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LineyLu

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PostSubject: Which denomination?   Tue Jan 10, 2012 10:31 pm

For those of you who are contemplating or have already completed conversion...which denomination did you choose (or which way are you leaning) and why? Right now I'm leaning toward US Conservative, mainly for theological reasons, but since I've only been to one service (which was at a Conservative-ish Reform synagogue), that could definitely change. Very Happy Also, for non-Orthodox converts, does not being considered Jewish (along with any future kids if you're female) by Orthodoxy bother you?
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PostSubject: Re: Which denomination?   Tue Jan 10, 2012 11:12 pm

I am planning to convert Reform, with a Rabbi who is more on the traditional side of things. I'm encouraged to keep Shabbat, Kashrut, and other mitzvot, in ways that both respect tradition and are meaningful to me, and I take this seriously. I definitely don't see choosing a Reform conversion as 'the easy way out', as one acquaintance put it, rather, I chose it because it aligns best with my principles of egalitarianism and personal autonomy.

I saw the term 'reformadox' used recently to describe someone that affiliates with the Reform community, but is shomer shabbat, keeps kashrut etc. Personally, I feel that term is totally redundant - that person can be described simply as (reform) Jewish, in the same way that a Jew who like to attend synagogue to retain Jewish identity, but doesn't keep any of the laws can be described as (reform) Jewish, in the same way that someone who eats ham sandwiches for most of the year, but strictly avoids chametz on passover can be described as (reform) Jewish, etc, etc. In other words, I feel that the reform movement best manages to achieve the goal of accepting and welcoming all Jews to become educated and passionate members of the Jewish community, in whatever way is most meaningful to them.

Personally, the way I live my life probably fits most traditionally with the conservative movement, but I feel very happy where I am. I guess I am disappointed that I won't be accepted by the Orthodox, but for the most part I feel like that's their problem. It is important to me that I would be accepted as Jewish for Aliyah to Israel, even if I wouldn't be considered Jewish by the rabbinate once I got there.
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James

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PostSubject: Re: Which denomination?   Wed Jan 11, 2012 7:28 am

I'm converting through an unaffiliated synagogue that is generally conservative, although they are considering affiliation with the USCJ in order to increase the pool of applicants to replace the retiring rabbi.

It is the only synagogue within a two hour drive, so other options are nonexistent at this point. But it works; I like the Conservative movement in principal, and the congregation has welcomed my family and I with open arms.
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PostSubject: Re: Which denomination?   Wed Jan 11, 2012 12:57 pm

I was at a Reform synagogue although, like you, I am theologically more in line with Conservative. After a bit of ugliness that I won't repeat, I am no longer at the Reform synagogue and I'm now trying out the Conservative synagogue, which is making a much better impression on me. I am planning on contacting the rabbi and see about starting my conversion process under him.

I feel like it's easier to get started Reform, though. Even after being in a traditional-leaning synagogue for a year (one where most prayers were done in Hebrew), I still felt overwhelmed when I moved to the Conservative shul, where all the prayers are done in the Orthodox method. There were, apparently, a lot of prayers that were skipped in their entirety in the Reform shul and the Conservative prayer book provides almost no transliterations. If I had gone into that to start with, I might have felt too overwhelmed to continue.
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tamar

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PostSubject: Re: Which denomination?   Wed Jan 11, 2012 2:14 pm

I converted through an unaffiliated Rabbi and am a member of a lay led unaffiliated community, and a Reform shul.

I chose this route towards conversion since I feel more at home with the progressive/liberal movements within Judaism. The Renewal movement speaks more to me. Unfortunately the only Renewal community is an hour away and with children who are still in Hebrew school it does not work so well.

What I like about my Reform shul is there are many different levels of observance. But for my family it was the only route I could go because my husband is not Jewish. The conservative movement will not convert someone if it creates a mixed marriage. I do attend the conservative shul sometimes and have had several conversations with the rabbi there. I am accepted in his shul and was offered membership. But I feel more comfortable with the my Reform shul.

As to my views of the Orthodox and their not accepting any conversions other then Orthodox. They don't even accept all conversions within the Orthodox movement. They do more to divide the Jewish people. Judaism has always had a spectrum of practice and in the diaspora there is a variety of observance.

There is not only one way within Judaism.





