Tuesday, 20 August 2013

I am 38, divorced and a non-practicing Catholic

Dear Rabbi, 

Thankyou so much for your detailed reply and information to my questions regarding the introduction course. I had a look last night at the introductory units and they seem very good. 
I just thought I should provide some basic information about myself. I am 38, and at the moment a non-practising Catholic. I recently got married and my wife is also very interested in the introduction course. Both she and I have previously been married (I hope this would not hinder a journey into the Jewish faith). I have always had a strong interest in religion and religious life in various aspects, and have read a large amount on various religions. I wrote a master's thesis on the image of Australian Muslims in the media back in 2008. I travelled to Israel some years ago (although I think this has very little to do with my interest in conversion), but it did introduce me to some historical and cultural elements. I now work in the caring professions, and am currently studying towards a higher degree, so I may be a little slow on certain aspects of the introductory to Judaism course, with fitting all my study/work in. But that said, I have always felt a slow steady journey provides a more stable outcome. The slower you go, the more you see.
I hope this email is ok, I just thought it appropriate to give you a little information about me. 
Thankyou again for your time, 


Rabbi Jonathan responded:

Dear Jason,

Thanks for the background.  To address your points in order: you would be amazed how many people who wish to become Jewish have a Catholic background!  I often wonder how many Jews there must be queuing to go in the opposite direction!  Today, we are less bound than ever to our family's tradition and upbringing - though its influence, familiarity and support should not be underestimated.  Life seems to offer us a 'Religious Supermarket', and you appear to have given some thought and attention to the religious choices on offer. But it is important to remember that it takes many years - sometimes a lifetime - to feel fully comfortable in a new religious framework and tradition, and there is nothing more sad and painful than to see someone who has rejected or cut themselves off from their own family faith and joined a new one, but, when faced with a life crisis, they discover that it has not really 'taken' and for whatever reason, they don't find the solace, support and acceptance in their new faith - but can also not turn back to their original one - and are stuck in an unsupported 'no man's land' (no-person's land doesn't really work there, does it?!).  When I was a very new Rabbi, a woman came to me and explained that she had converted thirteen years ago, had been celebrating shabbat and festivals, cooking for Pesach, fasting on Yom Kippur, and raised two children - and now she felt ready to celebrate her own 'bat-Mitzvah', as she realised she was finally becoming a 'Jewish adult'.  And of course, we were delighted to help.

In terms of divorce, Judaism has always recognised that people continue to grow and develop, sadly not always in harmony or in the same direction, and therefore, though sad, divorce has always been allowed and provided for. So there is no problem with the fact that you and your wife are both divorcees.

With regard to Israel, it is important to understand that our faith originated in that area and we have very strong ties, feelings and emotions connected to it.  Having said that, Judaism is a faith that can and does flourish and grow nearly anywhere in the world, including here in Australia!  The vast majority of Jews worldwide have strong links to Israel, and may well have family and friends living there, and may have visited and even spent significant time studying or living there.  Never the less, it is a tricky area - Israel's neighbours have not wanted her there even since before she was re-established in 1948, though we note and celebrate the long-standing peace agreements between Israel and Egypt and Israel and Jordan.  Whether the Palestinians were a real people in the past is a moot point - indeed I have seen films of Jewish settlers before 1948 saying 'We Palestinians have a lovely life here in the new Jewish city of Tel Aviv...' but there is little point in trying to argue the past, which we cannot change.  Today Israel and the Palestinians must find a way to live together for their own benefit and that of all the region.  I don't agree with all that the Australian government does, or the American, so there is no reason why I should agree with everything that every Israeli government does either - but that is democracy!  I absolutely believe in Israel's right to live in safety and security - and I absolutely believe in the Palestinian right to do the same.  The upshot is that to be a Jew in the world today, you need to have a relationship with the Jewish State - but it does not have to be an all positive or an all negative one - and for most Jews (should they wish to admit it), it is probably mixed - but there is undoubtedly and rightly great pride in what Israel has achieved, and also a deep understanding of the need to maintain a Jewish refuge and support for those in danger and need.

So I hope that addresses some of your questions - and perhaps opens up some more!


Rabbi Jonathan


  1. Thankyou again for such a detailed reply.
    Yes, that is a very good point concerning taking on a new religious framework, and I take heed to your caveat. I would imagine that those who move from Catholicism to Judaism may find some comfort in that Judaism is a religion with strong traditions and history, I feel tradition and history do provide a sense of foundation. I have been to other churches that do not have this, and to me, appear very intangible. The story of the woman convert of 13 years seems very real to me, and as I mentioned in my first email to you, I understand faith is a journey, a lifetime of discovering and learning, and although I am considering moving from one religious framework to another, Catholic to Jewish, I see the move as a part of the lifetime journey, a coming to a deeper understanding of God and not a simple "jumping ship" type attitude.
    Thankyou for your thoughts on Israel, although I did mention I have been there, at the time I was only a 20 year old kid staying on a kibbutz, seems like a lifetime ago. I did enjoy and learn some wonderful things about Israel, but my travels there have very little to do with where I am at today, except maybe the realisation that Judaism is not an "alien" religion from "way over in the Middle East", but a religion and culture consisting of ordinary people living their lives.

    Thanks again

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