Tag Archives: conversion

They Say You Can’t Choose Your Family…



A letter I received:

Dear Sir,

 

I am considering conversion to Judaism, but I have two questions.

First, my husband does not believe in G-d, though I do. Is it possible to still convert or do I need to choose between him
and my religion?

Second, I understand from talking to and meeting with other Jewish people that family is an essential part of the Jewish
community. I cannot have children. Is that going to make me unwelcome or an outcast?

 

My Answer:



I have often said that a true friend does not make you choose between friends.

The first thing to realize is that there really is no need per se for you to convert at all. You could (more easily, in fact) just be a Noahide and attain a portion in the World to Come without conversion. You need not choose at all. And indeed, in your situation, it is what I would advise. Hashem does not ask you to choose between Judaism and your husband.



However, should you choose to convert to Judaism, that would make you a Jew, and thus fully obligated to keep all the Commandments and Laws of the Torah. One of those Laws forbids us from being married or living with a non-Jew.

Once Jewish, you, just like me, and just like every other Jew, would be forbidden to be with a non-Jewish spouse. This is why I would suggest that you do not convert. I see no reason for you to destroy your family life. And you have no obligation to convert to Judaism. As I wrote above, one does not need to be Jewish to merit a portion in the World to Come.



Therefore, I suggest that you check out the Noahide movement. If you keep those Seven Laws and their details, you are what Hashem asks of human beings, and you need do no more to go to Heaven. See the link below.

In my opinion, people should never put themselves into situations where they have to choose between loves. If you love your husband and he loves you, stay with him and love him all the more. G-d does not enjoy dividing families. Sometimes it becomes necessary, and in such cases it often must be done, but — only if it must be done.



As to your other question, which was whether you would be shunned or treated as a pariah because you cannot have children: that is not the case. There is no reason to believe this. There are, sad to say, many, many people today — Jews as well — who have difficulty having children. Some are helped via medical means, or perhaps other means I’m not aware of, but many have not been able to benefit from these means, unfortunately. Whether a person can have children is entirely up to G-d. People with this sad difficulty do what they can, since we are required to do so. But ultimately, even after all the effort people put into these things, it’s all in G-d’s Hands.

The point I’m making is that we all know this, and everyone knows this problem exists, in Jewish society as well. There are people who belong to Jewish support groups for this issue, and there are organizations that try and help people solve the issues, to offer financial assistance for medical treatments, etc.



Admittedly, it might be hard to live in a society that is so child-oriented when one has no children. People do it, but many people feel the emotional pain all the more so because they live in such a society. Of course, each situation might be different. And as I said, there are support groups for childless women, and for men as well.

I have read that younger married people without children do tend to feel a bit left out. Not shunned or outcast, but simply not fully part of things like everyone else. At the very least, they feel uncomfortable always being around other people’s children, hearing parents talk about their children, or about PTA, and so forth. None of this is deliberately aimed at hurting anyone; it’s just that our society is centered around the family.

So what I’m saying is that you would not be shunned. People would understand, and they wouldn’t hassle you or make you feel outcast. But that doesn’t mean that you personally will feel comfortable. That might be up to you.

One thing that is necessary in being Jewish: total immersion as much as possible. It is absolutely required that we live in a Jewish neighborhood, within walking distance of an Orthodox synagogue. We spend our time doing Jewish things, learning from and interacting with other Jewish people, and so on and so forth.



Becoming Jewish involves a total «makeover» of all the spiritual aspects of your life. This cannot be done without the support of friends.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Check out the Noahides Yahoo Group, at: Rachav’s B’nai Noah Group to find out about the Noahide Movement.

The Teenage Convert



Here is a letter I received from a teenager who wants to convert to Judaism sometime in the future. Meanwhile, he is having problems with his family. (I have edited his letter a little.)

Shalom.

I am a Christian but I have strong Jewish beliefs. That is, one day I would like to be a child of Israel. The problem is, I am 16 years old and I live with two very much christian parents. I have recently engaged in never-ending arguments about whether or not Jesus is G-d or the Messiah.
The problem is, I can put forward a fair argument that he is not G-d, but I can’t seem to find evidence that he is not the Messiah. My main stumbling point is that I don’t know how to point the prophecies of Isaiah and the like away from Jesus. My mother can interpret the prophecies towards Jesus. Could you please help me? I know that Jesus is not the Messiah and it’s silly to say he’s G-d. But I would like to shut my parents up with their «the
only way to heaven is through Jesus» rubbish. So if you could give me any information, any quote that could help me, I would be ever thankful.

