|misty||[ Profile - Edit Post - Poll ] ||11:20 pm on 10.11.2002|
|My boyfriend and I have been dating for 6 years. He calls himself an "atheist Jew" who was raised with strong Jewish culture and values (his mother is very involved in her temple, he was very active in his Jewish youth group). I am of South Asian descent, and feel connected to my own cultural roots, but do not buy into any formal organized religion. |
I grew up in a very culturally diverse town that was predominantly Jewish and Catholic, with many friends who were half and half. I learned a lot about Jewish culture growing up, both through formal education (literature, history, etc.) and experiences with friends (attending bar mitzvahs, going to seders, etc.). I grew up feeling really close to Jewish history and culture, and completely comfortable with Jewish rituals and traditions.
Now my boyfriend really wants to get married. While we're very much in love and I can't imagine living without him, I'm feeling a lot of guilt. I studied the holocaust extensively in high school. Am I contributing to the Jewish genocide if we get married?
My boyfriend says no, not if I convert and/or we raise our children Jewish. But neither of us really believes in God. He claims that "all the God stuff is just a metaphor" - - that it's not really important and that it's not the point. I'm having a tough time believing that any rabbi is going to buy that rationale from me as a "sincere conversion."
Does anyone have any advice?
|rabbi94||[ Profile - Edit Post ] ||2:36 am on 10.12.2002|
|If you were in my congregation, I would do your conversion based on your history. Judaism has many facets and a desire to be part o the community and the desire to raise your children in the Jewish tradition would suffice for me as a reason.|
Judaism is not only about belief but mostly about practice and community. you sound like a person that would be a great addition to the People of Israel.
I suggest you talk with your boyfriend's rabbi if you wish to pursue this further. rabbis don't bite (usually)!
Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn
Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn
Kansas City, MO
|Paul||[ Profile - Edit Post ] ||6:11 pm on 10.15.2002|
I'm glad to see a rabbi reply with such a welcoming response. And I agree with him that if your boyfriend does already have a personal relationship with a rabbi, by all means discuss your concerns with him/her. However, also understand that there is a large segment of Jews, rabbis included, who will tell you that belief in God is THE central tenant of Judaism. If you encounter resistance, please don't give up because, as the mere existence of this website proves, there are also plenty of people who want to welcome you into the Jewish community.
That said, I personally believe that there is no better religion for atheists than Judaism! The reason is because, as you alluded to, the values and cultural practices of Judaism have a lot more to do with relations between people here on Earth, in this lifetime, than they have to do with relations between man and God, or trying to get into a better afterlife!
My girlfriend is from Asia, and although we are several years behind you guys, I am trying to pave the way to convince her to convert. It is very hard to articulate why I (like your boyfriend, agnostic in religious outlook) would want that conversion to take place. I guess it has to do with a sense of wanting to bring us closer. Even though she understands some aspects of Judaism, going through the conversion process is basically like taking an adult-ed class that will help her understand my background even more. (Unlike you, she did not grow up in a town with any Jewish presence whatsoever: Tokyo!) There would just be something very comforting to know that her solidarity with me is so strong that she would openly self-identify as one of my "peoples." In return, she knows how interested I am in her cultural heritage and I would never ask her to lose any of that. I think Judaism and Asian culture mesh very nicely because you don't really have to supress one at the expense of the other. I would agree with the rabbi above that if she converts, even just as a statement of solidarity, it would certainly be a "sincere" conversion.
Also, the "and/or" in your statement about converting and/or raising Jewish kids is very important. According to the Reform Movement of Judaism, you do not have to convert in order for your child to be considered Jewish. So even if you do nothing, please do NOT feel guilty for marrying the Jewish man of your dreams! You are NOT "finishing Hitler's job" as my Holocaust-surviving grandmother would tell me but with whom, in all due respect, I disagree. Even if you guys don't change anything about yourselves, it seems like your children will have strong identities as Jewish Americans of South Asian [and Eastern European?] descent.
