Question:

1. Can anyone join the Jewish faith?  Would it make me a Jew?

2. Do Jews believe that Jesus Christ, the Messiah, came once in the flesh and is coming a second time for his church?


Answer:  The answers to your questions, in order, are:

1)  Yes and Yes -- as long as they renounce any belief in and ties to a previous religious faith.

1) No.

 


 

Question:  I am interested in converting but I have run into a few problems.  I don’t live near a synagogue (not even close).  I’m trying to learn as much as possible but I don’t know where to begin.  I have a friend who is Jewish but I want to make a decision that’s not influenced by him.  So my question for you is, are there any books, flyers, anything that I can read to get educated and make an informed decision. I want to learn before I talk to a rabbi.

Question:  I am in process of converting to Judaism, but I live in an area with very few Jewish resources.  The main resource is a college student, the president of the local college’s Hillel organization.  It is difficult to learn about living a Jewish life in such an environment.  I try to attend service when they are held, but typically, services are only held at Hillel once a month on Friday evening.  Do you have any advice for learning more about Judaism besides reading?  I have read numerous books, but they all seem to be “outdated.”  Most of the books my rabbi has recommended, though excellent, were written during the 1970’s.  Any suggestions?

Answer:  Here is my required and supplemental reading list for my Introduction to Judaism class, which serves to fulfill a portion of my conversion requirements.  However -- not living near a Jewish community is, in my opinion, a serious obstacle to conversion.

Required reading list

The Book of Jewish Practice, Rabbi Louis Jacobs; Behrman House

The Book of Jewish Belief, Rabbi Louis Jacobs; Behrman House

It’s a Mitzvah, Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson; Behrman House

Conservative Judaism, Rabbi Neil Gillman; Behrman House

The Jewish Holidays, Rabbi Michael Strassfeld; Harper and Row

Shabbat:  The Family Guide to Preparing for and Celebrating the Sabbath, 2nd edition, Dr. Ron Wolfson

Understanding Jewish History (two volumes), Sol Scharfstein, Ktav

“This is My Beloved, This is My Friend:”  A Rabbinic Letter on Intimate Relations, Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff, Rabbinical Assembly

Tanakh, Jewish Publication Society.  Any other readable translation of the Hebrew Bible is also acceptable, but my preference is for a Jewish translation.

Siddur Sim Shalom (or any other traditional Siddur)

Any traditional Passover Haggadah

Reading list - for further enrichment

Jewish Thought

Sacred Fragments, Rabbi Neil Gillman

The Death of Death, Rabbi Neil Gillman

A Jewish Theology, Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Healer of Shattered Hearts, Rabbi David Wolpe

Judaism as a Civilization, Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan

God and the Big Bang, by Rabbi Daniel Matt

Jewish History

Jewish People, Jewish Thought, Robert Seltzer

Wanderings, Chaim Potok

A History of the Jewish People, Solomon Grayzel

History of the Jewish People, Max Margolis and Alexander Marx

A History of the Jewish People, edited by H. H. Ben-Sasson

Jews, God, and History, Max Dimont

Jewish Literacy, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

A History of the Jewish Experience, Leo Trepp

A History of Zionism, Walter Laqueur



Prayer/Liturgy

To Pray as a Jew, Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin

Service of the Heart, Evelyn Garfiel

Entering Jewish Prayer, Reuven Hammer



General Judaica, Jewish calendar, life cycle, mitzvot

The Passover Seder, The Art of Jewish Living series, Dr. Ron Wolfson

A Time to Mourn, A Time to Comfort, Dr. Ron Wolfson

The Jewish Dietary Laws, James M. Lebeau

The Sabbath, Abraham Joshua Heschel

Jewish Literacy, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

Jewish Wisdom, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

The First Jewish Book of Why, Alfred Kolatch

The Second Jewish Book of Why, Alfred Kolatch

The First Jewish Catalog, Rabbi Michael Strassfeld

The Second Jewish Catalog, Rabbi Michael Strassfeld

The Complete Book of Jewish Observance, Leo Trepp



Bible

The Five Books of Moses, translated by Everett Fox, Schocken

Etz Hayim, Rabbinical Assembly and United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism

The JPS Bible Commentary series (includes all five books of Torah, Jonah, and Esther)

The Book of Job, translated by Raymond P. Scheindlin

The Book of J, Harold Bloom


Question:  I was baptized a Catholic, but I have doubts about this faith. I really am considering conversion to the Jewish faith. Am I wrong to do this?

Answer:  If you no longer believe in Catholicism, then it is not wrong to consider conversion.  If you are married to a Jew, then in fact it is a very good idea to consider conversion.  If, however, you still believe in parts of it, but have some doubts, then you may not yet be a candidate for conversion.  I don’t know enough about you to suggest a definite course of action, but if you send me your location, I would be glad to connect you with a Conservative rabbi in your area.  He or she can guide you towards the next steps.

 


Question:
  I was raised Baptist and never agreed with the religion (I hated every minute of it), later in life I started going to a Catholic church, but it too leaves me feeling empty. How can I worship Christ when the Bible Clearly states “Thou shall have no other gods before me.”? I have studied the Jewish faith and it brings me a great feeling of peace and warmth. Is it possible for an Irish Catholic girl to convert to Judaism? If so, which denomination and how do I go about doing it? I know no one who is Jewish for guidance... Are there people within the community who volunteer to offer support and guidance to converts? And most importantly, If I convert will I be accepted within the community as a Jew or will I be looked upon as an outsider?

