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.