Finally, if the whole "God thing" is really an issue, I would look into a stream of Judaism called Secular Humanist. www.SHJ.org.
Good luck with whatever you decide,
|SFR||[ Profile - Edit Post ] ||11:07 am on 10.16.2002|
Your instincts are correct. Conversion to Judaism would be insincere if you do not even believe in G-d. After all, the first of the Ten Commandments is the commandment to believe in G-d (and no other gods). Almost all the rituals and holidays and practices which one normally associates with Judaism are predicated on the belief that G-d requires us to perform them.
While I understand that many born-Jews are atheists, I can't imagine why someone who calls himself a “rabbi” would agree to perform a "conversion" for someone who does not believe in the very fundamental essence of the religion to which they are converting.
However, as other posters have pointed out, there are indeed groups who will eagerly offer to convert you.
I suppose, if you are only doing this for the sake of your boyfriend, you could satisfy him by “converting” through one of these groups and be done with it. You should realize that traditional Judaism (which simply cannot recognize the conversion of someone who does not believe in G-d!) would still consider your marriage an intermarriage (and yes, the U.S. Jewish population is steadily declining from intermarriage), and your children to be non-Jews (Judaism is passed on maternally). Any rabbi who offers to convert you and does not explicitly point this out to you is not acting responsibly.
If you and your boyfriend do not plan on interacting with the Jewish community beyond the sphere of the Reform/secular Jewish community, these facts may not have any direct impact on your lives. As for your children, it’s hard to say. Your children may someday find themselves thrust in an awkward position if they are being raised as Jews when traditional Judaism considers them Gentiles.
If you would like to be supportive of the Jewish people, you could do so in many ways (you could support Jewish charities and causes, e.g.).
If you like to participate in Jewish cultural activities, or if you just enjoy hanging out with Jews, you can join an Israeli folk dancing club, or take a Jewish cooking class, etc.
But CONVERSION is not just an extra-curricular activity; it’s a very serious commitment, and if you are not doing it for reasons related to religious belief, it’s really better for everyone involved if you don’t do it at all.
|administrator||[ Profile - Edit Post ] ||3:15 pm on 10.16.2002|
|The only two points with which we at JOI agree with SFR: (1) yes, conversion IS a serious commitment, and (2) belief in God is one of the commandments. We disagree with some other points however, as well as the general tone.|
The thing to keep in mind is that Judaism is more than a religion. It is a peoplehood and culture. One of the great Jewish traditions is the openness to debate: in fact, the name Israel (Yisroel) means "to wrestle (grapple) with God." You may have heard the expression "Two Jews, Three opinions"! To us, it seems kind of unfair to allow all the born-Jews who want to debate the nature of God and even doubt God's existence, but not allow Jews-by-choice (or potential Jews-by-choice) the same intellectual leway.
SFR may want to keep in mind that many people who say they are "agnostic" or "athiest" use the term as an abridged version of "I don't subscribe to the organized-religion version of 'God' and 'Heaven' but I do feel there may be some larger power out there that I can't comprehend nor quite explain." We believe that there is ample room for that notion within the rubrick of still being a "good" Jew. It is just a widening of the "wrestling with God," to question our own nature, the nature of God, the nature of the universe. It is in the tradition of all the great Jewish scholars to do so.
We are saddened to read SFR's comment that "Your children may someday find themselves thrust in an awkward position if they are being raised as Jews when traditional Judaism considers them Gentiles." So in other words, "if you're not going to have an orthodox conversion, don't bother because I won't consider your kids Jews." Misty, that is a true minority opinion within the American Jewish community, thankfully. And SFR, we ask you to consider these scenarios when you give such advice: that a child of intermarriage is raised in no religion (or a religion other than Judaism) because their parents received such a hostile welcome from the Jewish community, or that the child is raised in a Reform or Conservative Jewish community with a knowledge of Torah and Jewish history, culture, tradition? In which of those two scenarios is the child most likely to discover the kind of Judaism YOU want to see him or her practicing?
