Mar 6, 2011

A Response: Dating During Conversion

I've been pondering a response to Kochava's Why You Shouldn't Date During Conversion blog post, and I think I'm finally in the right mood to write it. In short, I almost completely disagree with just about everything she wrote (but I do adore her, so it's no personal :D).

The long-dating couple before my first beth din meeting in NYC in November 2009.
As you all know, I converted Reform in 2006, many moons before meeting my now husband Tuvia. I started attending an Orthodox shul in Chicago in 2008, many months before meeting Tuvia. I moved to Connecticut, and almost instantly I met Tuvia, who at that time was in a sort of religious oasis -- he'd grown up in a religious community, gone to a Conservative day school for 15 years, been incredibly active in Hillel during college, and after college even attempted to find a Conservative synagogue, but with no luck. When I met him, he was in what I like to think of as an "either way" kind of space. But in one of our first conversations, I told him plain and simple: I'm a Reform convert going Orthodox, and if you're not going in that direction, then let's not waste each other's time. Tuvia was willing to go on the journey with me, and that journey had a lot of challenges, but none that I regret.

I knew about the complications of dating while in-process, but after speaking with a lot of people and doing my own research and soul searching, my conclusion was that you're damned if you do, damned if you don't. I frequently tell those in-process that this is how it works:
If you're dating a Jew while in-process, the community and rabbis will think you're converting for marriage. Some will be okay with that, some won't. If you're not dating anyone while in-process, the rabbis will be highly concerned over how on earth you'll ever land a husband, being a convert and all, and post-conversion will insist on setting you up with other converts (which is fine, but it pigeonholes converts, much like the Jews of Color community, which often gets set up with other Jews of color -- again, fine, but pigeonholed). Catch 22!
Tuvia and I started studying with a rabbi for my Orthodox conversion in January 2009. It's funny how it was all a review for me, but it was largely new to Tuvia, who really enjoyed learning. I struggled for many months with whether Tuvia was doing Orthodoxy for me or for himself, and I didn't want there to be a developed resentment in our relationship where I became the religious zealot of a convert and he became the unwilling participant in a love conquers all situation. (This falls under what Kochava wrote as "if your new partner isn't orthodox but you're in the orthodox conversion process.") We had a lot of discussions about it, and Tuvia assured me that he was doing it because he wanted to -- not for me. And things moved forward. (Although, let's be honest, this still haunts me, and Tuvia knows it.)

Perhaps we were blessed, but our community had zero problems and didn't react negatively at all to our situation. In fact, many people in the community thought that Tuvia was the one going through the conversion process -- not me. The decision to start observing shomer negiah was largely mine, but Tuvia understood the importance and was more than willing to go along with the observance. Was it easy? No, but for us, it was a powerful mitzvah to take on in our journey together. Many in the community were actually impressed/shocked/flabbergasted that a young modern Orthodox couple would even observe shomer negiah, believe it or not. But we held to it, because it was powerful spiritually for us (well, at least me).

We never faced chastisement, and we were upfront and honest with the beth din about everything.

The only major problem that ever came up, in the entire time of our dating and studying and going from community to community and Israel and to the two beth din meetings I had leading up to my Orthodox conversion on January 1, 2010 was the following question, posed by my beth din during the first meeting.
If you knew you were going to convert Orthodox, and you'd decided to do so before moving to Connecticut, why on earth would you join JDate (that big, ugly, non-Orthodox dating service) with the intent of meeting someone? 
Talk about a great question. Mad props to my converting rabbis. This is a great question, and the funny thing is, I really don't have a good reason. I hadn't been on JDate for probably a good two years, back when I was living in Washington D.C. from 2006-2007. But there was this funny feeling I had, especially after my good friend Reuven visited the Lubavitcher rebbe's ohel and davened (prayed) for me to make a shidduch (match) with a nice fellow. I moved to Connecticut mid-August 2008, and I joined JDate almost instantly when I arrived. Within a few days, Tuvia had contacted me, and the rest is history. It just felt right, oddly enough.

When I explained this to the rabbis, they sort of cocked their heads sideways at me. But they understood. If anything, they understood that I'd helped bring one Jew -- Tuvia -- closer to mitzvot and observance through my own actions and passion for Judaism. I think that this, above all else, allowed my beth din to see that I wasn't doing this for marriage, and that if anything, I was bringing a little light into the world through Tuvia. They asked Tuvia, many times, what his background was and how he'd arrived at Orthodoxy, because they also wanted to know that he was truly into Orthodoxy and not just along for the ride with me. But neither of us had a problem with this. (This also falls under what Kochava wrote as "if your new partner isn't orthodox but you're in the orthodox conversion process.")

All this being said, I understand where Kochava is coming from. It doesn't always work out so swimmingly. Plenty of people drop out of the process, plenty of people intermarry when they get fed up with the process, and yes, it happens. But, and I believe this firmly, if you meet someone while you're in-process, and you fall in love, and you know that this person is your one, then the passion that existed before you met that person will shine through, and your beth din will be beyond cognizant of this. It's all about planting your feet firmly and saying, "I am a Jew, I am meant to be a Jew" and your story will tell itself.