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Rocky_girl



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PostSubject: Re: Which denomination?   Wed Jan 11, 2012 2:34 pm

I am converting in the Reform movement because it is the only congregation in our town. Most of the congregants that meet regularly are Conservative. Last summer, I went on a trip to Denver and visited two congregations there, one Conservative and one Reform, to get a bigger perspective of Judaism and was shocked to realize that our services are much more like the Conservative than the Reform.

I am happy with my congregation and am not overly concerned about whether the Orthodox community accepts me as Jewish. I know who I am and in the bigger scheme of things, it doesn't matter whether I am 'official' or not as long as I don't deceive others. (aka: JFJ) I have become more and more observant as the months go by and I suppose that will continue until I reach a place that I feel is right for my family.

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Mychal

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PostSubject: Re: Which denomination?   Wed Jan 11, 2012 3:13 pm

Quote :
As to my views of the Orthodox and their not accepting any conversions other then Orthodox. They don't even accept all conversions within the Orthodox movement.

I have heard that some more modern/liberal Orthodox rabbis will recognize a Conservative conversion, but it is true that no matter your denomination, there will always been people who will try to deny your Jewishness. You could convert Ultra-Orthodox and people in a difference Ultra-Orthodox movement would say you're not a Jew. That is just something every convert has to live with.

And you have to live with the knowledge that while you will be Jewish enough to live in Israel, you are unlikely to be Jewish enough to marry another Jew in Israel. If you converted Reform or Conservative, you will not be Jewish enough. But even American Orthodox conversions are being questioned by the Rabbinate right now (not all are denied, but the question does arise and some people end up having a second conversion in Israel to be on the safe side).
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Debbie B.

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PostSubject: Conservative conversion for someone with a non-Jewish spouse   Wed Jan 11, 2012 3:32 pm

tamar wrote:
But for my family it was the only route I could go because my husband is not Jewish. The conservative movement will not convert someone if it creates a mixed marriage.

This is incorrect: although some Conservative rabbis may categorically refuse to be involved in the conversion of someone married to a non-Jew, the movement allows for it as can be seen in this Rabbinical Assembly responsum:
The Case of the Unconverted Spouse

Most Conservative rabbis will want some assurances that even if the spouse is not converting, that s/he will be supportive. They will also want to make sure that the conversion candidate understands the difficulties that come from an intermarriage.

One of the couples in my lay-led minyan was originally such a case: the wife and their older son who was a baby converted first. I think the husband converted about 8 years later, which is after the birth of their second son and a few years before the bar mitzvah of the older son. The wife is a Jewish educator and their kids have attended Jewish day school through high school. They are Shomer Shabbat and Kashrut.
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tamar

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PostSubject: Re: Which denomination?   Wed Jan 11, 2012 4:02 pm

You are correct. The rabbi I know told me that most conservative rabbis he knows will not convert a person and create a mixed marriage. Conservative Judaism does not sanction intermarriage and creating an intermarriage through conversion creates an interfaith marriage in his view.

So the conservative movement in my area will not perform conversions that create a mixed marriage.

Debbie B. wrote:
tamar wrote:
But for my family it was the only route I could go because my husband is not Jewish. The conservative movement will not convert someone if it creates a mixed marriage.

This is incorrect: although some Conservative rabbis may categorically refuse to be involved in the conversion of someone married to a non-Jew, the movement allows for it as can be seen in this Rabbinical Assembly responsum:
The Case of the Unconverted Spouse

Most Conservative rabbis will want some assurances that even if the spouse is not converting, that s/he will be supportive. They will also want to make sure that the conversion candidate understands the difficulties that come from an intermarriage.

One of the couples in my lay-led minyan was originally such a case: the wife and their older son who was a baby converted first. I think the husband converted about 8 years later, which is after the birth of their second son and a few years before the bar mitzvah of the older son. The wife is a Jewish educator and their kids have attended Jewish day school through high school. They are Shomer Shabbat and Kashrut.
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PostSubject: Re: Which denomination?   Wed Jan 11, 2012 4:26 pm

Mychal wrote:
I have heard that some more modern/liberal Orthodox rabbis will recognize a Conservative conversion.
Socially, yes. I personally know a few Orthodox rabbis who know I am a non-Orthodox convert, but treat me as a Jew, not a gentile. (Although one of them almost winced when I mentioned directly that I am a convert. I think he preferred to give me the benefit of the doubt despite my ethnicity and assume that I was a Jew by birth. Otherwise, the whole issue of conversion validity can come up which he would prefer not to have to deal with.) However, if these same rabbis were congregational rabbis, I am sure they would not allow me to join their shul without an Orthodox conversion, and I'm sure that they would not officiate at a marriage of a Conservative convert or a child of a female Conservative convert.

