Hi,

Sorry for the delay getting back. I was helping out at a Jewish Expo all day today. Last night I was bending the ear of the rabbi who oversaw my conversion. (He is still my most trusted guide when life hands me questions I can't answer.)

You sound sincere in your desire to convert. I don't know if you have had the opportunity to speak with a rabbi about converting, but they will, if they are responsible, try to dissuade you from converting. This is for everyone's good.

You don't have to convert to believe in one G-d and you don't have to convert to have a share in the world-to-come. The rules for non-Jews are a lot simpler than for Jews.

I guess what I am saying is that abandoning Christianity is not a sufficient reason to become a Jew. You have to genuinely want, maybe _need_ is a better word, what Judaism is and offers. In a way you are fortunate: Because you recognize that there is a high cost, you will think carefully before making any decisions.

That said, some of us do convert. There are, IMHO, two approaches to conversion:

First are those who accept the mitzvot in order to convert. For them mitzvot are a necessary price to be paid for the privilege of being a Jew.

Second are those who convert in order to fulfill the mitzvot. For them mitzvot are a privilege, an honor, a kind of sacred trust which is granted to Jews and no other people.

The second group of converts is, IMHO, the one which understands what Judaism is truly about, and whose conversion will allow them to live successfully as Jews.

Whenever I have had the opportunity to correspond with someone who is considering conversion, I emphasize how important it is to consider _only_ Orthodox conversions. I don't want you do feel left out, so...

There are many philosophies of religious expression held by Jews around the world. Each would claim to be a legitimate expression of Judaism. Be careful. It is not what people claim, but what is true that really matters.

You stake the authenticity of your conversion on your decisions regarding this: Will you be Jewish in the eyes of the whole Jewish community--or just part of it? Will you be Jewish only in the opinion of a movement-- or also in the eyes of G-d?

Orthodox Judaism is Judaism. It is the Judaism whose tradition goes back to Sinai. It embodies a commitment to Torah and mitzvot as the way to serve Hashem. It teaches that we must bend our wills and perceptions to fit Torah, not twist Torah to fit our desires and perceptions, or the shape of the society around us.

Until about a century and a half ago, there was no other Jewish philosophy but what we know as Orthodox. It has a history of millennia, not decades. It is the unbroken chain of tradition and learning which has sustained our people through times of national triumph and national tragedy. It is Judaism.

It is to this that you must commit yourself if you are to become truly Jewish.

What do you do now? First you should give yourself the opportunity to learn more. Don't commit your life, your soul, to anything without examining it carefully. Becoming a Jew is irreversible. Once you become a Jew, you will be forever bound to the observance of Torah and mitzvot. You need to be sure that that is what is right for you.

Where do you start? You can certainly call an Orthodox rabbi in your community and discuss your situation, and ask for help learning more. There are books you can read that will help you more fully understand what Judaism is all about. There are information resources on the internet (like gopher). Perhaps there are classes that you can attend. Ask.

Once you have had a chance to really see what Judaism is all about, had a chance to learn a little more, you'll be in a lot better position to decide if it is right for you. You may well decide that it is. Many do.

If that is the case then there will be consequences that you have to accept. Family is important to you. You will not be able to eat non-kosher food in your family's home(s).

Religion is important to your family. You will be rejecting what they consider sacrosanct. Your holidays will not be their holidays.

You will not join them on Saturday trips, or outings to restaurants.

Your celebrations of life-cycle events will be filled with customs that seem strange to them. If you choose to wear a kippah all the time, you might even make them feel embarrassed by your very presence.

These things that affect our relationships with those we love are very difficult.

And you must realize that there are still many people out there who bear hatred toward Jews. Only fifty years ago our people suffered a loss of unimaginable magnitude at the hands of a "civilized" society. Anti-semitism is alive and well. To become a Jew is to put yourself and your children in jeopardy.

Still, you must never be in a position of saying "I am a Jew despite what it did to me."

You must be convinced beyond doubt that what you gain is worth far more than you give up.

Many of us have reached that conclusion. It is like a part of us was at Sinai, and we become obsessed with returning. Nothing is more important. Nothing else will satisfy our souls. We need to know again what Hashem wants from us, and we need to make ourselves available to do it.

You may well feel that way, too.

That is the time to seriously approach conversion. Then you will study more, learn to observe the mitzvot, and begin to take on the resposibilities that you will have as a Jew. If there is not a strong community of religious Jews where you live now, you will probably need to move to where there is one.

After a circumcision and immersion in the mikvah, you will begin a new life, understanding a commitment to Hashem that will touch every area of your life, even the simplest acts of rising in the morning, of washing, of speech, of eating and drinking. Everything. And when you have questions, you will turn to rabbis to guide you in following halacha.

You will be forever a part of the Jewish people, your life and your lot inexorably linked to theirs.

And, if you have made the right decision, nothing could make you happier.

It is important to make that decision carefully.

Be well. keep in touch.

S.Z.

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