Answer:  First of all, I would encourage you to talk over some of your questions about Christianity with various Christian clergy.  Judaism is open for conversion to anyone who does not practice another religion and sincerely wishes to study and become Jewish.  Those who convert are considered Jewish, and no distinction should be made between Jews by birth and Jews by choice.  The best way to proceed would be to find a synagogue in your area, begin attending services, and meet the rabbi.  You will also begin to meet others in the Jewish community who can support you.  If you tell me where you are located, I can direct you to a local synagogue and rabbi who can help you.

Question:  How do you convert?   What is the ceremony, what happens in it?   How does it make the person Jewish?   What if you are Christian then you just want to see what it is like to be Jewish and then you like it.   So you convert then after a couple of weeks you don’t like it any more, then you want to be Christian again so you convert back would God still consider you Jewish? Why or why not?

Question:  I am a young man, and am considering converting to Judaism. Both my parents (who I live with), are Christian but I have no problem going against them, when it comes to faith. My main question is, however, exactly what is involved in a conversion that is widely accepted by the Jewish community. I have looked over the boards on conversion, and have seen references to various things being needed. A short run through would be much appreciated.  Thanks for your time.

Answer:  Conversion to Judaism involves a program of study, usually lasting about a year.  A person who wants to convert must study Hebrew, synagogue liturgy and practice, Jewish history, philosophy, Kashrut, Shabbat, general Jewish practice, the Jewish calendar and lifecycle rituals, Jewish literature, and more.  In addition, most rabbis require that he/she begin to keep kosher and observe Shabbat, as well as coming to synagogue and doing other mitzvot.

The actual process of conversion, after going through the course of study and preparation, involves meeting with a Beit Din (Rabbinical court) of three rabbis, and if the Beit Din feels that the candidate is ready for conversion, he or she is immersed in a Mikvah (Ritual bath).  A male conversion candidate must undergo circumcision before going to the Mikvah.

The Beit Din would not go ahead with the conversion if there is any indication that the person has not demonstrated a complete commitment to becoming Jewish.  Because of the long education process, and the seriousness of the Beit Din, I have never heard of a case where a convert “changed his/her mind” after a few weeks.

A convert becomes completely Jewish, no different than a person who is born Jewish.  A convert who begins practicing another religion is in the same category as a Jew who begins practicing another religion - both are still technically Jewish, but while practicing another religion, they are not given any benefits or honors due to Jews.

Question: I’m facing a bit of confusion.  I was baptized as a Catholic, am married to a Catholic (was married in the Catholic church), and my children are attending Catholic catechism classes.  It is my wife’s wish that they be raised Catholic until they reach an age wherein they can make religious decisions on their own.

Here’s the problem:  I have been considering a Conservative conversion for myself for over a year (met with the Rabbi last June, and was pleased to discover that he would take me as a student).  My wife is supportive.  My children are a bit confused, but not overly so.  I’ve been reading, reflecting, and questioning my motives for quite some time.  I’ve reached a point where I am compelled to proceed with the conversion, with a full understanding of how difficult it will be.  I am aware that I will be asked to commit to raising my children in the Jewish faith.  How can I do this with a clear conscience, knowing that I have already committed them to a Catholic upbringing?

Answer:  After carefully reading your question, it appears to me that you have already selected a Rabbi, even though it seems that you have not spoken with him for almost a year.  A conversion is a carefully guided process of study and spiritual change, both for yourself and for your family.  The only Rabbi who can truly guide your process and answer all your questions is the one whose community you seek to join.  Therefore, please address your questions to your local Rabbi.  He may very give different answers than me.

It is possible that you have misunderstood the rabbi’s conversion requirements.  If he is willing to begin working with your towards conversion, knowing that your wife and children are Catholic, he most likely will not require you to raise the children as Jews.  On the other hand, many rabbis (myself included) would be very reluctant to convert a man in your situation, because it is extremely confusing for the children, and often creates a great deal of tension in the marriage.

Consider this: One you begin the conversion process, you will be going to synagogue on Saturday mornings without your wife and children, and they will go to Church on Sundays without you.  You will need to find a way to have a traditional Shabbat dinner on Fridays, when perhaps your wife and children would rather go out to dinner or a movie.  You will need to find a way to keep a kosher home, when perhaps your wife and children enjoy cheeseburgers, shrimp, and pork chops.  You will need to kasher that home for Passover, have a Seder, and keep all bread products out of the home for a week.  Does your wife truly understand the responsibility that will be placed on her to support you in your quest for Jewish expression?  Can you really fulfill your commitment to raise Catholic children when you will no longer be able to go to Church and worship with them?  How can it not be confusing for children when one parent renounces Catholicism, but still expects them to attend classes and become good Catholics?

I don’t know for certain how you will deal with all the answers to these questions.  I urge you to proceed very slowly, and involve your wife at every step of the process.  She should study with you, so she know exactly what kinds of changes you are contemplating.  For the good of your children, I think you should at least consider postponing the conversion until they are grown.

Again, please call your rabbi as soon as possible, and make an appointment to discuss these issues with him.