The one case of the latter than I know of is rather special: Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, chief Sephardic rabbi of Israel, investigated the Conservative conversion of a woman whose daughter wanted to marry a Cohen. Traditionally, a Cohen is not allowed to marry a convert (or divorcee), so if the young woman was not a Jew by birth, then she could not marry the man. Since the rabbis of the Beit Din for the mother's conversion were all male and all Shomer Shabbat, and she immersed in a mikvah for conversion, plus she became fully observant and lived in an Orthodox community, R. Yosef ruled that her conversion was valid so her daughter was a Jew by birth and could marry a Cohen. R. Yosef is actually quite a hard-liner on many issues, so I am sure that he considers most Conservative conversions to be invalid.

Similarly for an Orthodox friend who believes that my conversion is "valid" so that I am Jewish. I'm still quite sure that she would object to the marriage of one of her children to a Conservative convert (her sons are Cohanim, so let's say it was her daughter).
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PostSubject: Re: Which denomination?   Wed Jan 11, 2012 5:04 pm

I'm quite upset by the fact that the Orthodox don't accept non-Orthodox conversions. It would be different if Reform and Conservative Jews never had to deal with Orthodox Jews, but the fact that most sofrim (scribes), hechshers (kosher certifications), Judaica stores, and the State of Israel are Orthodox make it a bit different. For example if you want to buy a lulav or find a mohel, you're probably going to be dealing with people who think you're just a shiksa / shaigetz going through the motions. I think it has to do with both Jewish unity and not having enough committed members that non-Orthodox Jews have to depend on the Orthodox for their ritual and observance needs. A lot of non-observant Jews I know go to Chabad, and I would hate for my future kids to not get invited or not be able to celebrate some simcha there because the rabbi doesn't think they're "real Jews" and he has to work to prevent intermarriage with us "goyim". The other issue is with Israelis. Most of them, whether they are religious or not, have had little exposure to non-O Judaism so the idea of converting through a female rabbi or a rabbi of a shul that allows women to read Torah often seems foreign or even non-Jewish to them.

I've decided to introduce myself as a JBB (Jew by birth) who's in the midst of becoming more observant, and to never bring up my conversion except with other converts and my converting rabbi.
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Mychal

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PostSubject: Re: Which denomination?   Wed Jan 11, 2012 8:08 pm

Quote :
For example if you want to buy a lulav or find a mohel, you're probably going to be dealing with people who think you're just a shiksa / shaigetz going through the motions
.

There's no need for any of those people to know your status and it's unlikely they'll ask. And the internet is a wonderful, anonymous place for buying Jewish goods.
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PostSubject: Re: Which denomination?   Wed Jan 11, 2012 8:15 pm

usuario wrote:


I've decided to introduce myself as a JBB (Jew by birth) who's in the midst of becoming more observant, and to never bring up my conversion except with other converts and my converting rabbi.

Why do you need to introduce yourself as JBB? Why not just say you're Jewish, full stop. If an orthodox rabbi asks you directly who you converted with, then obviously lying would be a bad, bad idea! As for most everyone else, it's not really their business, and I think most people just assume people that say they are Jewish, are Jewish, end of story.
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PostSubject: Re: Which denomination?   Wed Jan 11, 2012 8:20 pm

In my area we have a mikveh at the conservative shul, there are many reform, and conservative shuls here and we do not ever need to go through the Orthodox for these needs.

As to my status as a convert I don't talk about it unless I am with folks who I feel comfortable with. As to the status of my children. I know if they marry Jews when they grow up they may face questions. They may opt to undergo a conversion to another Jewish movement. I don't know what they will do. I just want them to feel strong in their identity so they can make good decisions. I want them to want to bring up Jewish children and to stay within the Jewish community.

I cannot spend time on my feelings on how orthodoxy treats converts from the other movements. I tend to stay within the communities where I am accepted and I suspect my children will do that also.

