Thursday, July 7, 2016

Converting the Children of Converts

Last week, I used this blog to answer a question about converting for marriage that was posed during a Shavuot discussion at my synagogue. Today, I want to try to answer another question from that forum:

Do you plan to take your future children to the mikveh to convert them when they are born?
I've heard this question asked before as "Would you convert your children according to Orthodox Judaism when they are born?" I'm not entirely sure of the thought-process behind the question, but as far as I can tell, it is simply an extension of our existential struggle to define who is a Jew and it exposes the ripple effect that these debates have for future generations. I have to imagine that it also stems from a misunderstanding of the conversion process in the different movements of Judaism. 

To be completely honest, I find the question pointless. Either, as a female convert, I am Jewish and therefore, my children will be Jewish or the question implies that my Jewish status is not transferable, which, to be fair, it is not in certain circles. The hard fact is that my conversion is not accepted everywhere. I am not Jewish by Orthodox standards, so by matrilineal descent, my children won't be considered Jewish in the Orthodox world either.

To be considered Jewish in every movement,* I would have to undergo an Orthodox conversion and take on an Orthodox lifestyle. I have considered converting again, even consulted an Orthodox rabbi about it, but in the end I decided that Orthodox life is not for me. I am happy with the Conservative Jewish life I have and I am accepted as a Jew by those standards. If I were to undergo an Orthodox conversion simply to be able to say that everyone considers me Jewish, it wouldn't be sincere. I am not strictly shomer shabbas or shomer negiah, nor do I want to cover my hair or give up my short sleeves and jeans. For me to convert in the Orthodox movement (at this point in my life, at least) would be a lie. 

Given that I am not planning to undergo an Orthodox conversion personally, the point becomes moot when talking about my future children. For one thing, I highly doubt you could find an Orthodox rabbi willing to convert an infant if that rabbi didn't consider me to be Jewish and we were not planning to raise the child in an Orthodox household. Second, if I didn't convert in the Orthodox movement and don't plan to raise my children in an Orthodox community, what would be the point of converting them to Orthodoxy? If it is just so that no one can question their Jewish status, then I refer you back to my own reasons for not pursuing an Orthodox conversion.

The short answer to this question then is no, I don't plan to convert my children. If I consider myself Jewish and my community considers me Jewish, then my children will be Jewish by the same measure. 

If my children grow up and decide to become Orthodox, they will have to undergo their own conversion process. Hopefully, growing up as a Jew in a Jewish home will make that process easier for them, should they choose to pursue it.

*The Orthodox community is not a cohesive organization and not all converts are recognized as legitimate Jews by different rabbis within Orthodoxy. Even if a convert is universally recognized by the American Orthodox establishment, the Israeli rabbinate may not accept them.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Converting for Marriage

Last month, I co-led a discussion about Ruth and modern-day conversions for Shavuot with my synagogue's young professional group. Their questions about conversion and life in the Jewish community as a Jew by Choice were insightful and thought-provoking. This question in particular has stuck with me.

How do you feel about people who convert for marriage?

Three years ago, Rabbi Cosgrove at Park Avenue Synagogue in New York proposed a new approach to Conservative conversions that he hoped would solve the movement's intermarriage crisis: convert the non-Jewish person right away for the marriage. He seemed to think that if both parties were Jewish, even in name only, they would become a "Jewish household." I took exception to his plan at the time and I still think that it would be detrimental to those converts, like myself, who chose to convert to Judaism for ourselves. What Rabbi Cosgrove failed to acknowledge is the stigma surrounding conversion for marriage, which is seen by many in the Jewish community as a sign of the person's insincerity, lack of commitment to the Jewish people, and/or unthinking adoption of a Jewish identity that they don't full understand.

So how do I feel about converting for marriage? Personally, it makes it harder for me as a convert, because there will always be people who assume that I converted for Marc and attach that stigma to me. I've worked hard over the years to learn and grow Jewishly, to develop an identity and place for myself in the Jewish community, so to have it written off as a decision that Marc made for me in a way is hard. 

