KM asked SZ:
I'd be interested in hearing why you don't favor any but Orthodox conversions. I have a (Jewish) friend whose wife converted Orthodox (although they both attend a Conservative synagogue). There are several things about Orthodox Judaism that I don't agree with (the differentiation between men and women, for example). Are you now a living a fully Orthodox lifestyle?
Also, I would like to know how you handled the bris hatafas dam with your children. How did they feel? How old are they now? I would assume that they already had a fully-developed Jewish identity....
Is your husband Jewish? My whole family will be converting together. We're working on incorporating Jewish ritual/tradition into our lives but we're at that awkward " in between" stage.... I am assuming that my husband and I would have to be remarried as Jews - is this true?
In short, I'd love to hear any and all comments you have on the conversion process - helping your kids deal with it - making changes
SZ Replies to KM
I'll try to answer your questions as best I can, but feel free to ask if something isn't really clear.
About Orthodox vs. non-Orthodox conversions: I want (very much) to discuss this, but before I do, it would be a big help to me to hear your answers to these questions, so I don't make assumptions that aren't true.
- Why are you converting?
- What is the most important thing that you want out of this conversion?
- Who is overseeing your conversion?
- How important is it to you that you and your children are Jewish, not only in the eyes of the congregation, but in the eyes of G-d?
Your feelings toward Orthodoxy are certainly not unique. I was actually quite hostile toward Orthodoxy, also due largely to how I perceived Orthodox attitudes toward women (my perceptions were, it turned out very mistaken). I would occasionally go to my father-in-law's shul and leave very angry. I guess I'm proof that attitudes can change, so keep an open mind.
What is important is not whether you like what Orthodox Judaism says, but whether it is true.
A trivial example:
The fact that I hate to rake leaves does not change the fact that leaves are dropping all over my lawn. I can refuse to look at them, refuse to rake them, deny that they are going to hurt my lawn, etc. The leaves remain.
You can like or not like what Orthodox Judaism says, but you must come to terms with whether it is authentic Judaism or not.
This is important for every Jew, it is crucially important for converts.
A kosher conversion is not just joining a club or social organization -- I am sure that you understand that. It is closer to an adoption, but not quite. What conversion really is, is "dying" as a Gentile and "re-birth" as a Jew. G-d gives you a new soul--a Jewish one. In a spiritual sense, you quite literally become a new person.
A friend, a Chabad rabbi with whom I correspond over internet, once explained to me how the mikvah symbolizes this: A person in immersing, symbolically "dies" (you can't live underwater) and emerges, as a new baby emerges from the water of the mother's womb. None of this will happen if the conversion is not done according to Halacha, with a valid Beis Din. You can become like a Jew, but not become a Jew.
I'm not going to try, right now, to convince you that Orthodox Judaism is the only authentic form of Judaism. What I want you, with your husband, to do, though, is have an open enough mind to go to an Orthodox rabbi and talk to him, if you haven't done so already. Ask him to discuss the issue with you. Show him this message (or any that I write) if you wish. Make sure you are making an informed decision, because if you don't, as I learned, the effects of that mistake can be devastating.
What I can tell you right now, is that non-Orthodox Jewish movements have been around only very recently. They are not expressions of Jewish growth, IMHO, but of the influence of Western thought and morality on Jewish tradition.
Keep in mind the questions that I asked you above.
We are living as Orthodox Jews. We are Shomer Shabbos, keep strictly kosher, and try to follow the mitzvot. We are both "growing" in some areas, but we cared enough about the decision to become observant that we moved within the Eruv in Baltimore and put our children into day schools, re-kashered everything, did the conversion, and even (soon, G*d willing) will re-marry (there is a waiting period after conversion before a marriage can be re-done).
I can't explain your friend's actions. I believe that an Orthodox conversion carries with it a commitment to be an Observant Jew--after all that is the main reason for converting, to be able to perform mitzvot, and in so doing, to serve Hashem.
My children were ages 8 and 11 when I originally made the decision, with my husband's cooperation, to pursue an Orthodox conversion and lifestyle. This was a little less than a year and a half ago. We had been members of the Reform synagogue for the past few years, a Conservative one before that. The kids did have a Jewish identity (which was a problem later, when we had to explain why they had to convert). My husband was raised in a nominally Orthodox household and went to public schools and afternoon Hebrew school until Bar Mitzvah. (I converted in 1975 with a Conservative rabbi.)
We began incorporating more and more mitzvot into our lives (starting out with such simple things as not shopping on Shabbos and moving along to not eating out in non-kosher establishments and to keeping Shabbos properly). We enrolled our son and daughter in a Hebrew school in Bowie after school 3 times a week (at the time, a 45 mile commute each way) The teachers there were frum ([religious Orthodox Jews]. We did not discuss the conversion issue with the children until a few days before the conversion took place, although I was studying with a rabbi in Baltimore for about a year. They both knew that I was a convert, so it was easier to explain to them (..."there were mistakes made in the conversion, that means some doubt...we have to do what is right and make sure that we are really Jewish...." ) They were not thrilled, but because we approached it (with the guidance of a rabbi) with certainty, even a bit of humor, they seemed to accept it. The deeper ramifications they will only come to grips with later.
Our son needed a bris hatafas dam. That did worry him-- he said we'd "owe him big-time" for that (he wanted $10 and a trip to the arcade --we agreed ;-)) The actual event was not so traumatic, he said--and he hates needles. From what he said, it didn't hurt, or barely did, and he thought the mikvah was really neat. Actually he said he wanted to go every week.
Summing up: We worried a lot more about the bris than was ever necessary. If you think your son will have special problems, my gut feeling is that you need to play up the religious importance of the event. I am also sure that your husband can be there for support when it is done. My son went it alone. The whole Beis Din will be present for the procedure, in any case, and they will be present when you go to the mikvah.
I know that "awkward in-between stage" well. It is a problem, not just for converts, but for Jews who are returning to observant Judaism as well. It is normal. Do you live in a community where there are any observant Jews? If so, I would definitely recommend asking the Orthodox rabbi, when you speak with him, if he could arrange for your family to spend a Shabbos with a frum family. There is no better way to learn than by example.
This might sound awkward, but it is done all the time. We began spending holidays and an occasional Shabbos in Baltimore from Sukkos last year. We stayed in the homes of Orthodox Jews and ate meals with them and others. We met a lot of new families that way--and we didn't know anybody except the rabbi doing kiruv before we began. What we found was a very warm and welcoming community.
I've got to close now, but please write back. I know I was kind of philosophical this time-- I tend to be that way-- but if you have some specific questions, I'll try to give you a response. You can get as personal as you want, from my side or yours. As I went through the process I also had a few friends on the net who were wonderfully supportive. I'm happy if I can in any measure return the favor.