Celebrating and supporting people who choose to become Jewish. Sharing information, ideas, concerns of Jews by choice and those considering conversion. The page celebrates everyone who converts to Judaism through any of the streams of Judaism.
Reasons for converting a baby or child * When a parent converts to Judaism they may decide to convert the children they already have. * If a Jewish or interfaith couple adopt a baby, they may want to convert the little one. * When a non-Jewish woman has a child and wants to raise the child Jewish with her Jewish partner, she may want to the child to be officially converted.
The reason for converting a child in one of these situations is to ensure that a larger percent of the Jewish world will view the child as authentically Jewish.
How it works EVERY conversion/convert holds the status of the rabbi(s) who performed the conversion. So an Orthodox conversion is accepted by all streams of Judaism. A Conservative conversion is accepted by Conservative and the Reform/Reconstructionist /Renewal movements. Conversions by a Reform, Reconstructionist or Renewal rabbi will be accepted by that same group of rabbis.
Additionally, every rabbi will have their own requirements for how the child will be raised by the parents in order for the rabbi to be willing to perform the conversion. So it is vital that you contact the rabbi to learn what will be required! In interviewing rabbis about their requirements I found that all of them, including the Orthodox, had their own, nuanced requirements.
Requirements can be things like this: Family must be members of a synagogue Observing Shabbat and the Jewish holidays Enrolling the child in Hebrew school, or perhaps a Jewish day school Keeping a kosher kitchen
Some aspects of a child's conversion are the same as an adult. Male children will have to be circumcised. If they are already circumcised, a traditional rabbi will require that they have hatafat dam - a ritual drawing of a few drops of blood from the penis. Both male and female children are taken to be immersed in the mikvah. One of the parents, dressed in a bathing suit, takes the child into the mikvah and dips them under the instructions of the rabbi. Many rabbis have little suggestions or tricks for helping to get a baby to close their eyes and hold their breath. (I've been told that blowing on a baby's face causes them to do so.)
But it is also up to the child The ancient rabbis had a very thoughtful debate about a child who is converted by their parents or guardian. They believed that the child had a say in their identity. Thus, at the age of Jewish adulthood, typically 12 for a girl and 13 for a boy, the child is asked whether they want to be Jewish. They are free to say, no, and decline to be a Jew. Or they can affirm the decision that was made "for them" and live as a Jew.
This idea of individual autonomy runs against many other religions and can be difficult for non-Jews, or Jews lacking education in this area, to understand. Personally, I believe it is one of the most beautiful things about Judaism.
Is it challenging to live overseas, away from one's home congregation as a Jew by choice?
Binah was raised Catholic. Her first language is Chinese, "more so Cantonese, but I can speak Mandarin." In the USA she became attracted to Judaism. She chose to have a Conservative conversion. She remains involved with her US congregation when she is in the country, but her international work takes her to Italy for months at a time. Here are her thoughts on the topic.
Living half of the time in Europe does have bearing on my Jewish practice. In the whole of Italy, there are only about 40,000 Jews. When I first heard this statistic, I thought it was a mistake on the person's part -- Maybe he meant 400,000?! [Note: There are between 40 and 45,000 Jews in Italy today]
Honestly, it is difficult to keep up with Jewish practice. But I think the difficulties also reaffirm my Jewish identity. I remember my rabbi and teacher emphasized that Kashrut is a daily reminder of holiness. I fully agree with that. So, with the challenge of international traveling, I have to find other ways to reminder myself of the connection and the daily holiness.
There are Holocaust survivors at my synagogue in California. Once I heard an elder member commented to young women wearing Star of David necklaces. She said it is fine to wear it in the USA, but she wouldn't recommend that anyone traveling internationally wear any identification marks on them, especially Europe and the Middle East. She has a point! I usually am a little more careful about revealing my Jewish identity in Europe. But if asked directly, I never have any reservation announcing proudly "Yes, I am a Jew." Even if that may bring me certain negative prejudice (and knock on wood it hasn't happened as I spend most of my time in urban Milan). And for this, I am glad the international travel served to reaffirm my identity!!!
The conversion process opened me up to a more free-thinking relationship between God and myself. I have had a free-thinking tendency since I was born, but certainly the conversion brought about the expression of it. I feel special to have had such an experience. This is one of the reasons that I feel a sense of belonging even though I am away from my home community most of the time. Global-trotting actually reinforces my Jewish identity in my heart and soul!