Does this work for everyone? No, but I'm not a believer in sacrificing your happiness for an assumed opinion of the institution of Orthodox conversion. Believe it or not, conversion still works on a case-by-case basis (except maybe in California, but in all things, exceptions exist ... it is Judaism after all). To write off your happiness for fear of chastisement by a rabbi or the community just means you're letting yourself be bullied. Be happy, be confident. It can be worth it.


Mari said...

Ahhh! I wrote a long comment and it didn't go through! Oh well...

What I wanted to say was that if you meet someone or are dating during your conversion process, it's something they will have to accept. I have a couple friends who were dating and didn't tell their rabbi- it made things simple for them in that respect. When my guy and I decided we wanted to get engaged and married, I decided to tell the Bet Din about it and he become a part of my conversion. I thought it was the right thing to do, but a part of me wishes I could have taken it back, as the Bet Din didn't treat us very well and judged ME based more on our relationship then on the work I had put into the conversion long before I had even met him. Out of curiosity, did you feel that way with your experience? Conversion always involves some tough decisions and I'm glad it's worked out well for you.

Anonymous said...

I met my husband during the conversion process. No one had directly told me not to date but I had no plans to date anyway. I was in predominately MO circles and it was nice to have male MO friends who had no interest in being anything other than friends. People whispered that at my age (25), I would have a hard time getting married by the time I finished the process but I was too naive and green to understand what they were talking about.

The most traumatizing part of my conversion process was what happened when I officially started dating my future husband, who I met through mutual MO friends. Suddenly, my entire community turned against us. Held an intervention. The rabbi wasn't awful but he was cold and harsh. We weathered it together, we survived it, we forgave a lot of people at our chuppah who attempted to destroy our lives for months. But I will never forget how people shamed me and shamed him even worse because "what was a nice Orthodox boy doing dating a non-Jew."

But let's be real. Now that they are dragging out conversions for people, especially women in their prime child-bearing years, for as many as 3 or more years with the community's complete acknowledgement that converts have a hard time finding eligible mates, I think it is beyond cruel for rabbis to expect converts to turn away the one, especially if the one is willing to wait and (figuratively) hold your hand through such a difficult process.

Kochava and Chaviva, I love how you both dealt with an incredibly touchy subject in the conversion process and I only wish I was reading it in a Jewish newspaper because people really need to read this, especially people in process but even more so, people who don't understand what it entails.

Shorty said...

I think everyone has to do what is best for them. Obviously if the person they want to date wants to share in the journey, it definitely makes things slightly less complicated.

Miriam said...

Well, then maybe there is something to be said for California. While I wasn't just rubber-stamped (it took two years), dh was encouraged to come to class with me and we became friendly with one of the Rabbis at our Bet Din. We never faced any problems other than a personal one from one person who had left a convert for a "real Jew" and (my dh believes) regretted that decision because he was unhappy with how his marriage with the "real Jew" turned out.

Anonymous said...

The Curmudgeonly Israeli Giyoret says:

It's good to see that honesty gets you somewhere. There are conversions-for-marriage, and there are converts who actually continue to live their lives during the process, and maybe meet someone along the way. Anonymous is right, to insist in driving off the potential partner, esp. in these days ofr "shidduch crisis", is cruel and pointless.

Besides, is it really desirable for gerim to become narrow, single-minded social misfits as part of the process? I feel strongly that it is in the interest of am yisrael to encourage and even prefer the conversion of balanced individuals who are likely to fit in and build the future. We really do have enough rogue weirdos nowadays.

Sophia said...

This is actually a very helpful post, as dating during the conversion process is a topic which I've always been nervous about. Everyone online says that if you date during the Ortho conversion process the Rabbis will think you're converting for a Jew and you won't be able to convert! I've always worried that I'll meet someone 'nice' and will end up having to miss out on the prospect of future happiness with that person.So your post is a huuuuge relief for me. Thanks :)

SaraG said...


Great post! I think the way in which you date is also essential. You were upfront from the begining about where you were headed, so he knew what he was in for. I think a risk with dating while converting is also the emotional turmoil that often goes along with it. At that point, if you date someone in a communnity and you break up with him/her, it would be much harder for you to stick around, even if you want to. And then comes the question: are you breaking up with him or with Orthodoxy? I have seen this messy busisness happen to a friend of mine. Of course you could argue that it was simply never meant to be, and maybe it wasn't, but I hope that most people know themselves and have enough insight and forsight to know how, when, and whome to date.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous,

I'm sorry but you're so wrong. There is a reason why people during the Orthodox Jewish conversion should not date. I hope you know that your conversion might not have been kosher because you were dating DAFKAH during your conversion. But of course that is up to the Abister to decide.

Chaviva's story is MUCH different and she did not hide what was happening and kudos to her. I respect you very much.

Anonymous said...

A side note on a point that you made that struck me: "Believe it or not, conversion still works on a case-by-case basis (except maybe in California, but in all things, exceptions exist ... it is Judaism after all)." Of course conversion works on a case-by-case basis. In what way is California different? (If you've covered this elsewhere, I apologize.)

double your dating ebook said...

Wonderful learn, I just handed this onto a colleague who was doing a little analysis on that. And he really bought me lunch as a result of I discovered it for him smile So let me rephrase that: Thanks for lunch! Anyway, in my language, there aren’t much good supply like this.

Robbie said...

Having a relationship work out goes beyond just religion. It is really sad that some religion (or their leaders) forbids their followers to date or be married with someone with a different belief.

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