Thank you,
Michael Smith (not his real name)

Dear Michael,



Hi, I read your letter with interest. I understand the problem you have, with the conflict between what you believe and understand and what your family believes. This can be no easy trial.

I can give you the information you seek, or tell you where to get it. The information would be very useful, and eventually necessary, to you.



But before I do that, please allow me to mention something else. It says in Proverbs 3:17 that the ways of the Torah are «ways of sweetness, and all her paths are peace.» It is true that sometimes we have to fight, but it is usually best to attempt the way of peace first. And after all, it says in Psalms 133:1, «How good and sweet it is for brothers to sit together.» It must be even better to sit with parents, even when we disagree with them fundamentally and deeply.

You’re in a difficult situation. But what you believe, you believe. It obviously does not depend on what your parents believe. I admire you very much for strongly holding on to what you believe in the face of your parents’ objections. That’s a good thing, and you should try to keep that. But you must also remember that the Torah commands us to honor our parents. The Talmud says that of all the 613 Commandments in the Torah, the hardest one is «Honor your father and mother.»



And not only that, but the Torah commands us to treat our parents with awe also, not just honor (Leviticus 19:3).

Consider this: no Rabbi will convert you before you reach the age of adulthood according to the laws of your country or city. Do you really want to spend all your time until then fighting and being miserable?



A few days of not responding when someone is angry at you is usually enough to get them to stop. If you make it clear that you won’t get involved in a fight, adults will usually stop arguing or yelling. Not always, but usually.

But more importantly, the Torah awards great reward in the World To Come, and grants tremendous amounts of spiritual attainments in this world, to people who are silent during a fight. The Talmud (Sabbath 88b) says:



The Rabbis taught: Those who are insulted but do not insult, who hear their embarrassment but do not respond, they act with love and rejoice in their troubles, the Torah says about them (Judges 5:31): «And Hashem’s beloved are like the sunrise in all its glory.»

And the Talmud also says in Chullin 89a, «The world continues to exist only because of those who close their mouths during a fight.»

What you believe in your heart cannot be touched if you do not allow it. You can, meanwhile, study about Judaism, and be ready when the time comes, instead of being told that you are not ready to convert because you haven’t studied enough yet.

Because there will come a time when you will no longer be living at home, you will no longer be relying on your parents for the things you need. You will be on your own, and you will not need to fight with your parents over every big and little thing. And when the time comes, you will be ready.

If you truly wish to become a Child of Israel and fulfill the Torah’s Commandments to the best of your ability, perhaps you can start with this Commandment — that of honoring your parents and not fighting with them.



In the long run, you will gain nothing by fighting with them, because you will never be able to convince them.

But also try and understand them. Whether they are right or wrong, they probably feel pain because you do not believe what they believe. Most parents want their children to believe what they believe. Even atheists — who often say they want their children to make their own choices — feel pain when their children become religious.

You have to make your own choices in life. You must be true to yourself. You can’t — and shouldn’t — go against what you believe, and that’s not always easy. But you should try and lessen the pain for them. Don’t make them suffer. Believe it or not, they just might love you.

So, I will give you the information you request, but please, when you write things like «I would like to shut my parents up,» maybe you should consider another way — the way of peace and honor, if possible.



The information I give you should be for yourself. You should know and understand what Judaism believes. Don’t let Christians confuse you. But when you talk to your parents, try to explain to them that you love them, you don’t want to hurt them, but you have to do what you believe.

The very last sentence in the Mishnah (the skeleton Laws of the Talmud) is the teaching: «The Holy One, Blessed is He, showed us that the best container to hold blessings is peace. Therefore, the Torah (Psalms 29:11) says, «Hashem will give power to His people, Hashem will bless His people with peace.»

The Mishnah ends off with the word peace, and with a teaching about peace, and all our prayers throughout the prayer book end with a prayer for peace. For there is no power without peace, and there is no blessing without peace. (By the way, you greeted me with the word «Shalom.» Shalom means peace, and it also means «wholeness.» Without peace, there can be no completeness in a person.)

