: Questioning vs. Insincere Converts   Thu Jan 12, 2012 8:56 pm

Interestingly, through all of this, I stopped worrying if HaShem recognized me as a Jew. As others have said, I kind of feel like I have always been Jewish and the conversion was a formal ceremony "for the people." As the victim of "she is/she isn't" debate that dragged me across the coals, I've come to find the "I'm doing it for other people" reason as pretty weak indeed.

When I came out of the mikveh, I didn't feel anything. No difference, no relief, no joy. Just . . . yeah, checked off. It wasn't until after that I slowly stopped feeling ignorant and controversial and fell into the routine.

As I said in the original post, I have a vast collection of religious and philosophical books - I teach a course that talks about history of religion, and I like perspectives. Back when I was still undergoing an orthodox conversion, I was terrified that my frum friends would see and "report me." Now, as a Conservative convert, I feel totally free to explore my intellectual and spiritual interests without that. To some, me saying that would make me "insincere."

Again, some thing I only converted for my husband. And to some, that makes me "insincere." Actually, I probably would have pursued an Orthodox conversion if not for him - the obstacles would have fallen away and I probably would not have had quite the negative experiences that I did. There have been times when I thought that if he and I broke up, I would hang all this Jewish stuff and never look back - but I do not think it's because of him - more because of my frustration with all the torment Judaism has caused us in the course of the years, and if it caused us to fail, that can't be what I am meant to cling to.

But, well, we managed to find candles in Honduras for Channukah and Shabbat, so I still feel like HaShem is with us, helping us strengthen through the tumult. So . . . if my relationship with my creator is salient, honestly, hang other people. My sincerity matters in my heart, not in what other people think they see.
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