Conversion Course Kit
Conversion and Love
My boyfriend is an observant Jew, I want to convert, and my mother is freaking out.
by Rebbetzin Feige Twerski
Dear Rebbetzin Feige,
about a year now, I have decided to convert to Judaism. I have not
formally begun the process yet, but after spending a year tossing
around the idea of conversion and letting go of Christian beliefs, I
decided to become Jewish. How I got into Judaism is something which I
am ashamed of mentioning since I am only 18 years old and fear that
people will not take my desire to convert seriously. At school, I had
met a Jewish boy who came from a modern Orthodox family. We began
dating and are still together. Throughout our two years of being
together, we have managed to keep our relationship hidden from our
parents; my Christian parents would never approve of it, and neither
I learned more about Judaism, I began praying and studying Torah
regularly, dressing modestly and became shomeret negiah. My boyfriend
respects and supports my decisions. The problem I have is with my
mother who is the most religious in my family. She has taken notice of
my new love for Judaism and is showing her disapproval -- something
which I understand and was expecting. She told me that she feels as
though she is losing her child and has failed in raising me to be a
'good Christian.' She gets angry when I bring home kosher food, dress
in long skirts, read Torah, and am reluctant to go to church and other
"weird" things I seem to be doing, as she says.
suspects that I may have a Jewish boyfriend and often tells me, "Do not
convert for anyone. If someone really loves you, he will accept you as
you are." I want to convert for myself, not for my boyfriend or for
anyone else. And this my mother does not believe. Rebbetzin Feige, how
can I bring joy into mother's heart when she sees me as a
disappointment? How do I get the idea of a boyfriend out of her mind? I
have tried to reassure her that she is not losing me, and that no one
is forcing me to convert, but she still believes that an outside
influence is pressuring me to be Jewish. What should I do?
My dear reader: Before embarking on the complicated journey into Judaism, there are a number of facts you should know.
Judaism does not seek converts. Not because we are reluctant to share
our spiritual wealth, but because in contrast to other faiths, we don't
consider those who don't embrace our religion as damned or consigned to
oblivion. The Jewish position is that if a person observes the seven
Noachide laws that are basic to all civilized societies, (i.e.
refraining from stealing, murder idolatry, torturing animals, adultery,
cursing God and embracing the positive mandate establish a legal
system), that individual can merit a portion in eternity. We don't need
to "save" anybody. Decent human beings can travel their own path to
their specific eternal portion in the world to come.
Though we may be eager to reclaim Jews for Judaism, we don't feel compelled to proselytize to the world at large.
consider Larry and Charlotte who came to meet with us about Charlotte's
conversion to Judaism. They were serious about each other and Larry's
parents could not countenance their son marrying out of the faith. It
became evident that Charlotte's interest in Judaism was no more than an
attempt to mollify his parents and move on with their personal agenda.
In the course of our conversation, we advised her that religion, a
relationship with the Master of the world, the very author of our every
breath, was not a casual matter to be taken lightly. It is, in fact,
the ultimate relationship, the one that has to carry us into eternity.
Decisions about whom we marry and with whom we spend our years on
Earth, important as they are, do not come close to the significance and
seriousness of who our God is and what we believe.
decision must never be at the mercy of a penultimate one. My husband
pointed out to Charlotte that her new religious interest was frankly
not in Judaism but in Larryism. It was simply a means by which to get
the man she wanted.
I am not suggesting, my dear reader, that
your interest is insincere or ingenuous. What I do know from many years
of observing complex human nature is that oftentimes a person is not
aware of the many subconscious ulterior motives that lurk beneath the
surface. We have seen people who discovered after much honest soul
searching that their exploration into Judaism was motivated, deep down,
by an effort to hurt their families who they perceived had betrayed
them in a myriad of ways. Marriage, retaliation, status seeking,
currying favor, etc., are not valid reasons for conversion. It takes a
very honest and insightful person and a painstaking process to identify
personal interest, ego agendas and to confront the truth. There is no
technology that can be applied. It may take a long time for one to be
Linda was a brilliant person of consummate integrity. She
studied Judaism and came to classes for years. She was CEO of a huge
company and sacrificed much to experience holidays and life cycles in
the lives of our community. Her agonizing struggle and search for the
truth came to an end when the Rabbi asked her if she was prepared to
live a life alone and unmarried. Becoming a convert, he suggested,
would further complicate her life and make finding an appropriate
partner all the more difficult. She said that when she was able to give
an unequivocal positive response, she knew that her search had come to
an end and she was ready. She realized that she was committed to the
point where no barriers could dissuade her or stand in her way.