Response:  I have indeed selected a Rabbi. We have a Conservative congregation very close to my home. It is true that I have not spoken with him for quite some time; I have been following his initial advice, wherein he suggested that I:

1.  Read voraciously (lots of Heschel.  No surprise there).

2.  Be open to the idea that studies in Judaism might “strengthen my faith” in my “current” religion.

3.  Engage in self-questioning with respect to the entire matter.

I have done so.

The answers that he provided to these questions on my initial meeting with him are very similar to the ones you provide here. I only seek a “second opinion” as it were -- not because I don’t trust his judgment implicitly, but rather because due to my somewhat limited exposure I am seeking a larger audience and input into my situation. Your response seems to be in the majority.

I believe that I understand his requirements, and frankly was quite surprised that he even agreed to take me as a student given my situation. I’m not sure if he w as humoring me as an act of kindness . . .

With respect to church attendance . . . my wife seldom goes to church. My children go about as often, although my oldest has become an altar boy (or altar server, to use the “PC” term) and therefore attends more frequently than the rest. I never go any more, given that I have become an apostate in both theory and practice.

I’ve already answered a couple of the more difficult questions (i.e., my 9-year-old asking, “You don’t believe in Jesus any more?”). My youngest is too young to know the difference. My oldest jokingly calls me a heretic. His perspective is a little different, as he has many Jewish classmates and has attended many a bar- and bat-mitzvah.

My wife’s initial response was, “I guess I’ll have to learn to cook Jewish,” which was actually a positive from my perspective. Further, we are not without support, as we are friends with a couple who are members of the congregation in question. The wife in this particular marriage converted for the sake of marriage. The husband seems to be a bit mystified as to why anyone would actually want to convert, which is, I understand, a fairly typical response.

You may be correct in your assertion that I should wait until the children are grown. I must confess to entirely selfish motives. In fact, the selfishness of the whole thing is what gives me pause. It’s really a matter of weighing my duty to God against my duty to my family. A horrible position, frankly.

Answer:  Perhaps the rabbi saw some potential, as I do, that if your wife is not a strong Catholic, she may be willing to take the classes with you (I think this would be an excellent idea), and possibly follow you down the path to conversion to Judaism.

The dilemma you face, of choosing between a sense of duty to God and duty to your family, is absolutely real.  I don’t envy you having to negotiate a religious path through the thorn bushes that will not adversely affect your family.  I am confident, however, that if you and your wife make the choices together, and proceed slowly and cautiously, ultimately (in two years or 10 years), you will be rewarded with the religious identity that most suits you.

Final response: While my wife is less interested in matters spiritual than am I, I feel certain that your advice is sound. As you rightly point out, time (barring death, of course) is on my side. Thank you again for your kindness and consideration.


Question: I am a non Jew.  I was raised Christian and am still in fact, a member of a Lutheran church.  I am in the process of learning as much about Judaism as I can.  Judaism was never a part of my life -- I have been a Christian for 28 years.  Judaism was always there, but hidden away from me in a sense.  I feel like I finally found my religious calling so to speak.  I have never visited a Synagogue.  I am worried about what the reaction towards me would be from the Jewish congregation.  Ultimately I wish to convert to Judaism.  What steps should I take?  What can be done to make this a smooth process?  My wife and children are not Jewish.  My wife may or may not be with me on this, although she is supportive.

Answer:  Before beginning any conversion process, I hope you understand that you cannot become Jewish and still believe in the divinity of Jesus, believe that he was the Messiah, or believe that his death is in any way related to your salvation.  It is my understanding that these things are required for membership in a Lutheran Church, so if you are in fact still a Christian, you would not be a conversion candidate.  If you are no longer a Christian, I want to suggest that you and your wife go see a rabbi together and take an introduction to Judaism class together.  Many rabbis (myself included) are be very reluctant to convert a man unless the wife and children are also converting, because it is extremely confusing for the children and will quite possibly destroy your marriage.

Consider this scenario: One you begin the conversion process, you will be going to synagogue on Saturday mornings without your wife and children, who will continue go to Church on Sundays without you.  You will need to find a way to have a traditional Shabbat dinner on Fridays, when perhaps your wife and children would rather go out to dinner or a movie.  You will need to find a way to keep a kosher home, when perhaps your wife and children enjoy cheeseburgers, shrimp, and pork chops.  You will need to kasher that home for Passover, have a Seder, and keep all bread products out of the home for a week.  Does your wife truly understand the responsibility that will be placed on her to support you in your quest for Jewish expression?  Can you really fulfill your commitment to raise Christian children when you will no longer be able to go to Church and worship with them?  How can it not be confusing for children when one parent renounces Christianity, but still expects them to attend classes and become good Christians?

I don’t know for certain how you will deal with all the answers to these questions.  I urge you to proceed very slowly, and involve your wife at every step of the process.  She should study with you, so she know exactly what kinds of changes you are contemplating.  For the good of your children, I think you should at least consider postponing the conversion until they are grown.

_If you are sincere in your desire to become Jewish, you will be warmly received in the synagogue.  It is hard, however, to know you have made the right decision if you have never set foot in a synagogue or spoken with a Rabbi, so that would be the first step.  But please, do not do this without your wife.  You and she should be together on this, or the process will be anything but smooth.