Finally, we disagree with SFR that "the U.S. Jewish population is steadily declining from intermarriage." The number one reason the U.S. population is declining (as you will no doubt be reading in the coming months due to the release of the UJC's new National Jewish Population Survey) is that we are only having 1.8 children per family rather than the 2.1 required to maintain our numbers. Intermarriage is a factor, but only when the children of intermarriage are NOT raised as Jews. Intermarriage is not a rejection of Judaism, it is an expression of love between two people. Where there is a commitment to Judaism, and a welcoming, receptive Jewish community to help them, intermarried couples are capable of raising Jews. Just as where there is NO commitment, IN-married couples are capable of letting their Judaism lapse. In fact, the upcoming UJC study will show a huge number of Jews who are only "Jews by birth" but are "not practicing any religion." This cannot be blamed on intermarriage.
Misty, if you would like to discuss this in a less open forum, please feel free to contact JOI (there is a "contact us" button on the top of this page).
|SFR||[ Profile - Edit Post ] ||10:59 am on 10.23.2002|
|“The thing to keep in mind is that Judaism is more than a religion. It is a peoplehood and culture.”|
No argument there! But it would be equally accurate to say: Judaism is more than just a culture; it is, at its core, a religion!
Accordingly, I based my response to Misty on her description of her religious sentiments. In her subject line, she clearly and honestly described herself as “agnostic;” further in her post, she admits that “neither of us really believe in G-d.” As much as she may be comfortable with Jewish culture and holiday rituals, it would be highly unethical for her to “convert” to Judaism (or Christianity, or Islam, or for that matter, any other theistic belief system). She’s been very open and honest about her religious leanings, and I think we owe it to her to be equally honest in our responses to her dilemma.
Paul’s suggestion of looking into Secular Humanist Judaism is at least an intellectually honest one. Naturally, one cannot expect such a conversion to be relevant to more traditional, religious-based groups. Even the extremely liberal Reform movement’s Statement of Principles affirms explicitly and repeatedly the belief in G-d.
I do think that Misty should be aware that many Jews (not the tiny minority you implied, especially when speaking about the worldwide Jewish community) will consider the “conversion” to Judaism of someone who does not believe in G-d to be a sham. Misty, like other potential converts to various Jewish movements, should be made aware of the wider implications of her actions on her and her boyfriend/potential husband’s lives, their future children’s lives, and on the Jewish community as a whole. Withholding this information from Misty in an eagerness to seek converts is irresponsible and unfair.
|rabbi94||[ Profile - Edit Post ] ||12:34 pm on 10.23.2002|
|SFR WANTS TO BE THE LAST JEW LEFT!!!!|
Last time I checked my Talmud, it said that "there is no merit but in action" (Shmuel, one of the great Talmudic rabbis said it - in case you are wondering the source). Judaism is about practice not belief. SFR uses very harsh words such as "Sham" and "insincere" to describe a young woman's honest search and strugle to make a JEWISH home.
There are many rabbis (myself included) who would perform at an interfaith wedding, so the idea that Misty would convert only for marriage sake is spurious! SFR comments can certainly only lead to her giving up. Who could blame her? Unfortunately, way too many in the Jewish community have this negative attitude. It is time for a change!
Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn
|SFR||[ Profile - Edit Post ] ||9:10 pm on 10.23.2002|
|I certainly do not want to be “the last Jew left.”. I do not know how Rabbi Cukiercorn arrived at such a conclusion.|
For the record, I did not describe Misty as “insincere.” In fact, I stated explicitly that she strikes me as an honest and ethical person, as she fully recognizes how absurd it is to expect any rabbi to perform a conversion for an atheist. The harsh adjectives I used were reserved for those so eager for converts that they will “convert” someone who does not even believe in the very basis of the Jewish religion.
Yes, the American Jewish population is decreasing, and intermarriage is a huge factor in this equation, but surely there is a more ethical solution than performing conversions under false pretenses.
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