reader, one of the tests you might have to subject yourself to in order
to strip away any doubt or semblance of ulterior motive would be to
give up your boyfriend. With that personal bias laid to rest, with that
subjectivity no longer an issue, you can then proceed to evaluate the
merits of your interest in Judaism. Only when there are no strings
attached will you get a clear and objective picture of where you stand.
me clarify the need for such clarification, and the possible
consequences for ignoring it. What if your relationship with this young
man should fail to materialize, as sometimes occurs over time with
early infatuations? What if your friend's parents would object and the
young man feels constrained to accede to his parents' wishes? Are you
still committed to becoming an observant Jew? Do you become resentful
or bitter to Torah because of the collapse of your romantic interests?
I am not questioning your sincerity or integrity, God forbid, nor do I
seek to denigrate your courageous attempt of commitment to mitzvoth.
Rather, by subjecting yourself to this test, you will determine if your
journey can be a proud acquisition of your own, independent of any
other person or consideration.
I have the distinct privilege of
presiding over a community of which a good portion are righteous
converts. They are the finest and the best, and indistinguishable from
the rest. In many instances, we are into their second and third
generations with offspring who are distinguished rabbis, scholars,
professionals and most importantly proud members of the Jewish people.
These converts all had one thing in common -- no matter the cost, the
pain and the sacrifice, they absolutely had to be Jewish!
Milt and Ann came to see us about becoming Jewish. I vividly remember
that day. I was in a big rush. I had to catch a plane. The words I had
said so many times before came pouring out. Jewish law requires that
before embracing candidates for conversion, we must first attempt to
dissuade them. I gave them the routine. Why would you want to join a
people who have been persecuted time and again in the past; the laws of
probability would certainly suggest God forbid, that the future will be
no different? Our history has been drenched in blood -- inquisitions,
pogroms, the Holocaust. Why associate with us and get caught up in our
Furthermore, ours is not a once a week religious
commitment to a house of worship. It is a way of life -- a discipline
-- from the moment we awake in the morning to when we go to sleep at
night, our behavior is circumscribed by laws, the Jewish way to do
things. 613 commandments regulate the way we awaken each day, eat our
meals, conduct business, interrelate, communicate with each other,
inter-gender contact, the way we love, raise children, etc., etc. We
are accountable on every level. Judaism is not for the fainthearted; it
is very serious stuff. If you are not born into it, why would you
voluntarily subject yourself to it?
They listened intently and
respectfully until I finished my tirade and then responded very
quietly, thoughtfully and emphatically. "Yes, you are right; it may not
make perfect sense, but we just have to do it. Our souls yearn for it
and we cannot ignore the calling." I tried and I failed. Today, they
are beloved members of our community.
Your mother, dear reader,
is another reason why you have to be sure your quest is real and not
motivated even minutely by extraneous reasons. Her pain is
understandable. She raised you a certain way and the new direction you
have taken feels like rejection to her. Whatever the outcome, you must
reassure her that it is only because of the values that she instilled
within you that you are able to seek truth.
The fact that you
adopted and observe many of the mitzvot is highly commendable,
especially those that are counter-culture, such as dressing modestly.
You are clearly a high caliber and spiritually sensitive person who
understands that there is dignity in modesty and privacy. It points to
a young woman in tune with her inner self and the grandeur that resides
within, that is grievously cheapened and compromised by a society that
accepts the excessive focus and flaunting of body parts and flesh. You
understand that the real you reaches far beyond the confines of your
My dear reader, I would urge you to consult a
respectable Torah authority and tell him/her your story honestly and
completely. Let him/her help you attain the clarity that you
desperately need -- and may the Almighty lead you in the right