Question:  I am a 15-year-old girl who was raised Christian, but I would like to convert to Judaism. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to convert formally until I’m 18. In the meantime, I’ll be forced to attend church with my family, and I feel like a complete hypocrite. I’m sincere in my wish to convert, so what should I do in the meantime?

Answer:  The way you worded your questions tells me that your a very wise and sensitive 15 year old girl.  You recognize that you need to proceed with great care, given your family situation.  Kibbud av v’eim (Honoring one’s father and mother) is a central mitzvah in Judaism; and I do not want you to do anything at this point in your life that goes against the will of your parents.  Before I - or any other rabbi - would begin working with you seriously, I would want to know what motivated you to decide you want to convert.  I would also like to know what beliefs, if any, you currently hold regarding Jesus as messiah or son of God.

For the time being, you can take some steps towards conversion without entering a synagogue by going to the public library and reading as much as you can about Judaism, Jewish practice, Jewish thought, and Jewish history.  You can also get a copy of a Jewish Bible, and begin reading/studying Torah and Bible.

You can begin to travel along the path towards becoming a believing, practicing Jew right now, without going against many of the traditions of your parents.  However, going to church is a tremendous issue.  Being a Jew is not compatible with belief in Jesus, praying to Jesus, or going to church as a Christian.  Have you told your parents about your interest in becoming Jewish?  How have they responded?  If your parents want you to continue going to church, the question you pose to me is truly very difficult.  As I wrote above, honoring your parents is a central obligation of a Jew.  I don’t want you to do anything that will deeply hurt your parents; on the other hand, I want you to have the opportunity to begin exploring Judaism.  When you are in church, perhaps you can find things to do that do not involve praying to Jesus.  Reading Bible or singing some of the prayers that do not mention Jesus might be a partial solution.

Being a Jew is a lifetime obligation.  It is not something you do on a whim.  In three years when you go off to college, you will be much freer to pursue your own religious path.  For now, you are in your parent’s house, and you are obligated to follow their rules.

Question:  Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.  I think the main thing that motivates me to convert is the fact that I have many new friends this year, a lot of whom are Jewish. As a result, I have been learning more about Judaism and Jewish life, and Judaism just makes more sense to me than Christianity. There are many traditional Christian beliefs that I don’t feel comfortable with, and I have found the Jewish ones to be more sensible. As for my thoughts on Jesus, I believe he was a good rabbi with great abilities to teach and serve the people, but I do not believe that he was the Son of God. In my opinion, if the Messiah had already come, the world wouldn’t be quite as screwed up as it is now.

I’ve only talked to my mother about this so far, and she accepts my decision. She understands my wish to convert, but she has said that as long as I live at home, going to church is one of my obligations to the family. So I’ve been going, but I haven’t really been as involved as I used to be. Thank you for offering to give me the name of a rabbi in my city (Cleveland, Ohio) to contact, but I already know one. My friend’s father is a rabbi, but the reason I didn’t go to him in the first place is pretty complicated. Plus, another friend of mine has agreed to introduce me to her rabbi. So thank you for your help!

Answer:  Again, I would like to say that I think you are a very mature, clear thinking 15 year old girl.  You sound like an excellent candidate for conversion.  I encourage you to begin reading and studying as much as possible about Judaism, continue talking to you mother (and father) about your interest, and continue to find other things to do when you go to church.  Form a relationship with a rabbi, and if possible, perhaps you can go to synagogue occasionally.

Question:   I am 16 years old and I have been seriously considering converting. I have tried to learn as much about Judaism as I can. My parents have been forcing me to go to the Christan church and i don’t really belive in that religion. I understand that converting takes a long time and a lot of effort, I am ready for this chalange. I have also heard that people under the age of 18 can not convert. However I do not wish to keep being part of a religion that I do not believe in. Is there any way I  can start the conversion process or start practicing the Jewish faith?  Thank you for your time and your concern.

Answer:  Kibbud av v’eim (Honoring one’s father and mother) is a central mitzvah in Judaism; and I do not want you to do anything at this point in your life that goes against the will of your parents.  You should discuss your desire with your parents.  Remember, they have been supporting you for the last 16 years.  You owe them your life.  If they do not want you to begin studying for conversion, you should respect their wishes.  After you are living on your own and supporting yourself, it will be a different story.  But for now, you owe allegiance to your parents.

Before I - or any other rabbi - would begin working with you seriously, I would want to know what motivated you to decide you want to convert.  I would also like to know what beliefs, if any, you currently hold regarding Jesus as messiah or son of God.

For the time being, you can take some steps towards conversion without entering a synagogue by going to the public library and reading as much as you can about Judaism, Jewish practice, Jewish thought, and Jewish history.  You can also get a copy of a Jewish Bible, and begin reading/studying Torah and Bible.

You can begin to travel along the path towards becoming a Jew without going against the traditions of your parents.  When you are in church, perhaps you can find things to do that do not involve praying to Jesus.  Reading Bible or singing some of the prayers that do not mention Jesus might be a partial solution.

Being a Jew is a lifetime obligation.  It is not something you do on a whim.  Have patience.  In a couple years when you go off to college, you will be much freer to pursue your own religious path.

