Intermarriage: An open letter to Orthodox and Conservative rabbis

Crossposted at Frum Satire

An open letter to Orthodox and Conservative rabbis:

You say you’re against intermarriage, you know there’s a 50% intermarriage rate, and you know some kids who come out of those marriages aren’t going to be halachically Jewish–maybe 30-40%. So, about 15-20% of all Jewish marriages will result in non-Jewish children. You say you’re against intermarriage, but what are you going to do about it?

I’m one of those kids. I got lost in the system. To be told by someone that you’re Jewish one day and to be told you’re not the next, well it’s pretty disconcerting, if you can imagine. And as much as I’d like to believe the former, I’ve decided to convert. I’m tired of wondering in which contexts I can call myself Jewish, and in which contexts other people would be offended if I did. I’m tired of wondering whether the words of the Torah were meant for me or not. I’m tired of having it implied that the God of my fathers doesn’t want my davening. I’m tired of thinking that’s actually true. I’ve been trying to convert since I was nineteen, but I keep running up against you.

I like to think I’m doing the right thing, you know. Next to all the halachically Jewish kids my age, for whom you are happy if they just light some candles on Shabbat or something, I’m gladly taking on a whole lot more. I don’t know about them, but I have the extra burden of knowing I’m the only one in my family left to keep it going. I’m here. I’m ready. Heck, I’m even completely willing. And yet–I get no compassion. You don’t even notice. In the halachic world of categories and laws, I have no category. I fell through the cracks. Do you care what happens to me? Am I a part of klal yisrael? If so, what do I do about it?

Nothing would make me happier than having you tell me you’d like to see me convert because it’s my responsibility as a part of the Jewish people. Instead, it’s as if you hope I don’t mention it too much. It’s as if you simply cannot tolerate the subject, so instead you always come up with the same line: “You are Jewish if your mother is Jewish.” And the conversation ends. And I feel terrible. And you don’t notice. Your hands are tied, you say. Just be patient, you say.

My request isn’t that radical. I’m not asking that you accept patrilineal descent. Hey, I’m with you: my childhood was a perfect case study of the mixed messages kids get from an intermarriage, and therefore I’m against it because intermarriage caused this.

I’m only asking two things, and I think they’re pretty reasonable: Make it easier for people like me to convert, and stop reacting with such horror when you hear the term. It’s not a “death sentence” for continuity unless you make it one. Look, I’m on your side. I want to do this the right way. Why make it so difficult? There’s a lot of people like me out there, and I bet the number is growing. Ignoring it isn’t going to help you, me, or us. Telling me that I’m 100% a gentile and you couldn’t care less one way or the other whether I convert or not is pretty hurtful, you know. I know it’s easy to say it anyway, especially now that it’s an “issue.”

I want to know something. What do you suggest I do? What would be ideal? Do you want me to be Reform? Convert to Christianity, maybe? Would that be convenient for you? Do you really think keeping the children of 15-20% of married Jews alienated from Judaism is going to be a good thing? I didn’t choose the religion of my parents, but I am choosing what I do next. I love Judaism, I’ve never had another religion, I don’t want it to die in my family, and I don’t believe you really do either. So, can you help me out here?

Sincerely,

A Patrilineal Conversion Candidate

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51 thoughts on “Intermarriage: An open letter to Orthodox and Conservative rabbis

  1. Me too. It’s just one of those things where I’m like “guys, open your eyes.”
    I might submit it, but where? Somewhere where it will start a revolution, obviously.

  2. Laura, I was recently shown your website, and would like to ask you something. Do you have an email address I can write to?

  3. The bottom line problem is that in halachic Judaism, halakhah is seen as a legal process that was given by G-d. So, while an Orthodox rabbi has some room for interpretation, there are limits to what we could consider valid. An objective standard, as impossible to change as trying to repeal gravity before grandma’s heirloom dishes hit the floor. We would love to, but it just can’t be done. Halakhah means not only expression of one’s religious sensibilities, but inculcation of new ones. Which means, at times, submission.