At the bottom is a link to a page you can look at with a list of pages that cite proofs against Christian beliefs.



I hope I have been able to help you. If you have questions about any specific «proof» your mother or any other Christian says, please write me and I will be glad to discuss the matter with you. If someone tries to prove something Christian to you by quoting a verse from the Jewish Bible, we can discuss it together, if that discussion does not appear on any of the websites in those links.

Also, feel free to write me about any other thing you want to discuss.

Usually, by the way, when your mother quotes you a verse, all you need to do is look up the chapter and verse being quoted. It is usually mistranslated, and it is almost always taken out of context. So, if you get a good translation, read the entire chapter (that is, the verses both before and after the verse being quoted), and you will usually see that the verse they quoted does not prove what they are saying. Quite the contrary, it usually proves the opposite of what the Christians say!

But the most important thing is to study and learn what you need to know. Read the articles on this site, and check out the links on my links page. There are many resources online from which to learn Judaism.



May Hashem be with you, and may you know only peace and completeness all your life.

Non-Orthodox Conversions: Are They Valid?



This is, understandably a very sensitive subject. I have no desire to offend anyone; I just wish to explain Jewish Law.

First and foremost, it is vital to understand that a principle of Orthodox Judaism is that we cannot permit anything that Jewish law has previously forbidden. It is the very essence of Orthodox Judaism that Jewish Law cannot allow and has not allowed such changes to take place, and that this has never taken place in all of our history (with one minor exception, possibly — that the Rabbis permitted writing down the basics of the Oral Torah — the Talmud — to prevent its being forgotten or changed).



Thus, we cannot change the Laws of the Torah by permitting what the Torah has forbidden, or by being more lenient than the Torah allows. This is axiomatic in Torah Judaism. Therefore, to us, any order that makes such a change, is to us heretical.

Of course, this applies not only to groups, but to individuals as well. Each Jew must do his or her best to keep the Torah fully, as much as is applicable to that person. Likewise, a convert must assume firm resolve to perform all the Commandments that will be relevant to him/her. A convert, at the time of conversion, must intend to keep the Commandments. If at the time of conversion s/he has (or had) no intention of keeping the Commandments, the conversion is not valid.



It is forbidden to convert someone who has an ulterior motive for converting. But if it should happen that a person converts and assumes all the Commandments, and we find out afterwards that s/he had an ulterior motive, the conversion is still valid.(1)

However, not assuming the responsibility of observing the Torah is another matter. The convert must declare before the full Court his intention to fulfill the Commandments. If he failed to do so, the conversion was never valid at all.(2)



When converting to non-Orthodoxy, whether it be Reform, Conservative, or Reconstructionist, one is ipso facto assuming very few (in some cases none) of the Commandments.

In other words, in most cases of non-Orthodox «conversion,» no conversion has taken place at all.



There are yet other issues. The presiding Judges must also act as witnesses to the conversion. A conversion is valid only if the witnesses themselves are valid witnesses in a Jewish Court. This has nothing to do with affiliation. An Orthodox Jew could be an invalid witness as well. Here are some of the disqualifications: someone who eats non-kosher food; one who publicly does not keep Sabbath or the Holidays, even if the infraction is minor; a gambler; a proven defrauder; a usurer; a freethinker; a heretic; or someone who has sworn falsely in court. Anyone who publicly does not fulfill even only one Jewish Law is not valid as a witness. (Past behavior, now corrected, usually does not count.) And not only sinners, but also someone who knows little or no Torah, even if he’s Orthodox, is not acceptable as a Rabbinic Judge.(4)

If the conversion has not been witnessed by people whom Jewish Law accepts as valid witnesses, no matter what their affiliation, Orthodox Judaism cannot accept that conversion.



These are just some of the reasons that make non-Orthodox conversions very problematic.

A friend of mine (an Orthodox Jew) is a convert who was first converted Conservative. He later learned about Orthodox Judaism, and decided this was what he wanted.