It is sad because as Jews we need to be united not divided.

usuario wrote:
I'm quite upset by the fact that the Orthodox don't accept non-Orthodox conversions. It would be differ
ent if Reform and Conservative Jews never had to deal with Orthodox Jews, but the fact that most sofrim (scribes), hechshers (kosher certifications), Judaica stores, and the State of Israel are Orthodox make it a bit different. For example if you want to buy a lulav or find a mohel, you're probably going to be dealing with people who think you're just a shiksa / shaigetz going through the motions. I think it has to do with both Jewish unity and not having enough committed members that non-Orthodox Jews have to depend on the Orthodox for their ritual and observance needs. A lot of non-observant Jews I know go to Chabad, and I would hate for my future kids to not get invited or not be able to celebrate some simcha there because the rabbi doesn't think they're "real Jews" and he has to work to prevent intermarriage with us "goyim". The other issue is with Israelis. Most of them, whether they are religious or not, have had little exposure to non-O Judaism so the idea of converting through a female rabbi or a rabbi of a shul that allows women to read Torah often seems foreign or even non-Jewish to them.

I've decided to introduce myself as a JBB (Jew by birth) who's in the midst of becoming more observant, and to never bring up my conversion except with other converts and my converting rabbi.
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PostSubject: Re: Which denomination?   Wed Jan 11, 2012 11:51 pm

esf wrote:

Why do you need to introduce yourself as JBB? Why not just say you're Jewish, full stop. If an orthodox rabbi asks you directly who you converted with, then obviously lying would be a bad, bad idea! As for most everyone else, it's not really their business, and I think most people just assume people that say they are Jewish, are Jewish, end of story.

Being a Jew of Color (i.e. non-White), people (both Jews and non-Jews) very often ask whether my parents are Jewish too so I'm thinking of saying "of course both my parents are Jewish". I'm sure if I had dark curly hair, a large hook nose, and pasty white skin they probably wouldn't bother asking. It may not be their business, but well-meaning people often let their curiosity get to the better of them. The Chabad guys at the Kotel (the Western Wall) asked me before they would put tefillin on me, and even the security person at Ben-Gurion asked me. It's like my Jewishness is being put on trial sometimes.
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PostSubject: Re: Which denomination?   Wed Jan 11, 2012 11:58 pm

usuario wrote:



Being a Jew of Color (i.e. non-White), people (both Jews and non-Jews) very often ask whether my parents are Jewish too so I'm thinking of saying "of course both my parents are Jewish". It may not be their business, but well-meaning people often let their curiosity get to the better of them. The Chabad guys at the Kotel (the Western Wall) asked me before they would put tefillin on me, and even the security person at Ben-Gurion asked me.

Ah, I see. But you know, the security guys won't care how you converted, and you didn't need Chabad.. if you really wanted to lay tefillin you could have done that without them. Of course, I haven't experienced your situation, so maybe I'm not in a position to comment, but I really wouldn't lie about this. Avoiding people's questions, or letting them assume that you are Jewish from birth is one thing (and I do it too, to people that I don't feel comfortable letting know that I'm in the process of converting), but I think lying outright could get you into some nasty situations.
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PostSubject: Re: Which denomination?   Thu Jan 12, 2012 1:41 am

Since I'm ethnically Chinese, I have been questioned about my Jewish status, but I think you have to put it into context.

And a strong warning: DO NOT LIE to Israeli security people! I got a lot of experience in getting grilled by them when I used to fly by myself to visit my husband who was living in Israel. (My husband was shocked when he found out that it always took at least a half hour for me to get through airline security on my solo trips to/from Israel, since he was passed right through with just a few questions like "where are you going?" in which they would humor him by letting him try stumble through it in bad Hebrew.) The fact is that it was a suspicious situation that I didn't live with my husband, and in actuality they were worried that I could be an unsuspecting "mule"---wooed by a man who is a terrorist and tricked into carrying a bomb or something---it has happened before. They would ask me lots of questions and then switch to a new questioner who would ask me more questions, including some of the same questions as before. The tactic is to see if you will end up contradicting yourself which will tend to happen if you are not telling the truth because it is nearly impossible to make up a perfectly consistent story that works for all their questions. I have to say that I don't even remember them asking me about my Jewish status---maybe they did. If so, I would have told them back then the truth that my husband was Jewish and I was not. Anyway, you could get yourself into a real mess by lying to Israeli security people. Why not tell the the truth and be unapologetic about it? If you truly feel that there is nothing wrong with being a non-Orthodox convert, then why act as if you are embarrassed about it?