Question: My boyfriend and I are strongly considering marriage.  He was raised in Israel in a somewhat religious Jewish family (he had a bar mitzvah but no weekly services) and I was raised Catholic.  However, now we are both atheists and do not attend any services. He has brought up the idea of my converting to Judaism.  I would do this but do not know if it would be allowed since I do not believe in a God, do not want to attend weekly services, and do not wish to participate in organized religion.

Another problem: we want to raise our children as “culturally Jewish”, but do not wish to teach them of the idea of a god or have them attend weekly services.  For example, we want them to learn about Hebrew, Israel, history of the Jewish people, etc., celebrate holidays with his family at their home, and continue the traditions that he grew up with.  For reasons of tradition, not religion, we would also like our children to be able to have bar mitzvahs and the like, and also we would like to be married by a rabbi.  Are these wishes of ours possible or are we just dreaming?

Answer:  You have raised some very difficult issues, and I would like to deal with them one at a time.

First, regarding your conversion to Judaism.  Given that you are not interested in participating in synagogue life in any way, including attending Shabbat services, it is highly unlikely that you will find a rabbi willing to convert you.  I would urge you, however, to take a conversion class or an Introduction to Judaism class at a synagogue in your area.  You might find something that sparks enough of an interest to make you want to pursue conversion more seriously.  The issue of belief in God, interestingly, is secondary.  There is a wonderful midrash in which God says, “It is OK if my children forget me and observe my Torah, for in observing my Torah they will eventually come back to me.”  Therefore, it you were willing to be a serious, studying, somewhat practicing, Jew, you might find a rabbi to convert you even though you do not believe in God.

If the two of you join a synagogue, the rabbi will most likely be willing to convert your child, if the two of you agree to raise him/her as a Jew and give him/her a Jewish education.  “Tradition,” however, is a very ambiguous word.  Ceremonies and holiday celebrations connect Jews with a 3500 year old tradition, but the reason the tradition has survived is that it is infused with religious meaning.  Bar Mitzvah is a ceremony with religious meaning; holidays have religious meaning; and a Jewish wedding ceremony is a religious ceremony.  Meaningless traditions will not last; traditions that teach us about our religious and social responsibilities in the world AND connect us to a higher power, will survive.

_A traditional rabbi would not marry the two of you unless you converted.  A Reform rabbi might.  I do, however, think that you are just dreaming when you describe a family that has no interest in religion per se but yet wants to raise their children with a Jewish identity.  Children are smart, and pick up on what’s important and what’s not very quickly.  If they see Mom and Dad not involved in serious Judaism, they will have no interest or willingness to study Hebrew, Jewish history, Israel, or celebrate holidays that their parents find meaningless.

My suggestion is that the two of you get some serious marriage counseling by a rabbi, who may help you work out some of these issues, and decide whether the two of you should get married or not.

Question:  I am a 27-year-old professional in southern California. I am considering converting to Judaism and have been researching converting for about two years now. My reason for converting is simple. I feel that Judaism best represents my personal philosophy on god, worship, and life. I have looked into the various denominations and feel that a conservative conversion is the most appealing alternative to me. The only hitch is that I am engaged to a Christian woman. Although she is very liberal in her views and has no problem with me converting I’m not sure if a Conservative rabbi would sponsor me under my circumstances. Please advise me on a course of action or in any way you see fit. Thank you for your time.

Answer:  I can’t tell you how every Conservative Rabbi would react -- only what my response would be.  When people who are already married to a non-Jew come to me for conversion, I tell them that I will consider it, but I am reluctant to convert one spouse.  It necessarily undermines some of the shared values in a marriage; it is difficult to lead a full Jewish life when one’s spouse does not share that commitment; and it is more difficult to raise Jewish children in an interfaith household.  I ask that both spouses take the classes, and meet with me regularly.  If at the end of the process I am convinced of the sincerity of the non-converting spouse’s support, and that the conversion will not destroy the marriage, then I will do such a conversion.  To this point, I have never had such a person complete the conversion process.  I have, however, converted several entire families after the initially non-converting spouse also chose to convert; and I have seen a divorce happen so the candidate was basically single at the time of conversion.

In your case, I would tell you something very similar to the above.  The two of you should take the conversion classes together.  You should also get serious pre-marital counseling, to address the questions that need to be answered - how will you accommodate and support each other’s religious practices, how will you raise your children (choosing to raise them in BOTH religions is absolutely not a viable option), how will you manage the inevitable and painful conflicts that will inevitably occur.

The best thing to do now is contact your local Conservative rabbi, and ask him/her these questions.  What I have given you is only my practice -- other rabbis may have differing, legitimate, points of view.

Question:
  Can one take classes online for conversion for Reform or Conservative Judaism?

Answer:  There may be such a thing as on-line conversion classes, but I would not recommend one.  Part of my requirement for conversion is regular synagogue attendance and participation in a Jewish community.  I would encourage you to get in touch with the nearest synagogue and Rabbi (if you tell me where you are located, I can recommend one), and begin a conversion program there.

Question:  I am a 17 year old who has been considering Judaism for the last 3 years. I’m at the point where I have decided that this is right for me, but in all the books I have read and the information I have read online, they say that the rabbi will try to discourage me from conversion. This makes me somewhat nervous, and also confused. Why would he/she want to make me shy away from becoming a Jew? I always heard that converts were welcomed into the Jewish community.



