Apr 9, 2008

The Ba'al Teshuvah and the Ger.

(I'll write about last night and the Jewish experience a little later, but for now ...)

I came across this story over on a friend's blog, and I had to say a few words about it because I think it's truly a moving issue and story and it comes back to the whole "Who is a Jew?" issue. The story is about a woman that realizes at a friendly dinner table one evening that she is not Jewish. That is, that her mother converted under the auspices of the Conservative movement in the 1950s and as adopting more mitzvot (ba'al teshuvah) and becoming more frum, she realizes that her frum husband is indeed intermarried, that her children are not accepted as Jewish, and that she is not at all Jewish (her words, not mine).

The truth was that my earnest commitment, my core identity, my lifelong affiliation and my membership in Jewish organizations were irrelevant. Judaism is not a club one decides to join, nor is it a democracy where the majority make the rules. The only handbook for admission is the Torah, and the rules were decided by God.
The blogger, whom I consider an e-friend, stresses the heartache about this situation, and this I understand. But the article is written with poise and definitely does not portray the writer as resentful or angry about the entire episode. Most poignantly, the author ends with this:
Yet, I would do it again. The raison d’etre for the Jew is to change and grow beyond the limits we imagine we have. As I look back fifteen years to the beginning of my odyssey, to the woman I was at the rabbi’s Shabbat table, and see where I sit today, I realize that when I cast my lot with the Jewish people and commit to doing God’s will, anything can happen.
It seems to me that the author, while upset that her dedication to Judaism could ever have been questioned (though, she never actually says anything about it being questioned, per se), would jump through the hoops once again, because it is where she belongs and who she is. I have to say I don't agree with a lot of the author's sentiments about what it is to be a Jew, or a convert at that. Though, I do have to say her comments about being a BT and a ger are significant -- you are neither, but both. (This makes me think about people who move to the United States, live here for dozens of years, and never become citizens for one reason or another -- they may feel like a full citizen, but they lack the rights and privileges of being a full citizen, nu?)

While my blogger friend says this is why she will never be anything more than a Reform convert no matter how many mitzvot she takes on, I have to say that it is stories like this that encourage me to pursue an Orthodox conversion. I don't want to get to that point where my children are placed in such a position that they are in this woman's shoes. That isn't the only reason -- and of course it's definitely the wrong reason -- to convert Orthodox. But I'm on my way, in some ways.


JD said...

Thanks for the shout-out! I think that what you bring up about being neither BT nor ger but also both is significant, especially in relation to the JBC community (on-line and in general). It seems that there are many Reform converts who would probably fall into the category of BT as they take on more mitzvot, except for the fact that they will just be considered converts anew by the communities that they are moving into.

I think I probably will post about this at JBC.org; I just need to gather my thoughts. My initial responses were emotional and inflammatory, not the best to put on a group blog.

tikkunger said...

Yup I think this is indeed a topic that could/should be discussed on the JBC blog. I'm glad Jen is thinking of posting something about it there.

As for my thoughts on the subject. Well, I guess people have to do what they believe is right. However I for one, don't really buy the authors arguments, although I do get where she is coming from. Maybe I feel the wayI do in part because I am a male convert and my wife is a JBB, so G-d willing our children are going to be seen as Jewish across the board. Having said that I don’t agree with comment’s or the line of thinking that children born of Non-Ortho female converts aren’t Jewish because they are. The may not be Orthodox but they are halachick IMO, as long as they meet the RITUAL requirements of Mikva, Bet Din and in the case of males Brit Milah. Let’s not give too much power away to the Orthodox they already have enough. Sure the Orthodox are free not to call us to Torah or as count us a part of a Minyan in their shul’s or Yeshivot but outside those places Ortho claims and power grabs should not be tolerated.

I think re-converting ortho for the sake of children unless the mother wants to be ortho herself, is flat out wrong. I mean it’s not like they won’t be grow up in or be counted as part of a non-ortho community because they will, that is as long as the parents make the effort to plug in to a shul.

Let the Kids decide for themselves when they grow up if they want to be Orthodox and then deal with conversion themselves if they choose to do one.

But hey that’s just me!

Jehanne Dubrow said...

Chavi--That's a very interesting and provocative story that you've led me to read. The moment that most bothered me in this tale was when the author writes about her siblings as being equally un-Jewish as she had been, prior to her own conversion (all thanks to their mother's unkosher conversion in the 1950s).

It seems to me that the kosherness of her siblings's Jewishness depends entirely on what form of Judaism they wish to practice. If they think of themselves as Reform or even Conservative, then the mother's conversion is almost certainly legitimate. But, of course, if they wish to be as Orthodox as the author, then they must see their mother as not-a-Jew and go through conversion themselves. I'm irritated by the idea that different forms of Judaism (i.e. anything other than Orthodoxy) embody "relative rather than absolute truth." The author's essay seems well-intentioned to me but, at the same, I can't help wincing at the idea that only certain Jews know The Truth about being Jewish.

chaviva said...

JD: I'm glad you posted over on JBC!

Avi: I hope you didn't misread me. I also believe that converting just for the kids is not a reason to reconvert Orthodox. You did get that from my post, yes?

Jehanne: Thank you for the comments. It deeply bothers me how she negates her's and her siblings Jewishness so swiftly and without cause. I almost find it offensive, actually.

KosherAcademic said...

Well, I loved the piece and found it thoughtful and emotional. She very clearly did not approach this in a resentful manner, and I think she is attempting to address the problem from her own perspective - something we would do well to remember while reading it. That is, I think with all the problems and heartache she encountered through the process, she is attempting to bring to light how this situation MAY bear out for others in similar places.

All that being said, I also didn't care for the way she handles her family. Shalom Bayit can involve more than just your immediate family (i.e. spouse and kids) and perhaps she needs to take a cue from this. However, to give her the benefit of the doubt, she may just be trying to verbalize the internal struggles she has about her extended family, and she may indeed do well by them IRL.

Just my $.02.

tikkunger said...

Yup I got you! Well at least I think I did!

I just wanted to rant a little and I opted to draw on something you said tying it into what that women in the post was on about!

As a side note

I have no doubt that when/if you do an Orthodox conversion it will be for the right reasons.

Not that you aksed

Anonymous said...

If she truly feels so upset and she does more halachot then her reform beliefs then it won't hurt for her to get an ortho conversion because that would make her happy and it would be accepted by any denomination.
An excellent Rabbi to do this is a Rabbi Bomzer in NY. He is Modern Orthodox and is one of the best.

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