Oct 25, 2011

It's Time for Your Opinion: Conversion for Marriage.

A friend is letting me post this here, so be kind and focused with your responses. I'll be writing my own, but I want to hear what you folks have to say first!

I live in a community with a lot of converts, which is nice in that there are a lot of people who I share a common experience with and who I can make feel more welcome and comfortable by saying "hey I did that too!" but it's also not-so-nice because of some of the sentiments in the community--being "one of the rabbi's converts," etc.

Recently some of my friends, who are single, have been complaining about the number of people in our community who got engaged/married right after their conversions were finalized. (The rabbi openly states he will convert for marriage, provided the prospective convert prove they would keep halakha even if the relationship ended.) A male friend says that he, as an ffb, feels cheated for doing what he was raised to do--only date Jewish girls--because people in the community date "out" and their girlfriends convert. A female friend, also born Jewish, feels like her odds to get a Jewish man are lower if there's a culture wherein it's essentially OK to date non-Jews who will convert.

I say this not to call out these converts--it's not my business and I can't read their hearts and minds--but because I'm frustrated with hearing my good friends saying "there's a problem with converts in this shul, no offense." While I think they have valid reasons for at least feeling upset (whether or not I agree with them), the "no offense" part hits me the hardest. Has anyone had similar experiences, either with this issue in particular, or simply with others criticizing others' conversions to you?


Sarah Klinkowitz said...

I don't normally comment on a lot of things, but this really makes me angry. As a convert (father Jewish, mother not) who grew up her whole life believing she was Jewish, then converted Orthodox, this smacks me on so many levels. Conversion for something like a marriage partner, is not conversion. Its a means to an end, and conversion is not meant for that. I had a friend, a fellow convert, who started off that way (converting for a guy that she wanted to marry. They had been living together for several years) First, the rabbis told her to move out of his place, and not to have physical relations w/him anymore. It took her five years, but she finally had an Orthodox conversion. After that, she decided to leave the guy..she was supposedly converting so she could marry! Apparently, she was more religious than he and she didn't think he would suit anymore!

My personal experience: my ex-husband was struggling with his sexuality. He decided to convert..to try to get control on it. He got married..to me..because he thought it would help him "go one way" Guess what? After 2.5 years of marriage, we divorced. I am happily remarried for 6 years now, but that is not the point.

Point is, when you convert with an ulterior motive a) its not valid al pi halachah b) it's usually pretty obvious and c) what do you do when that reason changes/disappears, etc? Jews who are Jews..who aren't really Jews.

Samantha said...

This is an interesting question; and hits home for me. I grew up thinking I was Jewish but ended up converting (father is Jewish and mother is not). When I met my husband he was not Jewish but was on the path to convert "soon". He had already made up his mind to become Jewish before I met him. Once we got engaged (we were engaged for 2.5 years so I would finish school first) I kindly let him know that if he wanted a Jewish wedding that he should start the conversion.

All through his conversion process it seemed like EVERYONE kept thinking that I was pushing him to convert (which was NOT the case) and it was awkward.

I believe if someone is converting JUST to marry someone in the faith it isn't really right. However, I believe that if someone already has chosen to convert, on their own, it is fine to convert to marry in the faith.

Bethany said...

I'll be the third in a row patrilineal kid to speak up on this post.

I converted after I was raised most of my life thinking I was Jewish. I dated only Jewish guys and became more religious as time went on. I got engaged less than a week after my conversion finished.

I am *enraged* when people look at me and my husband like I did it for him. This is exactly the mentality that leads people not to say that they're converts.

Ms. Minister of the Interior said...

Great topic! To look at it from another direction, I have a friend whose mother was Mormon and her father was Jewish. Her father converted to Mormonism in order to marry her mother according to their religious laws. As a result, her father never felt religiously fulfilled in Mormonism, but never felt that he could return to Judaism either, because of the chaos it would cause in their religious community, particularly vis a vis their children.

I think the takeaway of this example can be extended to people who convert to any religion specifically in order to marry: if you're not doing it for yourself, because your soul is telling you to, you run the risk of regretting your choice later; maybe even feeling resentment toward your partner down the road.

It's definitely not an easy question... I just hope that when people choose to convert, particularly to Judaism, that they are making the choice freely, without outside pressure. But like many have already iterated, if the prospect of marriage is "the thing" that helps someone take the plunge to *complete* a conversion process they've already begun seeking on their own, kol hakavod to them.

Ms. Minister of the Interior said...

PS I'm the fourth in a row patrilineal kid to comment, following Bethany's comment :)

HaSafran said...

I don't really have anything to add to the discussion at this time, Chavi, but I felt that the patrilineal conga line needed to keep on going. (#5, right here).

Go Team!

Drew said...

I met my husband a good 2 years *after* I had made the decision that Judaism was right for me. Though I never would have predicted that we would end up MO, I know I am supposed to be on this path with my husband and the Rabbi I finally met and connected with after we moved to NY.