Answer:  It is a widely held folk belief that Rabbis are obligated to turn away potential converts three times before accepting them for conversion, in order to see if they are truly sincere.  This practice, however, has no basis within Jewish law -- it is not a requirement, and most rabbis will not turn you away.  If one does, ask them to quote the relevant passage within halakha that requires them to turn you away!

Most rabbis, however, do have a list of requirements before they will actually convert you.  Do not be intimidated by the list.  Conversion is a process that usually takes a year, even after you are sure that you want to become Jewish and have done some study on your own.  Since you are a minor, they may also want to get the consent of your parents before starting the program.  I would urge you to talk to your parents about your choice, if you have not already done so.

If you would like me to recommend a Rabbi, please send me your location, and I will try to find the closest Conservative Rabbi.

Question: I am currently converting to Conservative Judaism.  I am doing it for myself mostly.  But my boyfriend’s parents, who are Conservative also, would like me to convert to Orthodox, so I would be accepted by everyone.  My question is: Can I convert Conservative and still be accepted by the Orthodox Jews, or do I have to convert to Orthodox in order to be accepted?  My other question is: If I have to convert to Orthodox in order to be accepted how long would it take me approximately?

Answer:  Some Orthodox Rabbis will not accept a Conservative conversion.  Currently, in the state of Israel, non-Orthodox convert can receive citizenship but will not be registered by the Ministry of Religion as Jews.  This may or may not ever change.  It is unlikely that it will every happen that all Orthodox Rabbis will accept a non-Orthodox conversion, even if it is totally halakhic like that done by a Conservative Rabbi.

I tell my prospective converts that the decision to convert Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform should be made for ideological reasons.  If you believe in the principles of Orthodox Judaism, then you should seek an Orthodox Rabbi.  If you believe in the principles of Conservative Judaism, then keep studying with a Rabbi from that movement.  It would be intellectually dishonest to convert Orthodox (meaning that you have to convince a Beit Din or Orthodox Rabbis that you intend to be Orthodox), when all along you intend to live as a Conservative Jew.

Question:
I would like to convert to the Jewish religion...I would like to raise my son David who is 8 years old and Sarah who is 5 years old in the Jewish faith.

Should I seek religious council on conversion ... will we be accepted among the Jewish community? I do not want my children to ever feel or be made to feel like thy are truly not Jewish.

Answer:  If you find a good Jewish community outside of Israel, you and your children will be totally accepted.  Currently, there are problems for non-Orthodox converts in Israel, but things are changing for the better.

There will always be some who do not accept converts; and there will always be some Orthodox Jews who do not accept non-Orthodox conversion.  However, it you are considering conversion because of a sincere belief in God and Torah, the intolerance of a few should not deter you.

The next step is to seek out a local synagogue and speak to the rabbi.  You may find one in your local Yellow Pages, or if you would like a Conservative synagogue, you may send me your location and I can try to locate the nearest rabbi.

Question:
My husband and I are adopting two baby boys from Guatemala.  What is the best way to convert these boys.  They will not be circumcised when we bring them home. (They will both be about 4-5 months old). Can we have a mohel present at the circumcision (they will need to have this done by a pediatric urologist because of their age and the fact that they will need to be under anesthesia), and have a conversion ceremony this way and do we need to bring them to a mikvah?  Should we have a naming ceremony for them?  I am concerned that whatever method we decide, it will be in their best interest later in life, just in case they do become religious and want to marry someone orthodox.  Thank you!

Answer:  No matter who does the Brit Milah and conversion, I am glad that you want to include the traditional halakhic elements that I will briefly outline for you.  Even if your sons ultimately continue to affiliate with a Reform synagogue, it is better policy, in my opinion, to do conversions in a traditionally halakhic way so that there will be far fewer questions regarding their Jewishness in the future.

Their should be a mohel and/or a Rabbi in the operating room, but even so the pediatric urologist who does the circumcision should ideally be Jewish.  The mohel or Rabbi will recite a blessing and make the first incision, supervised by the doctor.  It is also possible for the doctor (as long as he or she is Jewish) to recite the blessing before making the first incision.  The rest of the ceremony, done by the mohel or Rabbi, is exactly like a regular brit milah, and includes a naming prayer.  Their is only a very slight difference in the wording of the ceremony, because this would be a brit milah for the sake of conversion.

You will definitely need to bring them to a mikvah as soon as possible after they are healed from the brit milah.  The conversion will not be complete until you do.  Generally, children under a year old do well being immersed in a mikvah.  After that, it gets more difficult, and the child sometimes needs to wait until age five or seven.

The ceremony your local rabbi suggests may differ from the above in minor ways, but I suggest you contact him or her (and/or the mohel) as soon as possible to make plans.

Question:  My wife and I would like to convert to Judaism.  We have one son, 12 years old.  I understand that circumcision is required - I am circumcised, but my son is not.  How do we explain this to our son?

Answer:  It sounds from your message that you have not yet met with a Rabbi about conversion.  You should do that as soon as possible, so you and the Rabbi, and eventually your son, can talk though issues of the conversion process.

Any halakhic conversion to Judaism requires hatafat Dam Brit (drawing a drop of “covenantal blood” from the penis) from an already circumcised male, and full Brit Milah (covenantal circumcision) for a non-circumcised male.