  4. I’m wondering how the idea of an “objective standard” accounts for the fact that subjective individuals are necessarily the receivers and interpreters of the legal process? And how is this less intellectually chauvinistic than contemporary scientism? (just replace “halakhah” with “quantitative data”)

  5. It’s the objective standard of 2k years of legal rulings. You can’t unscramble the omelette, Orthodox Judaism has codified matrilineal only and that is their right. It’s unfair and will cause pain, but that is Orthodoxy scrambling towards self preservation. According to my rabbi, any Jew who wants to be Orthodox can do it, or assimilate away. The objective of Orthodoxy is to preserve the core of Judaism, not to be inclusive.

    Again, why beat your head against a wall? Orthodoxy will not change, they’re beyond entrenched. But why not live the life you want on your own terms?

  6. I am trying to describe a system of interpretation that has some area for autonomy, but that area exists within limits. A ruling that doesn’t fit the rules of lawmaking simply isn’t a ruling, and following it isn’t following halakhah. For example, one rabbi could say that one must wear tefillin on the intermediate days of a holiday, and another might rule that one may not. Both can be defended from extrapolations from existing Torah. The system can be used to justify either. But this plurality exists only among the positions justifiable using the process. (There is nothing really being said in that last sentence: It boils down to “A halachic statement is any statement justifiable using the halachic process, and one that isn’t justifiable within the system isn’t halachic.”)

    Conservative Jews have a broader definition of that process that includes means of developing law that I consider false, and thus they have a wider range of valid rulings than I would accept. But fealty to their own ideals would still require they stay within that range.

    There isn’t a halachic basis for patrilineal descent. The precedent dates back to the books of Ezra and Nechemia, the rabbis found a derivation in the Torah, and this has been universal halachic opinion for the past 2,500 years. There is just no way within halakhah to get from here to there, it’s outside the range of creativity halakhah allows the decisor.

  7. My concern wasn’t so much to explain why halakhah doesn’t allow for acknowledging patrilineal descent as much as why someone would choose to follow a religion based on submission to a legal process.

    Reform gives Jews many ways to express their spirituality and/or need for religious rite to stabilize their lives. But because a person is allowed to assess every religious dictate for themselves, Reform is best equipped for reinforcing and internalizing values the adherent already holds.

    Halakhah balances that with a system we believe to be given by G-d that provides an anchor to those truths revealed at Sinai. A law I don’t understand or agree with is a means of internalizing a value / character trait / habit or to express one even though I don’t already see its validity. Many things can only be learned through hands-on experience, and halakhic Judaism provides us with a system for that. There is a process so that these truths can be adopted via the prism of our times and culture, otherwise, it would be a static set of laws. But there is still a process to keep the eternal aspect of those truths unchanged despite our looking at them from different angles as our lifestyles change.

  8. Guys, just so it’s clear I’m not saying they should accept patrilineal or bilineal descent. I’m just saying rabbis should have more compassion for patrilineal people who ARE trying to convert. I’m not trying to change the halacha.

    The last two paragraphs of this post should explain the background of my position. Of course, it only applies to Israel (?), hence this post.

  9. Elke, Sorry I mistunderstood. The subject line on the thread includes me, sort of. (I’m a rabbi, but I don’t — and shouldn’t — do halachic decision-making.) so I took all comments personally.

    Laura: Now that I understand better… (I need a refresher on Reading Comprehension 101; it’s very clear in your post.)

    1- We do not consider conversion a death knell for the Jewish People. Not conversions we recognize as valid, at least.

    2- We can’t and wouldn’t want to change our definition of conversion, for the reasons I gave above. Which means that we won’t accept as a real convert someone who isn’t committed to following halakhah, among other things. (See Maimonides’ code, Laws of Prohibited Relations, ch. 12-13, although there are numerous other primary sources less likely to be available in English.) In other words, an Orthodox Jew would only recognize the conversion of someone who — at least at the time of the conversion — was fully committed to living as an Orthodox Jew.

    Many rabbis do rule that the law about trying to dissuade conversion candidates doesn’t apply to children of Jewish fathers. That in fact people in your position who want to convert, should. But given what I said about what we consider valid conversion, this isn’t going to help too many people who really do believe Reform Judaism.

  10. Micha: Ah, so we agree. I am staunchly against loosening halachic standards, and I’m at least basically familiar with the classical definition. This letter refers to someone who (like me) is already committed to following the mitzvos after conversion.

    Many rabbis do rule that the law about trying to dissuade conversion candidates doesn’t apply to children of Jewish fathers. That in fact people in your position who want to convert, should.