Part of me would like to think that cracking down on conversion for marriage would alleviate the stigma, but I know that people come to Judaism in all sorts of ways. A recent article in defense of those who convert for marriage proves that being motivated by love for an individual does not preclude one from developing a sincere, personal commitment to Judaism. After all, Ruth's conversion was prompted by her love for Naomi, but it blossomed into her acceptance of Judaism, the Jewish people, and God.

I will struggle next week with another frequently asked question: should a convert have to convert their children?

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Omer 2016 Recap

Honorable Mention
How many women could I name from the Tanakh before this Omer? Not nearly 49, but I am pleased to report that in the end I had women to spare! Here are some that I just couldn't place in the Omer, but who are nonetheless fantastic and have very interesting stories:

  • Keturah, Abraham's second wife after Sarah's death (Genesis 25). Rashi suggested that Keturah was another name for Hagar, but others disagreed.
  • Timna, Esau's son's concubine (Genesis 36:12). Feminist Judaism makes a big deal about her, because she is singled out among Esau's son Eliphaz's wives as just his concubine, instead of a full wife like the others (WRJ Torah). Another midrash suggests that she wanted to convert to Judaism, but was denied.
  • Elisheba, Aaron's wife (Exodus 6:23) was mentioned only once in passing, but as the wife of the high priest, her life must have been fascinating. She also endured the tragic loss of her sons, Nadab and Abihu.
  • Moses' second wife, the Cushite woman was a source of discord between Moses and his siblings, particularly Miriam, who was very upset that he would marry an outsider.
  • Peninnah, Hannah's rival wife (1 Samuel 1) taunted Hannah for being barren.
  • Solomon's 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:1-5). We think of Solomon as a wise and great king, but these 700 wives and 300 concubines managed to lead him astray and in his old age he worshiped their gods.
  • The concubine from Bethlehem (Judges 19) quite possibly has the saddest story that I read in the Tanakh. She was taken as a concubine by a Levite man, but she ran away from him back to her father's house. He then went after her and took her back from her father. He showed no regard for her on their journey back to his home and when his life was threatened by an angry mob, he threw her out into the street, where the mob raped her to death.
In preparing for the Omer this year, I didn't get through the entire Tanakh (I read up to 2 Kings), so I'm sure that there are even more women who would have made great additions to the blog this year.

Below is a list of all the women of the Omer this year. I have put a * next to the ones I am most proud of.
Day 1: Naomi*
Day 2: Shifra and Puah*
Day 3: Rachel
Day 4: Hagar
Day 5: Sarah
Day 6: Rebecca
Day 7: Abigail
Day 8: Michal
Day 9: Potiphar's wife*
Day 10: Jezebel
Day 11: Yael*
Day 12: Lot's wife
Day 13: Yocheved
Day 14: Zipporah
Day 15: The women with the baby
Day 16: Hannah
Day 17: Abishag*
Day 18: Samson's first wife
Day 19: Manoah's wife
Day 20: Zilpah and Bilhah
Day 21: Vashti
Day 22: Rahab
Day 23: Leah
Day 24: Sisera's mother*
Day 25: The woman who killed Abimelech
Day 26: Miriam*
Day 27: Tamar, Judah's daughter-in-law
Day 28: The clever woman of Abel of Beth-maacah
Day 29: The widow who fed Elijah
Day 30: Zelophehad's daughters
Day 31: Deborah, Rebecca's nurse*
Day 32: Jephthah's daughter
Day 33: The clever woman of Tekoa
Day 34: Asenath
Day 35: Bathsheba
Day 36: Orpah
Day 37: Delilah
Day 38: Esau's wives
Day 39: Lot's daughters
Day 40: Eve
Day 41: The sorceress in En-dor
Day 42: Naamah
Day 43: Huldah the Prophetess
Day 44: Deborah
Day 45: Pharaoh's daughter
Day 46: Esther
Day 47: The Queen of Sheba
Day 48: Dinah and Tamar, King David's daughter*
Day 49: Ruth*