How do you explain this to your son?  I suggest that you show your son the difference between his penis and your own, and gently explain that in order to become Jewish, one needs to be circumcised.  Actually, he has probably noticed that he looks different than most of the other boys he sees in the locker room, so he will understand that he has an extra flap of skin on his penis.  You can show him exactly what part of the foreskin will be cut off.

MOST IMPORTANT -- Assure him that that you will not do this against his will.  If you son changes his mind and does not want to convert at this time, then you need to honor that decision.  As a Rabbi, I would never consent to be part of the conversion of a 12 year old boy against his will, especially when it involves surgery and some amount of pain.

If you son is willing to consider it, but still nervous (and who wouldn’t be!), when the time comes you can make an appointment with the urologist that your Rabbi recommends, so the doctor can explain to your son exactly what will happen.

Question:  If a child (The father is Jewish, the mother not and will not allow conversion - they are divorced) has been studying in Religious school for 6 years and is approaching 7th Grade and this child because she is not Jewish cannot have a Bat Mitzvah - Is there anything that can be done for the child?

Answer:  The child is not Jewish, and thus may not celebrate Bat Mitzvah.  Nothing can be done about this unless there is some way she can be converted.

There was a court case several years ago in Massachusetts in which a divorced parent successfully sued the other parent to prevent the child from being taken to church.  The decision was based on the fact that when they married, they agreed to raise the children exclusively in the Jewish religion.

Perhaps the father in your case can take the mother to court to force her to allow the conversion.

Question:
I plan on pursuing a conversion to Judaism.  I was raised Catholic but was agnostic for years.  Does the fact that I have had a vasectomy preclude me from becoming a Jew?

Answer:  That fact that you have a vasectomy would not be an obstacle to conversion.

Question:  I went through an orthodox conversion in 1974. 8 years later I underwent gender reassignment surgery.  I am not public about this because i don’t need the extra tzores. I don’t know what to do in order to prove my jewish identity in case I want to go to Israel in the future. my original sponsor is long deceased and I certainly don’t care to cause embarrassment to myself or others by rattling skeletons in the closet by returning to that original orthodox shul. I want to establish my jewish identity as the person I have been for the past 20 years via the most hassle free way possible. i am asking you, a Conservative  rabbi because, well, have you seen ‘Trembling Before God’?  Although I am pretty frum, I don’t need to bang my head against a wall of fixed attitude. Also I lay tefillin as per the Conservative practice of egalitarianism. I guess I’m asking how I can get my ‘papers’ in order or how I could pass muster should I decide upon aliyah at some future date.  Without proof of my original Orthodox conversion (I have no documentation), what would you suggest?  Thanks a lot.  I’ve been brooding over this a long time.

Answer:  In order to make aliyah, you need to prove your Judaism by birth or by conversion.  If you have no documentation of your original conversion, then you will have problems with the Israeli Rabbinate, regardless of the fact that your gender has changed since you converted.

You might be able to contact the original Beit Din by mail (the synagogue with which it was affiliated might have records) and ask for a copy of a letter certifying the conversion, but in your case that is not going to get you very far.  The Rabbinate in Israel will likely not accept the letter presented to them by you as a women, since it was written for a man.

The only way out of this, that I can see, is for you to ask your rabbi to take you to another Beit Din, and to prepare a new set of conversion papers that indicates that you are a woman.  If they already know that you converted properly as a man almost 30 years ago, it is likely that they will not have a problem in supervising another mikvah for you.

Your own rabbi and two other will need to know the story -- but I’m sure that they will understand the need to keep this in confidence, and not share it with the rest of the community.

 

Question:  I converted for my 2nd marriage and also converted my son from my 1st marriage.  We went through the Conservative conversion process.  Now my husband and I are divorced and I would like to nullify this conversion.  How do I do this officially?  Also what repercussions will this have for my children from this 2nd marriage who were considered Jewish because they were born to a convert?  Will the nullification of my conversion change their status as Jews at all?  This divorce process has been a horrible process and I am very anxious to know the answers to these questions.  Thank you for your response in advance.

Answer:  If I understand you correctly, you no longer want to be Jewish.  I find this sad, but if you find greater meaning and closeness to God in another religion, I certainly acknowledge that Judaism is not the only path to God.

There is no process for nullifying a conversion.  You will remain Jewish (according to the Jewish community) forever.  If you choose a different religion, such as Christianity, while you are involved in the Church you will not have any privileges of being a Jew.  If, however, you decide to return to Judaism, you could do so without another conversion.     The Jewish status of your children from your second marriage remain unchanged.  They remain Jewish, even if you leave Judaism.  As far as their spiritual development as Jews goes, your conversion will be very damaging.  It is very difficult to raise Jews in an interfaith home.  It is even more difficult in a broken home, especially if custody is shared or primary custody is with the non-Jewish parent.

When you converted and married your second husband, you made an implicit promise to raise Jewish children.  There was a court case several years ago in which a parent (I believe the mother) in your situation wanted to bring the children to church, and her husband sued and successfully prevented her from doing so.  So even if you leave Judaism, realize that you have a moral and probably legal obligation to continue to support your children’s Jewish upbringing.

Incidentally, how old is your son from your first marriage -- and how does he feel about remaining Jewish?