I received this inquiry about conversion: During the conversion process, how observant can or should one be? What kind of mitzvot can someone do? I can only find Orthodox information and that’s not very helpful in my case. My rabbi is advising me not to wear tallit or hang a mezuzah until after I finish, but why? What are the guidelines for other things? Can I kasher all of my dishes? Can I cover my head when I pray or study? (I have found it helpful to do so before.) Can I say blessings? I’m only a month into the process, but I know a lot and I’m feeling ready to take on some mitzvot. — Ready to Go
Here's my answer. (Share your thoughts in the comments below.)
Dear Ready: Part of becoming a Jew is becoming a member of a community with communal rules. Within every synagogue is a micro-Jewish community that lives by the rules of that group of people and their rabbi and their understanding of Jewish law. If you have found a rabbi with whom you are comfortable, then trust him/her. Your rabbi is thinking about how you will fit into the community. If you wear a tallit or hang a mezuzah you are signaling other Jews that you are already Jewish. That can be seen as deceptive. At one month into your study you are gaining a number of facts about Jewish life, i.e., the trappings of Judaism, clothing and home accoutrements, but you do not yet know the mentality of Jewish life, which includes theology, history and culture. Being a Jew is often referred to as being “a member of the tribe.” That is, you are becoming a part of a whole, dedicating yourself to a greater good a bigger family. You ask about kashering your dishes and also say that you can only find Orthodox information and it is not helpful in your case. I am guessing from that that you are not studying for an Orthodox conversion. The point of having kosher dishes is to permit traditionally observant Jews to eat in your home. Right now you are eating there just fine, and as a not-yet-Jewish person you do not require kosher dishes. A traditional Jew would not eat in your home now because there is no assurance that you know what you are doing in terms of food buying, handling and preparation. Either you plan to observe kashrut, in which case you still have a lot to learn before you will be able to maintain your dishes’ kosher status, or you just want to have kosher dishes. If you just want kosher dishes, why? Is it to make you feel more Jewish? You are at the very beginning of your journey. Slow down and let this precious study time sink in. Right now you are meeting with your rabbi regularly, learning something new each week. Once you become a Jew, it will last for the rest of your life. Embrace this liminal time. Can you cover your head to pray? Many faiths have this practice. I see no reason you could not do that, but ask your rabbi. It may be that your shul expects men to cover their heads; others expect both men and women to do so. Can you say blessings? I am guessing that your rabbi is teaching you blessings. You have to say them to learn and practice. If you are asking whether you can say blessings on behalf of the community as the shaliach tzibur (messenger of the community), the answer is usually no. Only a Jew can do that. (This may differ in nontraditional Jewish environments.) But one month of studying has not prepared you for such a responsibility. In the Mishnah, the rabbis list and discuss the mitzvot. They mention honoring parents, visiting the sick, welcoming guests, comforting mourners and observing Shabbat and the holidays, among many others. There are so many mitzvot you can do that are simply a part of living a decent life. Judaism focuses on our daily lives; focus on yours. Be cognizant of what you are doing and why. Do you call your mother to see how she is doing? Do you send a note to someone who has lost a loved one? Do you attend services? Do you got to Torah study or find a place to study with others? The actions you are raising are primarily ones that happen “outside” of yourself — what you wear, what is on your house, the status of your dishes. Turn your thinking inside. Are you careful to make your actions in keeping with Jewish tradition? Don’t lie, but don’t needlessly blurt out a hurtful truth. Avoid gossip. Look for ways to help those less fortunate than yourself. Do these things mindfully. It will be rewarding and begin connecting you to your Jewish practice and emerging identity.
We tend to think exclusively about people who convert to Judaism. But there are people converting to other religions every day. A Jew by choice send me this sweet note about her own mother.
My mother became Catholic at age 70. She's now 82. I think she feels a tremendous sense & depth of love for God and closeness to her community. She was raised Baptist, but I think Catholicism really resonated with her when she was exposed to it by enrolling me in a Catholic elementary school. I think the theology of the religion and the manner in which it is expressed felt intuitively right to her. Although it took her almost 40 years to find a path, she found the one that was right for her. Ironically, I think I felt inspired and empowered to become Jewish because of her actions and modeling of courage in affirming her faith. Is there someone whose actions encouraged you to pursue conversion? Tell us about it in the comments.
We frequently receive requests for assistance with conversion from countries around the world. We simply don't provide that. There is an organization called Kulanu that offers help in a number of countries. You can take a look at their map of the communities in which they work to see if they can help you. They list these communities.