This is a tricky subject because there are those people who go into a conversion for the sake of love and marriage and who come out the other side more invested in Judaism than they ever could have predicted. Then, there are others who go into a conversion purely for love and marriage who don't find that connection with Judaism. Who should judge or predict what couples are sincere/will make it/will find a love for Judaism? Isn't there enough judging already surrounding conversion?

I believe that those who complain that there aren't enough Jews to marry because they're out dating non-Jews are falling back on an excuse. There is no guarantee that even if all those men/women only had eyes for other Jews that they'd be married by now. We have basherts for a reason and there is no law that says your bashert is within your own religion.

Instead of making excuses and blaming the converts and the Rabbi's who do conversions for marriage why not make the best assumption possible of every couple and convert? Make the assumption that they are doing this because not only do they have a deep love for someone but also because they have a love that has only begun for Judaism.

I'm tired of the negativity and questions surrounding converts. Sometimes it seems like we're the scapegoats for Judaisms problems which isn't fair to anyone, the convert, his/her partner or the Rabbi who put in alot of work and effort to help that convert.

Bottom line, if you want a Jewish partner and your Jewish then make an effort. Go outside of your community, your state or just your comfort zone. Don't blame it on us.

*Sorry for writing all of that. . . I was typing and it kind of turned into a rant. *

Drew said...

P.S. I was not raised Jewish nor are either of my parents Jewish.

Bethany said...

If you trust your rabbi on every other issue, why would you question whether he has vetted a convert before the mikvah? Once someone has converted, they are Jewish.

Most women I meet who convert with a Jewish boyfriend become more religious than the guy, 9 times out of ten. The guys were usually not religious to start. You're gaining not one but two Jews in this transaction.

This kind of statement shows how little born-Jews understand about the conversion process and how nobody in their right mind would do it for anyone but themselves. And if they are that big of a sociopath to trick the Beit Din, there's nothing that can be done about it. But to ascribe that sociopathic persona on every convert is so incredibly antithetical to how people are *supposed* to treat converts.

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...

@Bethany Because you are bound to the other converts that your rabbi has converted -- forever. They screw up, it goes back to the rabbi, and then all of his conversions are in question (this has happened, many times, and is stupid, but it happens).

When I was in-process, I was very skittish about one of the other girls studying at the time because she would tell me about all the things that her and her fiance were doing that were forbidden by shomer negiah and the conversion process, not to mention that they got engaged before she converted, which is a HUGE no-no. Eventually I *had* to bring it up to the rabbi, because I felt that I was in harm's way. It's very real. Luckily, your sponsoring rabbi and your beth din rabbi are two different things and my beth din wouldn't have stood for it (she had a private beth din, not an RCA).

Batya said...

This may make me an oddball here, but I'm just an ordinary BT who has lived in Israel for decades.

The community discussed is far removed from my world, but I do know lots of people who converted for marriage and are Torah observant today. But they don't live near their non-Jewish families.
I think that the rabbi or rabbis in that community should communicate more with the born-Jewish singles, personally and having Jewish singles activities.
"Orthodox conversion nowadays is usually a long ordeal, from what people tell me, and for that reason, anyone who really finishes and converts seems pretty serious. Doesn't the journey weed out many?

frum single female said...

i agree with ms minister of interior's comment. as for bethany i think that there is a special class for those who convert to judaism who were born with a jewish father or those who were adopted by jewish parents. these are people who probably always thought they were jewish anyway until they stumbled upon orthodox judaism. i do believe that their conversions are different than a person just converting to marry someone.
i personally think that its different when someone converts to marry someone jewish if the person was already on that path anyways even if they aren't fully jewish to begin with.
born jewish women get a bad rap by jewish men so i do resent it when jewish men specifically go after non jewish women and try to get them to convert to judaism because there are a lot of single jewish women out there who are jewish to begin with having trouble finding jewish men to marry .
that said, i have a friend whose mom was christian and her dad was jewish . she was supposed to be the christian one and her brother the jewish one . she ended up liking judaism better though she knew that she wasnt halachicly jewish. when i asked her what it was like growing up with parents who had two religions, she said it was difficult and she would have preferred to have had 2 parents who shared the same religion. its much easier on a kid. for this reason i would still say that its best to find someone who is already jewish either born jewish or already a jewish convert before marriage, but if not its still best for a couple to have the same religion especially if they want to have a family, so i understand the value of someone converting for love even if they wouldnt have thought of it had they not needed to do it for love.

Anonymous said...

To your friend and their friends: a Jew is a Jew is a Jew. Or you don't believe in halacha. You can't have it both ways just to prop up your community's comfort zone. Anyone who has a problem with converts has a problem with Torah--because the Torah has no problem with converts. Period. End of report. Get it?

Furthermore, the idea that of a convert "screwing up" for not keeping to some theoretical behavior standard that most other Jews never keep to is a symptom of Orthodoxy with its fences raised unfairly high. There's no need for that kind of thinking. And that kind of thinking--which I know is rampant in some frum circles--is neither fair, nor just, nor quite frankly in the spirit of Torah.

Avraham said...

this would be dependent on the difference between the Gemara in Avoda Zara and in Sanhedrin.

Redacted said...