I agree with esf's comment about using Chabad stuff. I think Chabad has the right to limit use only to certain people. They will also not allow a woman who is a Jew by Birth to lay tefillin. So should she wear clothes that look male and hide her figure and her hair in a bob and claim to be male to be able to use the Chabad tefillin? My son put on his own tefillin at the Kotel so it didn't matter that Chabad would not consider him to be Jewish.

I have never been questioned about my Jewish status when buying Judaica. Why should a store owner reduce sales by chasing off customers? In similar way, I remember reading about someone who asked a haredi shop owner in Mea Sherim (Ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem) why he sold pink "talesim" (as they would call them). "For girls for their bat mitzvah," he replied matter-of-factly. He would never let any of the female members of his family wear a tallis, of course, but that doesn't mean that he's not going to take advantage of the market to non-Orthodox Jews (or perhaps even non-halachic Jews).

As Mychal notes, you can get any kind of Judaica through the Internet anyway---and probably better selection and often better prices even including shipping. You can even get a lulav and etrog set by mail, or a whole sukkah for that matter.

The one time I had my Jewish identity questioned at a Jewish store (the rabbinically supervised supermarket), it was by another customer. I suppose if I had a suspicious mind, I might think that when I am chatting with Jewish store owners and they ask me my shul affiliation that they are trying to figure out if I am a valid convert. But given that I am not always wearing a skirt, and I do not usually cover my hair, I'm not likely to be Orthodox, although I do have Orthodox women friends who wear pants and do not cover their hair except for in shul. In fact, I think they are just playing "Jewish geography". I'm well integrated into various Jewish communities and groups, so I don't feel threatened by this line of discussion, and I can play "Jewish geography" pretty well, often finding a common acquaintance or some Jewish connection with a random Jew I meet in my area.

I think that rather than creating and then trying to live a lie, which could easily unravel and make you look really bad, it is better to develop self confidence in your own Jewish identity and find ways to avoid having to rely on those who would question your conversion. I do not feel the need to force others to believe in the validity of my conversion. The fact is that I have personal friends and some acquaintances who are Orthodox Jews and don't believe my conversion is "valid", but our relationship does not depend on that since I'm not marrying into their family or community or trying to join their shul. And I think they would probably agree if asked that in many ways they have more in common with me since I am religiously observant, than with many totally secular Jews by Birth. If I ever have a need to join such an Orthodox group in the future, I understand the need to (re-)convert. I used to wonder if I would have to convert Orthodox in order to enter a nursing home with kosher food and observance of Shabbat, but the ones I have checked don't seem to have the lineage checking that the Orthodox shuls and schools do. (And I'm not even quite 50, so I shouldn't have to worry about that for awhile yet ;) )

At this point, you are quite young usuario, so you may not be thinking about long term consequences of trying to "pass" as a JBB. But at some time you will want to settle into a Jewish community and if you weren't straight with them when you joined, people are not going to take it well if and when it becomes clear that you are in fact a JBC. They might have been fine with your being a JBC if you had been upfront, but they will feel deceived if they find out later that you lied, and that could sour your relationship.

This does not mean that you have to go around introducing yourself with "Hello, I'm Usuario, and I'm a Jew by Choice!" but I think it best to be honest if you are asked directly. Look, if you are asked in a situation where you don't think it is relevant, you will still feel offended even if you lie. Perhaps lying to them allows you to feel like you are getting back at them for being rude or mean or however you see it, but I think it has negative effects on you to do so. Lying about it indicates shame in who you are. And I think it has a corrosive effect on your own self-esteem. And it does not reflect well on Jews by Choice as a whole if you are found to be lying about your Jewish status. I think that will just serve to make such people more suspicious of JBC and more likely to be intrusive about it in the future.
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LineyLu

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PostSubject: Re: Which denomination?   Thu Jan 12, 2012 2:23 am

Debbie B. wrote:

The fact is that I have personal friends and some acquaintances who are Orthodox Jews and don't believe my conversion is "valid", but our relationship does not depend on that since I'm not marrying into their family or community or trying to join their shul. And I think they would probably agree if asked that in many ways they have more in common with me since I am religiously observant, than with many totally secular Jews by Birth.

