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Converts Welcome Here

When Sex in the City’s Charlotte is rebuffed by the rabbi in her attempts to begin conversion training, series writers evoked the Jewish tradition that potential converts be turned away three times to test their sincerity. There was good reason then a days: A potential convert could be a “double agent,” part of a plan to harm the Jewish community. There was also fear of syncretism: converts could dilute Jewish belief and practice with “foreign” traditions like idolatry.

Thankfully, times have changed and our attitude towards converts should too. Jewish converts are a great blessing, often more Jewishly knowledgeable, passionate and observant than born Jews, particularly in the non-Orthodox world. They are the Charlottes who ask their Harrys to turn off the ball game during Shabbat dinner.


Today a different reticence exists regarding conversion: having expectations of people.

It’s a societal problem, really. People want to feel OK on their own terms. They reject external definitions of what is correct or good and disassociate from those making demands upon them. This is partially why the Reform Movement dropped the original requirements for patrilineal descent. Consequently, though, so few patrilineal children raised their children as Jews that the Reform Movement recently decided to encourage conversion in intermarriages.

But having expectations is not just a Reform movement problem. In our desire for inclusion, we in the Conservative movement sometimes forget that expectations are about living for, and actualizing, a higher purpose, God’s purpose. We forget that we can be accepting of everyone, loving them for who and where they are when they enter our synagogues, even as we provide them encouragement and opportunities to continue to grow on their spiritual journeys.


It is hard to find the right balance between expectation and acceptance. Most non-Orthodox congregations include non-Jews in life cycle events in some way, if only because it’s often the non-Jewish parent who drives the child to Hebrew School.

It is important that non-Jews feel welcomed. Sometimes that sense of being warmly enveloped in a community who prayers for and cares for each other inspires a non-Jew to convert, but not always. It is equally important to take seriously what a faith commitment means and to honor the decision non-Jews make not to change their faith commitment to Judaism. That is why the converts in my congregation argued that a non-Jewish spouse not accompany the Jewish spouse to the Torah for an aliyah, for why did they need to bother to convert if no distinction is made between those who convert and those who don’t. Their concerns made we realize that synagogue policies that fail to offer real incentives for conversion actually discourage conversion.


Some of the incredible converts I have worked with began the journey because they fell in love with a Jew committed to building an unambiguously Jewish home. Some wanted to participate fully in their children’s Bnai Mitzvah. A growing number came to Judaism because it makes sense to them, where their Christianity no longer does, or never did. All these candidates understand that committing to a new faith and a new way of life takes training and, well, commitment. They embrace the idea that Judaism is not just a belief system but a way of life: that we serve God in how we eat and how we spend our time and resources in addition to how we treat others and what we believe.

Perhaps our Charlottes can teach a thing or two to our Harrys, as converts inspire born Jews to live richer Jewish lives.

Comments read comments(6)
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Rachel (Velveteen Rabbi)

posted February 16, 2006 at 12:53 am

I’m surprised by your assertion that few patrilineal-descent children chose Judaism. I don’t have statistics at hand, but that doesn’t match my experience. For what it’s worth, my Reform shul draws a line between what Jews may do liturgically and what non-Jews may do liturgically. Anything relating to the Torah service, for instance, must be done by someone Jewish. (Reading the prayer for the congregation, or for the community, on the other hand, can be and often is done by a non-Jewish partner or spouse.) Even so, we pride ourselves on being welcoming to interfaith couples and families. I don’t see any disjunction between being welcoming and inclusive, and drawing some boundaries around what happens on the bimah. I’m not sure it’s fair to imply that those who welcome interfaith families wholeheartedly are necessarily in favor of allowing non-Jews to participate in every aspect of liturgical practice… …and I continue to worry that pushing conversion on non-Jewish spouses and partners could send the message that our welcome was partial or only temporary, which feels to me like the wrong message to send. I don’t doubt Rabbi Yoffie’s good intentions; I’m just not yet convinced that this new policy will achieve what he wants it to.

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Craig W. Palm

posted February 16, 2006 at 10:18 am

Thank God I don’t feel so alone, and not knowing what is “acceptable” with the Jewish Community. At the age of 39 I desperately want to convert, but with the new Masionic Jewish Sect that believes Jesus was the Son of God, and Died, and rose fom the grave, and lives in all of us today. I personally feel that judism is the way to go, and quite frankly, I cannot believe the hatred for The Jew here and everywhere in the world at the present time. Even though I have not converted yet, but practice what I know, and being led by God, I am now being called a Jew Boy….Jew lover, and treated with the utmost disrespect. I was even fired from Home Depot because I refused to work on Rosh Hashanah. They really weren’t able to fire me, but they BANNED me from the store, so I could no longer do my job as a vendor for the plant dept, so I had to be replaced after 2 years of faithful service with no negative things against me. Now mind you, I’m a German American Prodestant!!!!!!! I CANNOT EVEN CLAIM TO BE JEWISH, by any means, except for donating money and belonging to the International Christian Embassy in Jeruselem. I Love Isreal so much with all my Heart, and feel a Spiritual calling to help in anyway I can. People I know just cannot accept it, why….Because they know I’m on to something, and it’s big, and they are scared, as to where I wait eagerly, and patiently for guidance from above. May God Be With You Today* Shalom, Chef Craig Palm***

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Christine Gate

posted February 16, 2006 at 7:27 pm

I am truly happy that there are persons out there like Rabbi Susan, and hopefully less and less like the velveteen rabbi. To me it just seems that the closer we get to the End of Days the narrower some would be focussed. It is my understanding that redemption has been and still is a G-d given principle. So He chose a specific set of people, but He also charged them to show the world His goodness, and the proper way to live. Judaism is not just a blood rite, it is a way of life. I was born to it, but have never been a part of a synagogue. Sad for me, but my traditions and way of life, passed on by my mother remain with me, and is a part of me. I feel that all who would venture on the path of Judiasm should be give a chance to fully experience it – were there rules about segregation not made by man? maybe it is time for a new interpretation and a little more inclusion. Shalom

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posted February 17, 2006 at 1:58 pm

It’s insulting to hear a rabbi saying that a christian converts to judaism because he or she did not get anything out of christianity. Unbelievable that a rabbi would show that kind of disrespect and another thing do you really want to hold hands constantly with a convert that is so weak minded that they will later on be sorry that they converted once their feelings get hurt.

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sam hammer

posted March 2, 2006 at 4:00 am

sorry, jim, but that’s how it was for those of us not lucky enough to be raised in christian homes that actually practiced what they preached or even understood exactly what the doctrine IS. i sat through presbyterian sunday school and then episcopalian confirmation class and thought such thoughts as who the heck IS this jesus guy anyway and why, if we are monotheists, are there 3 gods in one? these mysteries were never explained to me. in judaism one finds 1 million explanations for every question and 1 million different ways to be jewish (with more coming in every second). converting to judaism is a grand thing for many of us. heck, we get to find an experience “empty” if it truly feels empty. the rabbi is calling it like she sees it and probably the way she’s heard former christians tell it, and that’s the way i experienced christianity too. thanks.

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posted June 18, 2006 at 9:25 pm

I converted in May of 1990 and because I firstly had to move to a rural area because I lost my employment in the city where I lived, now I find that I cannot move back to the city because of financial hardships and lack of employment opportunties. I find myself unable to get in touch with Jewish people most of my letters go unanswered,I feel that I am not accepted by the people I choose to be a part of and the christians will not accept me because I am a convert. I am a convert and I will remain true to my Jewish heritage and a Single man

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