There was an interesting wrinkle in his case. The people witnessing his conversion were actually Orthodox. In the Midwestern town in which they lived there was no Orthodox synagogue in which to pray, so these aged Orthodox men prayed with the Conservative. The key factor here is that even though they were part of a conservative community, and prayed in a Conservative synagogue, they were fully and properly Observant. Thus, it seemed possible that his conversion, though it was done by the Conservative, could have been Halachically valid.

But then the Rabbi handling his Orthodox conversion discovered a very pivotal piece of information. The conservative official had failed to inform and teach this convert properly. He had refused to teach him the very basic Principle of Jewish Faith that the entire Torah — both the Written and Oral Torah — was created and composed by G-d, and given to us by G-d via great and open miracles at Mount Sinai. Furthermore, the Torah has not been changed since G-d composed it.



According to Maimonides (the classic Jewish legal codifier), this is a fundamental belief, and whoever does not accept this is a heretic and has no share in the World to Come. One who does not accept and believe this Principle is not a valid convert. Thus, this person’s «conversion» was not valid, despite the fact that acceptable witnesses were present at his performance of the conversion rituals.

The pity of it is that many Reform, Conservative, or Reconstructionist «converts» are very sincere. (For that matter, so are many of the Jews born into those movements.) It is often no fault of their own that they are not considered Jewish by that conversion. It is only their lack of knowledge, and the misleading assurances of the non-Orthodox leaders that they have «sufficiently» converted.

But a question remains: How can anyone say that non-Orthodox converts have not sufficiently converted? Aren’t they sincere?

This is indeed a good point.



Imagine that there was a member of the Iraqi underground (if there had been such a thing). He lives in Iraq, but he always resented Saddam Hussein. He considered and considers himself an American at heart. He fought valiantly against the Iraqi army on behalf of the United States. He planted American flags at every place he conquers. He dispersed tracts about the American form of government throughout Iraq.

One day, after the war ends, and he takes an aiplane flight to America. He arrives triumphantly on the shores of the U.S., and loudly demands to be given a mansion and free room and board, like any good American.

Understandably, people try to put some water on his fire. There is no mansion waiting for him, despite whatever he was told about Americans. He is also told that he is not yet a citizen. He must first fill out the forms, he must wait on line, he must get approved and accepted, he must swear or affirm an oath, he must actually find a job, and he must — gasp — pay taxes!

«But how can you do this to me?!» he shouts. «I am an American war hero! I am a citizen! It is my right! I have killed and put my life in danger for this country! How dare you tell me I have no right to call myself an American! And pay taxes? It’s an outrage!»



There can be little doubt of his sincerity. There can be no doubt of his desire to be an American, under his terms. But regardless of his sincerity, he has to follow the rules. If he does not file the forms, or take the oath, he cannot become an American citizen, regardless of his sincerity.

And if he refuses to pay taxes, he just might go to jail, or even get deported, regardless of his heroism.

The American ideal involves all the more difficult aspects of American life as well as the supposed freedom and liberty it touts. We must pay taxes, to keep the government we consider the bastion of freedom. We must keep within the speed limits when driving, because that is the price of republican government. And so on and so forth.

Above all, we must work for a living, because the American dream does not mean being supported by the government, but striking it rich through hard work and ingenuity.



Judaism has its rules as well. Not everyone who wants to be called Jewish is automatically called Jewish, just because s/he «feels Jewish.» They might even be a true hero — for which they are guaranteed to be rewarded — but they are not Jewish if they do not follow the procedure. And they are not exempt from obeying the Laws, regardless of their war record. They may be righteous Gentiles, and they may even be more righteous than some Jews, but that does not make them Jews. (Nor does it make them lesser people in any way.)

The degree of sincerity is irrelevant if the actual deed has not been done. If one has not converted to Judaism, one is not a Jew. If he is sincere, let him convert to Judaism.

There is only one kind of Jew, and every Jew is that kind of Jew. Some simply choose to ignore that, that’s all.

It must be agreed, however, that in more recent years many of the Rabbis of the Conservative Movement have taken some positive steps towards a firmer acceptance of Jewish Law. We hope and pray they will return completely, so we can all heal the breaches together, and not compromise Jewish Law in any way in doing so.

Notes

1. Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah, 268:12

2. Ibid, para 2



3. Ibid, para 1, 12

4. Culled from Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat, Laws of Judges, 7-8; Laws of Testimony, 34