    I’d like to know who these rabbis are! The ones I’ve talked to didn’t seem to agree. I think that there ought to be less dissuasion and more leniency in non-halachic standards (i.e. you don’t have to “turn them away three times,” maybe a shorter amount of study if they are capable etc.) I am committed to Orthodoxy, as you say, and I do feel that discouraging someone in my position isn’t the way to be.

  11. I still didn’t finish that Reading Comprehension refresher, so forgive me if it is up there somewhere and I missed it.

    Laura, if you send contact information to micha at aishdas dot org , including where you live, I will see if I can find a beis din in the area that follows that lenient ruling WRT dissuading. (Not a problem in the long run — even those who rule stringently don’t invalidate the conversion post-facto if the step is omitted.)

  12. Laura, do you think we should get rid of the dissuasion and learning things in general, or only for people who have a Jewish father? If the latter, for all people who have a Jewish father, even if they just found out about it? Don’t you see a slight contradiction between “I am staunchly against loosening halachic standards” and “I think that there ought to be less dissuasion and more leniency in non-halachic standards”? I’m not sure what you meant by “non-halachic standards”, actually.

  13. Don’t you see a slight contradiction between “I am staunchly against loosening halachic standards” and “I think that there ought to be less dissuasion and more leniency in non-halachic standards”?

    No, some of the dissuasion going on during conversions goes beyond halachic standards, as does 2-5 years of study (which I haven’t experienced, but I’ve heard about).

  14. Lisa,

    As I said, there are posqim (halachic decisors) who do not require dissuasion in cases where we are converting someone who grew up thinking they were Jewish, and is now trying to get reality to catch up with self image. And post-facto, whether or not the person was dissuaded beforehand will not be a barrier to acceptance. It’s not part of the conversion, nor a precondition.

    For that matter, neither is ignorance. On a theoretical level, a ger who knows little but commits to keep more as they learn more is still a ger. BUT… how could the rabbis in good conscience convert someone who is then going to regularly sin, even if through ignorance. For the sake of the person’s observance, if not the validity of the conversion, a certain minimum of education is now required. Someone might even second-guess the seriousness of accepting the mtizvot by someone willing to be walking blindfolded through a minefield of prohibitions the day after they convert. The more you walk in knowing, the less teaching the court will insist upon.

  15. Laura,

    To add a bit to what R’ Micha has said, the halachic category you are looking for is “Zera Yisrael” – literally seed of Israel – ie a term used to describe somebody who is not Jewish but is of Jewish descent. If you stick this term into google, you will get a slew of results – and in particular you will get reference to R’ Haim Amsalem who, besides being a Knesset member, in 2010 published a book (in Hebrew I am afraid) with this title, bringing a wealth of halachic source material on the subject and arguing pretty much what seems to be your argument.
    Of course, as R Micha also says, other Othodox rabbis disagree (a lot has to do with the level of liability that they consider falls on the rabbi doing the conversion should the convert subsequently fail to perform mitzvot. If you hold that on some level the rabbi in question ends up liable for the sins subsequently performed by the convert, they are understandably going to want to dissuade anyone they are not 100% sure will be fully observant, whatever brought them to this pass). And, you may well find if you really delve into it, that other rabbis are just ignorant of this source material (it is not exactly taught as part of your basic rabbinic degree).

    But bottom line, what you are arguing for is not such an “off the wall” position as you appear to think it is.

    Best

    Chana

  16. Chana: thanks for your comment. I heard of the term; I don’t remember when, but it made me hopeful that this category existed. I don’t really know how it’s used in practice, though…I’m glad you mentioned it though, because I was wondering if it was a really esoteric thing only two or three people were advocating.

  17. But isn’t zera Yisroel diluting the intermarriage problem? Yes, it’s horrible that someone can be excluded from Judaism but isn’t that the point? To make sure Jews understand intermarriage has consequences? Like Mamzerus, people’s choices can have negative consequences on innocent people. Regrettable but religion isn’t about being fair. It’s about serving God.

    Sigh, it does seem unfair though.

  18. But isn’t zera Yisroel diluting the intermarriage problem? Yes, it’s horrible that someone can be excluded from Judaism but isn’t that the point? To make sure Jews understand intermarriage has consequences?
    What? No, that’s a terrible idea. Believe me, I am already ultra-aware that my parents’ intermarriage had consequences. I don’t know much about zera yisrael, but if it is a real category as I’ve heard it is, I don’t see why it shouldn’t be usable.
    You people are making me weary, I think I’m done with this conversation.

