I am interested in converting to Judaism. While I currently have no friends or family who are Jewish, I have been doing quite a bit of personal study, while praying to G-d for discernment on the matter, and feel deeply that this is the right choice for myself and my family. My husband is very supportive and has agreed for our family to live a Jewish lifestyle, he would like to learn more before making the decision to convert himself. I have two questions. First, is it possible for myself and our son (he is 4) to convert, with my husband's blessing, if my husband does not choose to as well? Second, there are only 2 synagogues in my area, both of which are at least a 40 minute drive from our home. One is conservative, the other reform. The nearest orthodox synagogue is about 2 hours away. Is it possible to receive our instructing of Judaism in a conservative synagogue, but the actual conversion (mikvah and so forth) in the orthodox one due to proximity reasons? I hope that makes sense.
Thanks so much for your question. Conversion to Judaism is a long process as it means joining a cultural civilization, not just a religious tradition. Learning the smells of Passover, the internal feelings of Yom Kippur, and the joyful exuberance of Israeli dancing can take a lifetime. I wish you luck in your own spiritual journey. It is wonderful that your husband is supportive of this process. Without family support, I rarely encourage someone to continue the conversion process. Jewish practice is largely a home-based religion. What happens in the synagogue is just one part of a larger puzzle.
You raise two questions. To your first question, I think that it is possible to convert, and to have your son convert) when your husband is not Jewish. While it is not the normal conversion journey (as if there were such a thing), it is technically possible. But the requirements for conversion vary from community to community, and from rabbi to rabbi. I would encourage you to consult the rabbis in your community to determine whether they would work with you given those circumstances. While I don't know how they will respond, I would encourage you to wait for your conversion until your entire family is ready to proceed.
There is no mitzvah to become Jewish. I mean that it is not deemed more holy or better to be Jewish. Being Jewish provides no special access to God or special privilege to enter Heaven. Being Jewish is just one way of being in the world. Because of that, the rabbis intentionally made conversion a process that was not required of people, and also forbade proselytizing of any kind. And since there is no mitzvah to be Jewish, you could visit a synagogue, begin to study and learn about the Jewish community, and begin to experiment with some Jewish practices. In that sense, being an ohev yisrael (a lover of Israel) might be a good path before choosing to convert. It can be difficult to be Jewish in a home where not everyone is Jewish. Depending on your level of observance you can have different eating needs, different shabbat experiences, and just a different practice and outlook on the world. Doing that through the process of conversion is incredibly challenging. While I will admit that it can be done, it is not the path I would choose for anyone. Kohelet wrote that there is a time for everything in its proper season. My advice is to wait until the proper season has come for your entire family to travel this road together.
To respond to your second question, I think it is unlikely that your conversion would be completed in an orthodox community when the study has not taken place there. That said, if the mikvah is open to liberal communities for conversion, then the mikvah itself could take place in an orthodox building. But most rabbis will accompany you through the entire process, including mikvah and completing the conversion. Although many denominations work well together around issues of status, a conversion completed with a non-orthodox rabbi will not be accepted within the orthodox community.
Let me answer your question by explaing an Orthodox conversion process. Four commitments are required: one, the candidate must live proximate to and participate in a local Orthodox community; two, the candidate must pursue a course of formal and informal Jewish education; three, the candidate must increasingly observe Jewish law, custom and practice; and four, the candidate must have a rabbinical sponsor who will set up a network of partners to work with the conversion candidate and empower the candidate to be responsible for his or her own advancement through the process. in your particular case, I would add a fifth requirement -- namely, that you and your husband pursue parallel conversion tracks.
Living within walking distance of an Orthodox community is essential, as Jewish life cannot best be learned from books or classes, but needs to be observed and experienced firsthand, such as learning how Jewish parents conduct their Shabbat table or how a Jewish homemaker koshersand prepares for Passover. While the particulars of observance can be learned from books, the totality of experiential Jewish living can only be internalized by participating in an observant, learned and learning community. It is important for a conversion candidate to have multiple teachers in order to help facilitate a more comprehensive education, as well as to recognize legitimate variation within the observant Jewish world. Requiring the candidate to live within walking distance of an Orthodox community not only makes requisite Shabbat observance possible, but also increases his or her communal integration.
