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?