  19. Patrillineal descent is not valid. It’s terrible but they cannot approve this its so blatantly against halacha. If you truly want to be an orthodox or conservative jew then you must follow the rules of those movements. I was adopted and so I was converted, now as one who is becoming orthodox I am unsure as to wether or not I need a geirus l’chumra as the rabbi who did the conversion was modern orthodox and so its not accepted by all. I think its irritating and it bugs me but i also recognize that if I want to be orthodox then I have to be fully orthodox and not just pick an choose what parts to follow. I’m sorry you have to go through this and I feel your pain as I have been told I’m not jewish either, but yet i also know the halacha and patrilineal descent is not valid

  20. OK, I’m not going to approve any more “patrilineal descent is not valid” comments after this, because I think I made my position clear by now. I ask that everyone please actually read the post before commenting.

  21. But Elka, the notion of Zera Yisrael doesn’t cause anyone more to be included. It saves someone who we know their probable reasons for converting of the hassle we put most converts through in order to check that their motives are genuine. There is no loosening of conversion criterion involved.

    Which is why, post-facto, those who don’t rely on it might grumble, but wouldn’t question the conversion over it. The argument is over what one ought to do, to make sure you don’t wrong someone by turning a heavenbound non-Jew into a sinning Jew, not the validity if done.

  22. The Gemara says “Poshei Yisrael” are filled with mitzvos like a pomegranite is filled with seeds. There is more of a zechus to be a mediocre religious Jew, even if ignorant but does his best, than the best Ben Noach. It is always better for someone who believes in Torah to convert, as long as he can keep Torah. If someone believes in Torah and can keep Torah and Mitzvos, they should convert. The Zionist Rabbis are big racists, which is why they do not like to do conversions. In Satmar, they do conversions a lot quicker, as long as the candidate is frum and follows all of the rules. If you are ready to keep Torah, I would do the conversion. It is only racism that makes rabbis nervous to do conversions. Would they tell non-frum Jews not to have children? How is that different than a conversion that “might” not work, when the fact is usually gerim are frummer than other Jews.

  23. This makes me want to cry. I am going through a similar situation, and I have faced rejection time and time again. It has gotten to the point where I have given up on my faith because it is too complicated, and I feel like no one wants to help me. They make it seem like its my fault, like I did something wrong. I was rejected from seminary in Israel. I have had [orthodox] people ask me why I would ever want to be jewish if I didn’t have to. I have had rabbis tell other rabbis, in front of me I am needy, when all I want is answers. I have so much hurt inside from these rabbis, who expect me to either be a perfect jew, or not jewish at all. My mom had a conservative conversion when she married my dad, and I have always been raised jewish. I have nothing else. We have always observed shabbat in some way, the holidays, and kosher to a certain extent/ Without judaism, I don’t have any faith. Yet, every time I make a sacrifice, such as keeping shabbos or eating only kosher food, a little voice inside me tells me its pointless, and that because I’m not really jewish, it doesn’t matter. NCSY brought me in, told me I was wanted, that I was part of something bigger. Now, they say my case is ‘too complicated,’ and that they aren’t qualified. But the people they refer me to either also say that, or only give me suggestions I am uncomfortable with, machmir (strict) suggestions that I do not feel I am ready for. I honestly don’t know what to do at this point. I would greatly appreciate it if you would email back and we could talk. I need to talk to someone who has felt the same hurt as me.

  24. So called “Rabbi” is lying. A Ben Noach who keeps all the Noachide laws is better than a Jew who doesn’t keep all of ours. “Rabbi”‘s view is racist and wrong. Jo, I’m really sorry you’re hurt. But if you care at all about Judaism, you should *want* us to stand by the halakha even if it results in a situation you dislike.

  25. @Rabbi: Very interesting. I like this idea and I’m glad to hear that someone thinks someone who believes in Torah and mitzvos ought to convert, cause I do too.

    @Jo: I emailed you!

  26. Jo and Laura- try contacting Eternal Jewish Family (EJF). Yes, I know the name sounds weird, but I know people in similar situations who have had good results! And they are accepted by Israel. They work a lot with cases like both of yours. Good luck!