For many people, falling in love with a Jew is only the first step toward falling in love with Judaism. Some people may have never learned about Judaism until they have a Jewish partner and then that is the spark that ignites a very personal, spiritual journey. Of course there are others who simply view conversion as one of the steps to the "happily ever after" they are seeking, but from my own experience, I would think that not many of those make it through the conversion process. Most Rabbi's and Beit Dins make it even more difficult for someone who is romantically involved with a Jew than it already is.

Almost every convert has a unique story and each of them have their reasons for converting and their own unique story of how they were first drawn to Judaism. I don't see first loving a Jew as any less valid as any other.

As for the arguments about non-Jews "stealing" potential Jewish spouses, I don't really see how this is a problem with the non-Jews themselves. It would be like brunettes complaining that blondes have an advantage when it comes to dating or short women complaining that tall women have an unfair advantage. Focus on yourself and being the best version of yourself you can be and on meeting people and it's likely the right person will come along.

Besides, anyone who specifically won't even consider dating an entire group of people based off of a stupid stereotype doesn't sound like much of a catch anyhow.

Rachel Rosenstern said...

I don't actually think that a person's reason for conversion or, for that matter, the fact that a person is a convert is really anyone's business. I know for a fact it is not my place to judge people who have converted.

That said........

I am a convert. I fell in love with and married a Jew. He didn't ask me to convert nor did he even bring it up but, while I was falling in love with him, I was also falling in love with Judaism because it was, despite his best efforts, very much a part of who he was. My actual conversion was 11 years after we were married. Friends that I have had for a long time obviously know this but people who I've met in the last 10 years don't. I don't discuss my conversion. Not because I'm trying to hide anything, but because I consider myself a Jew. End of discussion.

My sister-in-law jokes that I was a Jew waiting to happen because we are more observant than my in-laws or any of my husband's siblings (who all married people who were born Jewish).

I think she's right. I think that my husband was sent to me by Hashem to show me the spiritual life I was always meant to have.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I deleted the first post because I realized it might be too much information about the family.

Basically, I feel those who convert for the primary purpose of marriage, without a serious undertaking to keep basic mitzvos, are not helping the quest of sincere converts who are actually converting to Judaism for Judaism and are planning on doing their best to keep mitzvos.

Moreover, if said convert for marriage purposes happens to be female, then the children will possibly suffer through having their Jewishness questioned because their mother's conversion was perhaps not sincere or halachically valid. Not pleasant.

redsneakz said...

This question has resounding implications, none of which I'm qualified to answer. But I will say that it appears to me, as an outsider, with friends who are going through the conversion process, that the standards have become such that one has to practically be a tzaddik to be accepted by a beis din.

Yes, I realize that in the time of Maimonides, that conversion itself was a life-threatening experience (such that his requirements for conversion, if I recall, were that you would teach the ger tzeddek a few halachos whilst he or she was immersing in the mikveh), but it seems, again as an outsider, that we've gone too far the other way.

It shouldn't be easy - but it shouldn't be seemingly impossible either.

Calista said...

To echo the responses of many before me, I feel as though it heavily depends on the individual convert and their particular motives/experience. I've been considering conversion (have not yet begun any part of the process) and have a Jewish partner, but the only thing it has to do with him is the fact that he is the reason I have exposure to Judaism. In fact, he doesn't even know that I've thought about conversion at all. Would it make our life easier if we wanted to get married? Sure, but I wouldn't do it if it theologically didn't agree with me.

My point is there seems to be an inherent mistrust in converts and their motives. Sometimes that is founded, and I understand there can be consequences on others because of bad seeds, but why is it assumed that converts in love with Jews are guilty until proven innocent?

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...

Ultimately, I think, this is a case of the few who ruin it for the many.

There are people who abuse all systems, giving a bad rap to those others in the system who are sincere. This is true for so many things and it is where stereotypes come from. Like JAPs -- people assume all NY Jewish girls have that same flare and attitude. But it isn't true.

It's hard, as a sincere convert, not to get grumpy and even angry about those who might not be sincere, but ultimately, what it comes down to, is HaShem. We can't say who is sincere and who isn't, and maybe, just maybe, HaShem has a plan for those who seem on the path with odd intentions.

But I think Batya answered the question best when she said "I think that the rabbi or rabbis in that community should communicate more with the born-Jewish singles, personally and having Jewish singles activities."

author said...

Ok, first of all, I'm not Jewish, more of a Jewish groupie (that is the only way I can put it), I seriously thought about converting when I was younger but for various reasons didn't, I ended up becoming Catholic, then doing family research and lo and behold prior to my great grandmother on my mother and grandmother's side deciding not to practice and to marry out everybody was Jewish - go figure.

Every religious group has the people who convert to marry and it drives every religion crazy, it is more problematic in Judaism because a lot of conversions can be thrown out because of one bad apple, or atleast that is my understanding.

Sophia said...

My community is actually made up mostly of converts who had converted Orthodox for marriage and do not actually practice Orthodox. It pains me greatly, and while a convert like any other Jew is entitled to a lapse of faith and practice, to me a person who at the point of converting was not intending to keep all the mitzvot is simply not Jewish, period.

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