Abayudaya Anousim, Crypto-Judaism Brazil Cameroon Columbia Cote d’Ivoire Ecuador Ethiopia Ghana Gabon India Italy Ivory Coast Kenya Lemba Madagascar Nicaragua Nigera Peru Poland Papua Indonesia Suriname Tutsi Uganda (Abayudaya) Zimbabwe (Lemba)
Being a Jewish parent has its worried. Sometimes for Jews by choice there is a heightened worry, did I do Jewish right or enough? I received this letter which says it all better than I can.
Its take home message is Dayenu! You did enough!
For awhile now I have been worrying that my kids really aren't that "into" their Judaism anymore. They don't want to go to shul with us and they come to holidays for the food and friends. Of course this whole fear becomes magnified when you are an entire family of Jews by Choice. Did I do enough? Should I have pushed harder? Should we have helped them find more Jewish friends their age? ....and on and on.
Well several weeks ago I found my 27 year old son visiting our house rummaging around in the cabinet where I keep the Shabbat candles. "Mom," he asks, "Can I take our Shabbat candlesticks and Havdalah set with me to Burning Man?"
Turns out he planned to lead Shabbat and Havdalah candle lighting for his "tribe" at Burning Man comprised of numerous Jews. He said he was inspired to do it because he remembered all the years of Havdalah under the stars at Camp Newman. He still hasn't returned them, and honestly I hope he doesn't. They are his now. L'Dor V’dor.
Meanwhile, our 30 year old daughter living on the east coast called this week to say she misses us and wants to come home for Hanukkah. I asked when she wants to come. She said, “all eight nights.”
Our youngest got teary when we talked about Camp Newman burning down. He launched into his memories of Camp Newman and Camp Tzofim and how he hopes one day if he has kids they can go away to Jewish summer camp.
We asked people on our email list about how they chose their Hebrew name. Here's a powerful and thoughtful reply.
My Hebrew name is Orev ben Avraham Avinu v' Sarah Imanu. “Why Orev (עורב)”? I've been asked.
Those well-versed in Tanakh might worry that I've chosen Orev in some misguided tribute to one of the two Midianite chieftains killed in Shoftim 7:25. But, no, the ill-fated Midianite is not my namesake. Because Orev means 'raven,' some friends of mine have assumed that my choice stems from my fondness for natural history and especially for reviled and misunderstood species. I am fascinated and excited by ravens, but that partiality isn't my principal motivation, either. Instead, I chose Orev because of the raven's mysterious role in the story of Noah. "And it came to pass at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made. He sent out the raven, and it kept going and returning until the drying of the waters from upon the earth. And he sent out the dove from him to see whether the water had subsided from the face of the ground." (Bereshit 8:6-8).
Where did the raven go? Contemporary biblical critics contend that the raven's disappearance is another example of the biblical narrative's many sources. According to these scholars, when the stories of Torah were first edited and assembled, scribes often included details from differing accounts (rather than choosing between them). By this reckoning, one of the ancient riffs on the flood story had it that a raven was released while another, slightly different version of the tale assigned the recon flight to a dove. The two versions were simply spliced together so that Noah released the raven and then the dove. The literary, analytical, and rational inclinations of this particular Torah reader make me appreciative of such striking examples of narrative juxtaposition and myth-making. But while I appreciate our sacred text through a decidedly non-supernatural lens, I also invest Torah with much social and mystical power. These two, very different approaches to Torah — one universalist and secular, the other specific and traditional — place me in a grey zone of contemporary Jewish identity, but I consider this balancing act (this push-pull or hybrid position) to be the very essence of the Conservative movement’s philosophy, and it’s a primary reason I’ve chosen to convert in the stream’s mikveh.
But what does this have to do with my name? Back to Noah’s raven; what became of it? There are a number of traditional drashs that explain the raven's disappearance, but I view the stray bird as an analog of my Jewish neshamah. This orev "flew the coop," so to speak, but has at last come back to the ark (through covenant).
I find a satisfying etymological riff on this interpretation in the Hebrew name itself, עורב .Ayin means "eye," Vav means "and," Resh means "beginning" or "head," and Beit means "house" or "home." Orev, therefore, can be read as "eye and head home," an oblique reference to the raven's "seeing" his way home. Likewise, my neshamah has turned anew (or returned) to Judaism and Jewish peoplehood.