  27. Thoughts from an orthodox jew, on your situation:

    “I’m tired of having it implied that the God of my fathers doesn’t want my davening.” Incorrect, and anyone who made you feel that way is wrong! G-d wants all of our davening (jew and gentile alike). We say in davening multiple times on Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and fast days: “Ki Beisi, Beis Tefillah yikoray lechol hoamin” “For my house will be called a house of prayer, for all nations” (Isaiah 56:7).The difference is jews have (it harder) a greater responsibility, and are supposed to live to a higher ethical and moral standard, we’re supposed to be a light onto the world.

    Much of the basis for an Orthdox conversion, comes from the book of Ruth (How many times Naomi tried to dissuade Ruth, Ruth’s answers, Ruth’s commitment to keeping the torah and the commandments, etc….). I can understand your dilemma and frustration, but the process, needs to be the same for all individuals. What would the religion be like if we had different processes and barometers for different people, and who would decide, which person qualifies for which. (Essentially) The same issues we have now, about who qualifies as a jew, and why can’t the road be made easier, we would be having about who qualifies for the easier, shorter path. And where would that put us, everyone would be one step further removed in the process…..

    I know a girl, who’s convinced her (maternal) grandmother was jewish and she’s trying to prove it. Most of us in America, have european roots, probably grandparents or great grandparents. Spend a little time studying your genealogy, go back as many generations as possible, you may already be jewish.

  28. Thanks for putting your thoughts down on paper. It’s time the Jewish people started working together not only to combat assimilation, but also alienation.

  29. To be clear, having been a member of a Beit Din in good standing and having been a rabbi on a campus, we did / do exactly what the writer suggests — support and gently nudge people like him to convert in accordance with halacha. Many students with similar stories approached me. We worked with them to quickly convert — al pi halacha. Yes, we only converted those who were completely shomer mitzvot. But we made the process simple and the environment supportive. I now teach in Israel and spoke with my students about this exact issue. We learned the halacha (from Talmud through modern poskim and everything in between) and discussed the importance of supporting this group of Jews to go through a full conversion process. We called it a “tikkun al pi halacha.”

  30. Even after you convert, they will just comment on who did your conversion and then judge you based on whether or not they personally consider your conversion to be acceptable and then do everything they can to prevent you from marrying their sons/daughters since at any moment you could decide to be Christian (meanwhile, if they did the same thing they’d still be Jewish).

    Let’s be clear– This is about purity of blood.
    It doesn’t matter what you do, your blood will never, EVER be pure. Orthodox Jews care only about the purity of blood, and have no concern for purity of soul, spirituality, etc.

    The Reform community will accept you. The Conservative community will too.
    Let the Orthodoxy rot from the inside out. Don’t sell your soul to them or try to convince them you have pure blood.
    Be proud of who you are. Pray to the G-d of your fathers. Believe in what you believe in, and don’t apologize for it.

  31. All cards on the table, you’ve dealt with to much run around. Here are the facts.

    From an orthodox perspective for a conversion to be legitimate, the person must be knowledgeable in the laws relating to living a hallachic lifestyle. You cannot convert to be conservative or reform. If you are going to be accepted and converted, you MUST be willing to live a religious life, with all the mitzvot and obligations that go along with that. This is why orthodox Rabbis try to convince you out of conversion. They need to weed out those who are 100% dedicated (and 100% means 100% for the rest of your life). As most people are not willing to do the work and learning that are necessary, the orthodox world does significantly less conversions that other sects. I DO know many people who HAVE successfully converted, and once the Rabbis and Beit Din know you are serious, the process is very streamlined.

    While I sympathize with your situation, it is hardly an issue the orthodox world faces on a regular basis. Understand that the intermarriage rate for the orthodox world is less than 6%*(see link to chart and article). As such, most of those in your predicament do not come from an orthodox background and are not interested in becoming orthodox. Therefore, the orthodox community does not specialize with this issue. The orthodox conversions that closest resemble your situation are people who are becoming religiously observant (orthodox) and in the process find out that they either are not Jewish at all, or that they have questionable antecedence. Once again, in those situations, the process is VERY streamlined and done with the highest care and concern.