^Kudos to you -- that something that would bother me a lot. I've finally made peace with the fact that Orthodoxy -- as a denomination -- won't accept any non-Orthodox conversion I have in the future. But honestly, it would be very hard for me to have a close friendship with anyone who couldn't fully accept something that I feel is so important to my identity. Maybe I could move past it -- but it would be hard.
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PostSubject: Re: Which denomination?   Thu Jan 12, 2012 3:42 am

In one case, I already had appreciated that as a centrist Modern Orthodox Jew, she was still friends with us back before I converted, so we were definitely "intermarried". (She assumed for years that I was Jewish and was really surprised to find out otherwise because I was so committed to the minyan and she says that I acted and thought so much like a Jew. I have wondered if she would have shunned us if she knew the truth before we became friends.) She does acknowledge that my conversion is a "big step" and has not said directly that my conversion is "not valid" because that would be too rude, but she has said that she still hopes that I'll eventually convert Orthodox. She said at the same time that the fact I'm not "frum" is a loss to Orthodox Judaism, so I take it as a compliment that she would like me to be a part of her group. I told her not to "hold her breath" given how long it took for me to officially convert at all, and that she is free to hope all she wants as long as she doesn't pressure me. (And she hasn't.)

Side note: one reason this hard-liner person is more accepting than one would expect is probably due to being a lesbian and experiencing first hand the pain of having some people react harshly and even threateningly due to who she is. She and her partner and daughter were members of my minyan for a few years after returning to the US after trying to make Aliyah, but were traumatized by some nasty incidents when they tried to join a somewhat right-wing congregation in Israel. They eventually found an accepting MO congregation in our area. (Even so, some of the parents in that congregation won't let their children play with their daughter, but shul members do as well as include them in their social circle.)

Anyway, the important thing is that regardless of what she thinks of my Jewish status, she treats me as a Jew. Although she knows that we do drive to shul on Shabbat, she would never expect me to knowingly violate other Jewish laws. She respects my Jewish observance even while knowing that I take advantage of some Conservative "leniencies" like turning lights on/off on Shabbat. She expects me to wash before Hamotzi and do Birkat Hamazon afterwards. I suspect that she actually gives me so much of the benefit of the doubt that she thinks I've a little more observant than I actually am. In her eyes, I think I am essentially still in the conversion process, just much farther along than before I converted.

But just as she acknowledges how far I've come on my Jewish journey, I appreciate how much she is willing to overlook her perception of the deviance of myself and my family from a "correct" Jewish life. We also have completely different political views, but we don't let that prevent us from being friends.

I also have another Orthodox friend who totally surprised me by her delight and full acceptance of my conversion. (Although she's the one who I think would still have issues in the case of marriage or shul membership.) I had assumed that her attitude might be like that of the above person. I think that the attitude of this second friend is that my conversion is like non-Glatt kosher meat---it is not treif, but she wouldn't serve it in her own home, due in part to "community standards" and expectations.

There are other Orthodox friends whose opinions on my conversion I don't know because I haven't asked and it hasn't come up. Probably somewhere on the spectrum between the two friends I've described above. And I even have a few Orthodox friends in Israel who I think assume that I converted before I got married. But they have carefully skirted the question, so I haven't brought up the subject either. (I think one of them thinks he is actually avoiding finding out for sure that my conversion isn't Orthodox so he can give me the benefit of the doubt.) I have vowed that if they should ever ask me direct questions about it, I will answer truthfully even if I fear the loss of their friendship.

I value the wide range of Jewish friends I have---on the other end from Orthodoxy: I know Jews who converted to Christianity, some who are non-observant cultural Jews, and one who finally found her niche in a "Jewish Humanist" congregation. To be friends with all these very different people requires tolerance on the part of me to them and them to me. For example, I really appreciate when my non-observant friends make an effort to find kosher restaurants for us to meet at to accommodate my dietary restrictions even while they do not keep any of the dietary rules themselves (even happily eating pork, the food least eaten by even secular Jews).


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esf

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PostSubject: Re: Which denomination?   Thu Jan 12, 2012 9:26 am

Great posts, Debbie. Thank you for sharing!
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Debbie B.