Another gratifying etymological connection has been made between orev and erev, meaning 'evening' or 'dusk.' Both words are comprised of the same letters, and Hebrew linguists believe that the word orev was derived from erev, a reference to the raven's dark plumage. If so, the raven’s name is born of the gloaming, my favorite time of day, one electric with magic and possibility, and ideal for sustained rumination.
But the etymology can be (and is) taken one step further. Ervuv is the Hebrew word for 'mixture' and, just as day mixes with night at erev, some rabbis point out that, although it is officially deemed treif, the raven is the only bird species to split the difference on the Mishnah's four kashrut qualities; it possesses two kosher attributes and two treif attributes, and is therefore a "mixed" creature.
This mixture angle is also important to me. When I emerge from mikveh, I will (halachically) be a Jew. Were you to ask me then if I stood at Sinai, I would confidently say ‘Yes.' Yes, at least, with respect to metaphysics and psychology...but my personal history is not that of Hebrew school, kugel, or Camp Ramah. My Gentile past will inform my Jewish identity in unexpected, generally positive ways, but the individual ger, like the individual shul, will never please klal Yisrael. Because I expect to be actively engaged in my Jewish community (across the denominational, political, and theological spectrums), I know that my very "Jewishness" will sometimes be challenged. Some fellow Jews will review my attributes and deem me kosher; others will say I'm treif. I'd be fibbing were I to claim that this limbo doesn't trouble me, but I also recognize that it provides me with a special opportunity to examine questions of identity. I will be wholly Jewish and yet I will be "the stranger that sojourns among" my fellow Jews.
The name I have chosen embodies two themes that are important to me: my (re)turn to Jewish peoplehood and also the peculiar/particular Jewish identity of the ger.
A few months ago I sent everyone a link to the article, How to Pick a Hebrew Name on www.myjewishlearning.com's site. The gentleman who called my attention to the article had this to say about the article: The story reveals that really there are no rules, it's whatever-floats-your-boat. My own reason for choosing a double Hebrew name, one Biblical and one modern Israeli, Jedidiah Eyal, is that my Hebrew name thus covers the two ends of the spectrum. I chose mine based on names that spoke to me because of their sounds, especially when said together, as opposed to the meanings thereof.
I received a very interesting and important comment from another reader who said this:
I've actually been thinking more about the latter part of my Hebrew name -- the "ben avraham v'sarah" part. For a convert, I find this the most challenging part, because it automatically outs you as a convert, even at times when you may not want to be outed. I'm all for being a proud convert, but I like "outing" myself on my own terms. I have been a guest in congregations who asked me to do an aliyah. I don't know these people and I don't want the first thing they know about me to be that I'm a convert. But I have no choice in that instance, unless I lie about my Hebrew name.
Do you have any ideas or examples of converts who have not used "ben avraham v'sarah"? At times I have just been inclined to say "ben avraham", as it seems a little more ambiguous.
This is an issue that has plagued many Jews by choice. Here Jewish law forbids Jews to bring up a convert's status, but the very use of their name labels them as such. I believe that it is fine to simply say, Ezra ben Avraham. (Assuming your Hebrew name is Ezra.) Many Jews are called to the Torah using only one parent's name. You would be telling the truth without initiating a discussion of your conversion.
Do you have other suggestions for this situation? Please share them in the comments.
(Clergy united against racism, violence and terrorism in Charlottesville)
What a terrible time in America. The Jewish world is acutely aware that countries have walked down this dark road before.
Rabbi Ruth Adar writes, "The events in Charlottesville are a wake-up call to all of us who were asleep." Continue reading here.
Many recall the chilling words of Pastor Martin Niemöller, a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler. He wrote these famous words:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Synagogues, Jewish Community Centers and Jewish institutions are speaking up and taking action. Contact one near you to find a vigil or service or to find comfort.
You can read other quotes from rabbis here. Share thoughts from your own clergy in the comments below.
Rabbi Ruth Adar in her Coffee Shop Rabbi blog offers some useful insights into the spiritual thinking around circumcision. I want you to see all the Talmudic quotes so I will post only the opening paragraph here and link to the blog itself.
Eikev: Insight on Circumcision
Parashat Eikev offers us a path to deeper understanding of brit milah [ritual circumcision] with its command, “Circumcise the foreskin of your heart and be no more stiff-necked.” (Deut. 10:16) What is the connection between circumcision and a stiff neck? Sukkah 52a offers a clue, saying: R. Avira (or some say R. Joshua b. Levi) taught that… “Uncircumcised” is one of the names of the yetzer hara.”
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