    If you are interested in doing an orthodox conversion, I would recommend getting in touch with Aish Hatorah (www.aish.com) or a similar organization.

    I hope this explains things a little better.

    *http://www.simpletoremember.com/vitals/will-your-grandchild-be-jewish-chart-graph.htm

  32. I do not recommend going to Eternal Jewish Family, as it will cause people to question the resulting conversion. For example, this is a statement sent out by the London Beis Din:

    In conjunction with the decision of made by the standing committee of the Conference of European Rabbis (CER) that met in Moscow in the month of Kislev we strongly object to involvement of the organization known as the Eternal Jewish Family (EJF) in matters of conversion in Europe. By virtue of the fact that the abovementioned organization (EJF) involves itself in matters of conversion to actively influence gentiles to convert which is against the traditions of our community from previous times, and there is a concern for a breach of the walls of our faith in Europe, and by virtue of the fact that the leaders of this aforementioned organization caused a desecration of the Divine Name and a disgrace to the name of the Orthodox Rabbinate throughout the world in recent weeks, we the leaders of the Kehilos HaKodesh in Europe call upon the organization called the Eternal Jewish Family to cancel their planned seminar in Munich. If they do not heed our request we call upon the Rabbis that were invited to the seminar not to participate with them and to guard themselves from entering there.

    Signed,
    The London Beis Din
    The State Beis Din
    The Conference of European Rabbis

    They were caught in scandals involving strong-arming other courts, financial shinanagans, and their founder’s very-far-from-halachic sexual escapades were on YouTube. He’s no longer with them. But their name will raise questions, not ease things.

  33. Thanks, guys. This is great.
    @Robert: I did a brief attempt, but it looks like Lithuanian Catholics all the way back. (Also, 100% musicians, that was fun to find.)
    @Seth: I agree. I like ITIM, by the way.
    @orthomod: That’s good to know. You mentioned a “full conversion process in accordance with halacha,” which brings up a main problem, I think. Someone who might originally want to have an Orthodox conversion and is being unduly discouraged is much more likely to just go to Reform or liberal Conservative where it’s easier, than he is to either keep trying or even less likely, be a “righteous gentile.” I don’t think that’s really the best solution for a variety of reasons. I think making the process even a little less daunting would make a stronger Orthodoxy, not a weaker one.
    @AZ: Oh, you!
    @Noach: Re: 100% dedication, I think a lot of patrilineal people don’t feel that they can “go back” like a regular person raised Christian might, if things don’t work out. I think at least my own discomfort with living in this middle zone has made me see that being less than 100% anything isn’t an option. You’d think that the Conservative world would face this a lot. It can’t be that EVERY child from all intermarriages only want to be Reform.

    The orthodox conversions that closest resemble your situation are people who are becoming religiously observant (orthodox) and in the process find out that they either are not Jewish at all
    I found this out when I was a teenager. Does that count?

    Re: Aish, they did accept me into their kiruv program…I could just be like, “I’m sold.”

  34. @micha: I saw that. It reminds me of the interdenominational conversion court they used to have that also failed (in New Haven, I think it’s in Jew vs. Jew).

  35. Laura,

    If you were to contact Aish and explain to them that you are serious about becoming a full fledge Torah Observant (orthodox) Jew, I imagine you’d be on your way. But as I mentioned, there is no halfway when it comes to orthodox conversions: it’s got to be all or nothing.

  36. I agree. Really, I might do that. I’m moving to Brooklyn soon (if all goes according to plan, I’m leaving in four days and hoping for the best), and if I can’t find a rabbi who likes me I might contact them.

  37. I could not agree more. I was treated like a shiksa that met her Jewish boyfriend in a bar. I kept wanting to (shomer) shake my rabbis and say “I WAS RAISED JEWISH!”

  38. @ Laura and @Jo,
    My heart goes out to your plight. If you are truly sincere in your desire to join the Jewish people and live a life that is 100% committed to Torah and Mitzvot(and it certainly sounds like you are), then don’t give up. Take strength from Moshe Ben Amram’s advice to Am Yisrael: “Be strong and of good courage!”. Don’t let obstacles bring you down. Keep learning and show authentic Jewish chutzpah by not taking “no” for an answer. The process may take years and you might need to approach more than one beit din (sadly, some seem to have forgotten Rambam’s instructions on the subject of giyur). G-d be with you!