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PostSubject: Re: Which denomination?   Thu Jan 12, 2012 11:09 am

A response to usuario's comment about finding a mohel:
When my son was born, I was a non-Jew married to a Jew, so my son was not Jewish by traditional definitions. However, we were able to hire the same Orthodox mohel that all our minyan friends used even though we were honest with him about the situation. He was very respectful to me: more so than one of the Conservative Beit Din for my son's later conversion at the mikveh. He gave us a certificate that we had signed by two of our Shomer Shabbat friends as witnesses that said that the bris was done "for the purpose of conversion", and I assume that he said that blessings in the modified way appropriate for that situation as well, but I was too overwhelmed by the experience to notice (I'd given birth only a week before, and it is hard as a mother to deal with your baby going under the knife even if it was something I really wanted for him!) I'm glad that we could use that mohel because he was extremely experienced: I read in a newspaper article that in his many decades of practice that he has literally circumcised 10's of thousands of baby boys! So he certainly knew what he was doing.
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usuario



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PostSubject: Re: Which denomination?   Thu Jan 12, 2012 1:16 pm

Debbie B. wrote:


At this point, you are quite young usuario, so you may not be thinking about long term consequences of trying to "pass" as a JBB. But at some time you will want to settle into a Jewish community and if you weren't straight with them when you joined, people are not going to take it well if and when it becomes clear that you are in fact a JBC. They might have been fine with your being a JBC if you had been upfront, but they will feel deceived if they find out later that you lied, and that could sour your relationship.

Thanks for sharing your thoughtful comments, Debbie B., they're really helpful. I agree that lying to airport security can be a bad idea because it means one might find themself locked in some detention cell. There are a lot more open-minded (or at least unsuspicious) people in the frum world than I thought, whose asking about shul affiliation is simply for the sake of bonding through Jewish geography and not some sort of Spanish Inquisition.

Maybe I'm still too young and idealistic, but I feel like it shouldn't matter to people whether I tell them I am a JBB or a JBC because in theory and in halacha (with minor exceptions), they are exactly the same. I feel like getting offended about finding out someone is a JBC is like getting offended finding out that someone has 1/8 African / Chinese / etc ancestry: it tells more about the person getting offended than about the other person's "dishonesty" about not revealing this irrelevant fact that has no effect on their status as a person or a Jew.

Last month I stayed with a Yeshivish family we met through Shabbat.com and I overheard the husband talk with a male guest soon before bentsching about me, and before it started I talked with the man about whether they were discussing whether I could form part of the zimun. He said that yes, they were discussing that. I asked him whether it was a problem that I wasn't shomer mitzvos and he said it was okay "as long as you're Jewish", and I said "of course", so we proceeded to do the zimun. Do you think I did the right thing?
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Debbie B.

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PostSubject: Re: Which denomination?   Thu Jan 12, 2012 3:17 pm

I think that definition of Jewish status is similar to definitions of Kashrut. It is actually not as simple as a "yes" or "no" answer.

I think it is preferable (and ethical) to be upfront and honest about things that someone else cares about even if you don't.

For example, when my house was not fully kosher, I used to feel obligated to disclose in minute detail the kashrut situation in our kitchen. It was complicated because although most of our cookware was "treif" having been used for dairy, meat, and even categorically unkosher items (from when we were first married and did not follow any of the dietary laws), but I also had a set of glass dishes (used only for dairy) and some strictly Dairy kosher cookware and cheap flatware that I was careful to wash and handle separately. It was a somewhat embarrassing situation, but the end result was that in giving so much detail and asking so many specific questions (e.g. Are you OK with kashering a microwave by boiling water in it?) it was actually reassuring to my friends that I was knowledgeable enough not to accidentally serve them problematical food. (I once witnessed someone at a child's birthday party saying that some hotdogs were "kosher" just because they were all beef and no pork, whereas the person asking probably defined "kosher" meat as requiring a hechsher. I didn't say anything because I didn't want butt into someone else's business.)

As a woman, I don't "count" in Orthodox settings regardless of my Jewish status, so I am never in Usuario's situation. But I would advise my son not to mislead if asked. (And I would say that the above situation was misleading.) On the other hand, I wouldn't advocate going so far as to stop the invocation for benching if hosts made an assumption of Jewish status without asking (they may be simply giving the benefit of the doubt even while wondering about it). But if it is clear that they have concerns, then I think it is gracious on your part to offer full disclosure. After all, they were gracious in offering you hospitality without first demanding proof of Jewish status. It only changes the benching slightly---it's not like it causes a public announcement that you are not a Jew.