Divorce is horrible.  I urge you to find a support group.  Please do not make any hasty decisions about leaving Judaism.  There is a rule of thumb that a widow should not make any life decisions, such as selling the house, for at least a year.  I have heard divorce described as a “death without a funeral and a grave to visit.”  You need time to grieve your loss, whether it was instigated by your or him; give yourself that time, and give the Jewish community time to respond.  See your own Rabbi, and ask him/her these questions.  He/She may have slightly different answers than mine.


Question: Several years ago my mother passed away but before she did, she told me that her mother was Jewish (her father was Catholic).  They had three children.  The children were not raised by either of their parents.  My grandparents came from the Ukraine but my mother did not know what part of the country they came from, the children were born in USA.  When the children were very young my grandmother abandoned them (they never knew where she went).  My grandfather could not take care of them and they all ended up being put away.  My mother’s sister ended up in an institution because she was deaf and mute.  My mother and her brother ended up in a children’s home.  They never saw their mother again, and my mother didn’t see her father again until years later when he ended up in the hospital and a hospital social worker located my mother.  From my mother’s visits she learned the above from her father, before he died in 1972.  He had never said anything to them because they were too young, and he was enraged because their mother had left.  She never said anything to us because she had never been raised Jewish (or Catholic) and neither had we.  (My mother’s sister died in 1967 and her brother died 3 months before my mother in 1994).   My mother only told me about this and not my brothers or sister because she knew it would not make any difference to them, (one of my brothers and my sister are atheists, the other brother is a Christian), she said we never knew anyway so she didn’t see much sense in saying anything about it now.  I was a Christian until about 16 years ago, when my father passed away (that was the beginning of the end of any faith I had in anything).  After my mother passed away, that was definitely the end of my faith and trust in G-d.  From time to time I thought about being Jewish but wasn’t sure what to do so never bothered saying or doing anything about it. That is until last year, after 9/11, and also finding out that I am at risk for breast cancer (I had an operation to remove a tumor), I felt I really needed to check into the Jewish faith, I had/have a lot of questions but am learning things from Jewish friends.  I have visited several Jewish websites and have been studying Torah which I have been finding alot of comfort in reading.

I have also been reading a lot about Jewish history, holidays, and customs. There is much I want to learn.  My main question is am I Jewish because my mother and grandmother were Jewish; even though my mother didn’t know that she was until years later; or do I have to do something to prove that I am Jewish, or to become Jewish?  I would appreciate your help in this matter.

Answer:  Since you have never formally studied Judaism, the wisest course of action would be to contact a local synagogue and enroll in an Introduction to Judaism program, as if you were preparing for conversion.  If I understand your story accurately, you do not need a full conversion.  However, because of the circumstances (that your grandmother may have deliberately left Judaism), the rabbi might suggest immersion in a mikvah (ritual bath) anyway.

 


Question: I converted almost two years ago. As someone who is proud of this decision and my enhanced identity, I deal with my very un-Jewish name daily. (My first name is from one of Jesus\’s apostles, and my last name is distinctly Italian).

How have others dealt with this issue in the past? Is it common for converts to change their names to identify more with the Jewish community? I have toyed with the idea of maybe changing first names, but probably couldn’t change my last name.

Answer:  It is not very common for converts to change their English names (obviously, however, they have taken a Hebrew name upon conversion).  However, it is certainly not unheard of, especially in an Orthodox or Israeli setting, for converts to begin using their Hebrew names for everyday purposes, and some do in fact choose to legally change their names.

With growing numbers of converts as well as intermarriages in our country, there is really no such thing any more as a Jewish or non-Jewish last name.  There are Weinberg’s who are Christian, and Thompson’s who are Jewish, so I wouldn’t worry too much about Calabrese.

Question: Although my family is culturally Italian,  I took a matrilineal (mtdna) family gene test and got a number of matches to Ashkenazi jews. (I also got matches to polish gypsies and bosnians). There are likely many women in the world whose DNA matches Ashkenazi DNA. Has the Jewish community addressed this new issue? How strong does the match have to be to consider myself an ethnic Ashkenazi? Or will Jewish law not recognize mtDNA tests as evidence of Jewish ethnicity.

Answer: Because the Jewish community has historically considered endogomy (in-marriage)  to be the ideal, many in the Jewish community do share some genetic markers.  However, Judaism is a religious community, not merely an ethnic community. Genes have nothing to do with one's choice of religious community.  Most of the descendants of a Jew who converts out would also share the genetic markers; and non-Jews who become Jewish bring in a new set of of genetic markers. Jewish law does not recognize Jewish identity based solely on genetic tests.

If you are interested in exploring Judaism, I'd encourage you to contact a local synagogue.

Response: I appreciate your reply.  Although raised Christian, I do not believe as a Christian.  I do, however, believe that spirituality must be part of my life, but have not decided how. As a former New Yorker, I had much contact with the Jewish community. I also did  historic  research on Sephardim in Cuba for a lecture I helped organize. It is a stunning thing for me to find that I might be, at least partially, of Ashkenazi descent. It is sad and moving for me to me to think that in the middle ages, a grandmother of mine agreed to be baptized, for whatever reason. But maybe none of this is true, and I want to know what is true. Perhaps that is not possible at this point. Thank you for your kind reply.  I will continue my journey bit by bit.


 

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