Developing a broad base of friendships and connections within the community will also deepen the candidate’s initiation into and identification with the Orthodox community. Likewise, while it is important to foster a good relationship between a conversion candidate and his or her rabbinical guide, multiple lay and professional mentors and teachers will properly cultivate the candidate’s Jewish bond to Hashem (God), Torah and community, rather than a dependent, charismatic attachment to a rabbinical figure. In sum, an effective conversion process requires living within a supportive and inviting community that becomes the candidate’s teachers, having a defined course of self and partnered study and enrollment in community classes, and applying one’s formal and informal learning increasingly to personal religious practice, all under the supervision of a guiding rabbi. This holds true whether one converts in the United States or in Israel.
There are several reasons why you and your husband will need to pursue this together. First, if your conversion process would be successful, then you would no longer be the person who your husband chose to marry. And if he would stay the same, he would no longer be a person to whom you could stay married (since it would be an intermarriage) or likely with whom you would want to stay married since you will not share the most fundamental and essential foundational values to your home.
My advice would be for you and your husband to make a joint decision. Should you choose to proceed, you should consider exploring local Orthodox Jewish communities, meet with their rabbis, and then find a way to live within walking distance of the Orthodox Jewish community that best suits your journey. Begin a conversion process there and establish relationships. And should you not be able to commit to this process jointly, you should strongly consider living your life according to the seven Noahide laws that form the universal covenant that God created with all humanity. For more information, see http://asknoah.org/
God bless and all good wishes for a successful journey.
[A large portion of this answer was adapted from a similar answer that I wrote at http://www.jewishboston.com/Ask-A-Rabbi/blogs/5678-how-do-i-convert-to-orthodox-judaism]
It is certainly wonderful that you have found spiritual meaning and personal relevance in Judaism, and I welcome you to the beginning of the conversion process. It is an amazing time in someone’s life. As a rabbi, working with individuals on the path to conversion has always been personally inspiring for me- I can only imagine how exciting it is for you. To answer your questions:
Yes, you and your son may convert even though your husband will not be converting. While it is complicated to be creating a family which no longer shares the same religious convictions, Conservative Judaism recognizes that an individual’s spiritual path is not dependant on the participation of others. As long as your husband is supportive and willing to allow you to live Jewishly, by observing Shabbat, keeping kosher, observing holidays and (most importantly) raising your son to be Jewish, you should proceed with your conversion. In order to navigate this potentially complicated path though, you and your husband should meet with a local rabbi for direction and assistance. For more on the logic of this ruling, the eminent rabbinic scholar, Rabbi Ben Zion Bergman wrote of conversions in which the spouse remains of the previous faith back in 1993, which is posted in this link below. http://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/sites/default/files/public/halakhah/teshuvot/19912000/bergman_unconverted.pdf
In short, the answer is no. If you take classes with a Reform rabbi, you will convert under the authority and through the rituals of that rabbi; so too for a Conservative rabbi; so too for an Orthodox rabbi. Some special circumstances may apply. Here in Denver Colorado, the Reform and Conservative streams of Judaism operate a joint conversion class and ritual process called the Community Conversion Board. Until 1984, all three streams of Judaism, Reform, Conservative and Orthodox, collaborated on this process together. However, in most communities, you will take classes and meet with a rabbi from a given movement and be converted under the auspices of that movement. Where you pray after your conversion, though, will be entirely up to you- your conversion does not bind you to that movement for life.
In the event you begin attending another synagogue, you should be aware that the three major movements are not entirely aligned regarding conversions. The Reform movement recognizes Conservative and Orthodox conversions. Most but not all Reform conversions are accepted by Conservative synagogues. Orthodox communities generally do not accept Reform and Conservative conversions. Also note that the three movements have different attitudes on driving to synagogue on Shabbat. It is permitted according to the Reform and Conservative movements, but not by Orthodox standards.
All of these questions, in addition to the guidance I have provided, should be elaborated on by a sponsoring rabbi for conversion. Best wishes and blessings on your journey.
I begin my advice with a quote from the Mishna (Pirke Avot 1:6): “Joshua ben Perachyah said, “Get yourself a teacher (and) find someone to study with…” The process of conversion involves first finding yourself a rabbi who will serve as your sponsor and mentor. He or she will guide you through the process and help you determine the answers to your other questions.
A conversion that creates an interfaith marriage and family will be an issue for many rabbis and you will need to explore your reasons for doing so with your rabbi. The possibility of receiving instruction in a Conservative setting and then immersion in an Orthodox one is something that your rabbi will be able to explore with his or her Orthodox colleagues.
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