Think of it this way: there was probably at least one adult Jewish woman, and according to a very observant Orthodox male friend of mine, it is a mistaken understanding of Halacha that many (most?) Orthodox Jews think that women should not be counted to form a zimun (I think my friend believes that women should be counted because they too are obligated to bench Birkat Hamazon after a full meal with bread). However, would you insist that a woman be counted in a similar situation? Or would you insist that they should add in the words for benching with a minyan when there are ten men and women, but not ten men? This actually came up for us personally for the dinner for out-of-town and special guests the night before my son's bar mitzvah, when we wanted to give the honor of leading Birkat Hamazon to an Orthodox man who is the father of one of my husband's high school friends. We had about 40 guests, but not all the males were Jewish or halachically Jewish (my son is technically a Conservative convert, for example). We counted very carefully and made sure that there were in fact 10 Jewish males by Orthodox standards. We would not have asked him to lead if that had not been the case, but instead would have offered the honor to someone who would count non-halachically Jewish males and females in a minyan. He wouldn't have asked and wouldn't have known if we had only nine Halachically Jewish males and other non-Halachically Jewish males since he doesn't know our friends and relatives, but since we did know the details of the backgrounds of the other people, we felt it was important to not put him in the situation of doing something he would feel uncomfortable about if he knew. (He would have still added "Eloheinu" if someone else led and we didn't announce the Jewish status situation, but I think it is less problematic for someone who is not actually leading the prayer.)

The Orthodox Jews are not necessarily getting "offended" that someone is a JBC, but rather they believe that the person is in a different category in which their status as a Jew does in fact have relevance. It is not like ethnicity, but more like being a woman or being a Jewish male who is less than 13 years old (who don't qualify to be counted for many of these situations either). And this is true of high status too: men with Cohain status are forbidden from marrying certain Jewish women (divorcees and converts) based only on who their father is. I think it is important to try not to take personally the fact that some Jews believe in interpretations of rules that result in disrespect for non-Orthodox converts. I understand that it is even harder when it seems that you are being singled out due to racial appearance. I can assure you however, that as much as non-white Jews (JBB and JBC) are sometimes treated rudely, in my experience a surprising number of Jews really don't think ethnicity has anything to do with being Jewish and will honestly assume that an Asian or African American person in a Jewish setting is a JBB.

I think that telling a Jew that you are a JBB when you are actually a JBC is similar to serving an Orthodox Jew non-Glatt, but hechshered meat just because you think it is "kosher enough". I myself would be upset to find that someone lied and said that a soup that they served me was vegetarian even when I asked specifically about whether there was any meat or meat broth in it. It is not like a food allergy, so I won't be "hurt" by it, but it would be upsetting to me if I found out that I had been tricked into eating treif soup that way.
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esf

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PostSubject: Re: Which denomination?   Thu Jan 12, 2012 3:26 pm

usuario wrote:

Last month I stayed with a Yeshivish family we met through Shabbat.com and I overheard the husband talk with a male guest soon before bentsching about me, and before it started I talked with the man about whether they were discussing whether I could form part of the zimun. He said that yes, they were discussing that. I asked him whether it was a problem that I wasn't shomer mitzvos and he said it was okay "as long as you're Jewish", and I said "of course", so we proceeded to do the zimun. Do you think I did the right thing?

That's a tricky one. Was your response understandable? Absolutely! Did you do the right thing? Well, not exactly IMO, because the right thing would have been to tell them what they were really asking, which was "are you Jewish by our standards". It seems like this is an issue that is coming up a lot for you, so maybe a rabbi could help you to sort out the best way to act in these situations?

In the same way, I keep a modified sort of Kosher at home, which I think of as kosher (for me), but certainly doesn't fulfill orthodox requirements, so when I am asked by an orthodox friend whether my kitchen is kosher, I say no. They know I would never eat pork/shellfish etc, or mix milk and meat, but I think we're all much more comfortable eating out at a kosher restaurant!
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esf

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PostSubject: Re: Which denomination?   Thu Jan 12, 2012 3:27 pm

lol; just saw Debbie's post! Obviously the connection from there to kashrut was in everyone's mind!
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