As the son of a Pole who lost touch with his Jewish roots and married a non-Jewish woman, I went through the conversion process, including Brit Milah, Mikvah, and Beit Din, to reclaim that heritage. Why, as a person who prays daily, with regard to Aliyah, etc. am I considered less than a Jew in the eyes of those I view as family?
Thank you for your question. I am sorry for what you have gone through. You certainly are Jewish in my view, and according to my understanding of halakhah (Jewish law).
Part of what may be going on is that Jews are both members of a religion, and of a people or nation. You have joined Jews as a religion. I believe that you also have joined the people, but some Jews may not realize that. In my experience, Jews who do not take their religion seriously, who do not pray daily, are often those who understand their being Jewish as simply ethnic, and who do not recognize a Jew such as yourself as fully Jewish. This debate goes back to the Bible: Ezra did not allow Jewish men to continue to live with wives not born Jews, and did not seem to accept conversion as making someone really Jewish. Ruth presents the model Jew by choice who cast her lot with her mother-in-law and the Jewish people.
There also is political debate. In Israel, the Orthodox rabbinate represents the established religion, and the official rabbis tend to reject any non-Orthodox rabbis or conversions not authorized by Orthodox rabbis whom they recognize.
More information may be found in theTalmud, Yebamot 471-b, and a letter written by Rabbi Moses Maimonides to Obadiah the Proselyte (may be found at http://www.lookstein.org/online_journal.php?id=257).
Your question indicates that someone has told you that, as a convert, you are "less than a Jew."
On its face, this statement is absolutely incorrect. The Talmud (B. Yevamot 47b) declares that once an individual has completed the conversion process "he is considered yisrael - a Jew - in all respects." You have nothing to be ashamed of; your Jewishness is as "Jewish" as that of those who were born with that status. Indeed, as Maimonides wrote in a famous responsum, the ger (convert) in some ways enjoys an even more exalted Jewish status: "if we (Jews by birth) trace our ancestry back to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, you can trace yours back to the One who spoke created the world."
Our tradition teaches that all of us - Jews by birth and Jews by choice alike - stood at Sinai and said "yes" to the Torah and to God's covenant. In a legal sense, your conversion process - Brit Milah, Mikveh, Beit Din - is a symbolic reenactment of the process that our ancestors went through before they received the Torah (B. Keritot 9a). Legally, then, as well as spiritually, you are just as "Jewish" as any other Jew.
This doesn't mean that you won't encounter difficulties with some Jews who are prejudiced with respect to converts. You will; indeed, you already have. But that's all it is - prejudice, an all-too-human weakness. The best response you can make to it is to do exactly what you're doing: to identify and to live fully as a Jew.
You are not "less than a Jew"... neither according to Jewish law, nor in the eyes of your family.
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