  39. First thing, Eternal Jewish Families has pretty much fallen apart and I’d never have recommended them, as their system was corrupt. I know people who wasted quite a bit of money and YEARS trying to get through them and not just one or two people. I almost went through them myself and was grateful that I went another direction, after the scandal broke. (The head of the organization was coercing a woman into sexual favors and she recorded their conversations to take to another rabbi to help. He leaked them to the press, turning it into a fiasco and putting her into a difficult position.)

    Like the author, I have a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother. Also like the author, I wanted to convert and to do it the right way. There were certainly challenges, including the necessity of moving in my situation, and obstacles such as rabbis leaving communities mid-process and my having to find a new sponsoring rabbi. At one point, I had no option and just pursued learning to make the process easier, which actually proved helpful, as one rabbi gave me credit for that effort and was willing to help me.

    The author is right, the process is made harder than it should be to complete. Worse, it has gotten political. Like many others, shortly after becoming engaged, I had a giyur l’chumra thrown at me. (I still believe it is horrible that people wait to bring up such an issue until such a happy time. I know a few others who have been through it and it is both painful and adds a great deal of stress. In my case, a phone call to the rabbi with me in tears two weeks before my wedding is what finally brought about me going for a bracha less dip days before my wedding. I literally went to mikvah twice in three days before my wedding! Few people understood why it was painful or why I was so stressed out, having seen them drag out other people’s experiences ridiculously long. Worse, outside of one person, everyone insisted it was not a question of my being Jewish or not, which made it entirely political.) So, even when you finally complete things, it doesn’t always mean that you are actually past that point, which can be difficult.

    All of that said, I felt people did a lot to try and reach out to me, as I was in the process of converting and after conversion. There were many people who had me for meals, learned with me, and otherwise accepted me as one of their own. People are not perfect and certainly politics make things more difficult, but there is some truth to the notion that a year of living the life being necessary, both to experience the calendar and to experience the good and bad of the community.

    The fact is, we were not born Jewish and, although not entirely not Jewish, we were not born Jewish. We have choice about taking on the responsibilities of a Jew, just like any other convert, but yet we have a mish mash of some of the BT issues that gerim do not always face. Those of us with Kohanim for fathers can add some confusion to the mix. The path is often easier for us than those without Jewish ancestry, at least that was my experience, but I had an obviously Jewish last name prior to marriage. (Still do, probably more so, but the point is that the maiden last name was also very Jewish sounding.) Not everyone knows what to do with us, when we come and say we want to convert, as represent a very small minority. The majority of intermarriage offspring do not follow Judaism, even in Reform fashion, and very few choose observance. We exist, obviously, and I know several like us who have taken this path, but it is a derech rarely chosen en masse. It is understandable that rabbis may not know what to make of such, especially when so many of those who start out, especially in our ranks, do not finish the process. Very often, those raised Jewish who find out that they do not have that Halachic standing do not complete the process and it creates doubt to the rest of us. I don’t think rabbis quite understand the difference between those of us who knew we were not Jewish, those who did not know, and those who don’t want to accept not being Jewish by birth. However, as those categories exist, it creates a lot of possible variables that rabbis have to sort through individually with each of us and that takes time.

    Remember, if they bring you on board, they pay the price if you go off the road, just like they would with anyone else. We can celebrate together, but they have to try and make sure everything is kosher. Now, some rabbis do that with greater care and compassion than others, some rabbis are clueless to how they make the experience painful, and some could care less. Finding a good match with a rabbi and someone who knows about how to handle the political waves can make the process a great deal easier. At the end of the day, if you’re not happy with how it is working out, you are the one who must make a decision if you need to involve a different rabbi.

    I cannot wish you an easy journey, but I can hope that it is easier than what you have thus far experienced and that it is meaningful for both you and your future family.

  40. I think you might find Rabbi Yosef Blau of Yeshiva University (see: http://www.yu.edu/riets/faculty/mashgichim/) helpful. I have no specific knowledge that he is directly involved in the conversion process. He is a beautiful human being, he is highly experienced, and he has a very broad and sophisticated view of the world in general, as well as of the various Orthodox Jewish worlds in particular. Even if he is personally able to offer you no more than a “referral onward”, I think that alone could be helpful. People like him often have “networks” full of similar people.

    Best wishes!

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