Sunday, 3 November 2013

Caution - read this if you are thinking of converting to Judaism

Caution.  Tread carefully!

It is a very big step to leave the culture and traditions of your family and upbringing – even if you don’t consider they were very strong and present – and family and friends may not understand or feel fully supportive of your decision.
It is a mistake to imagine that you can slip from one religion into another – Judaism – as if it is a change of clothes.  Though someone who has done the study and the intellectual work and attended synagogue and celebrated the cycle of the festivals over a year or more may be able to be accepted by a ‘Bet Din’ (Jewish court), and indeed may know more than someone born Jewish, the journey is really longer.  That is the equivalent of ‘taking off your Learner plates’.  It can take many years to be familiar with life cycle events like circumcisions, wedding and funerals, comfortable with the cycle of the year, with the smells and tastes and vocabulary.
Someone came up to me once and said ‘I converted thirteen years ago, I have raised two children, made Shabbat dinner and lit the candles every week, celebrated Pesach and Rosh Hashanah and Chanukah and Purim year in year out, fasted and reflected every Yom Kippur.  Now I feel I am leaving Jewish childhood – and I’d like to prepare to lead the service and read Torah – and celebrate my coming of age as a Jewish Adult by having a Bat-Mitzvah’.
What a great thing to do – she really got it!  But it took her 13 years.
The danger is that, if you have a life crisis – death of a parent or child, a serious illness, or loss of a partner or spouse or something else traumatic – before you realise you feel completely safe and comfortable and ‘at home’ in the Jewish community, you may want to go ‘back’ to what you grew up with – and find you are no longer at home or welcome there either.  In other words, by undertaking this journey, you risk entering a ‘nether-land’ for some years, and it is important to understand that this may become more significant and difficult than you realise at present.

I recently found a similar explanation, albeit warning Jews of the danger of leaving Judaism for Christianity, as explained by Mordecai in George Eliot’s last book, Daniel Deronda, in Chapter 42:
Can a fresh-made garment of citizenship weave itself straightway into the flesh and change the slow deposit of eighteen centuries? What is the citizenship of him who walks among a people he has no hardy kindred and fellowship with, and has lost the sense of brotherhood with his own race?

Good luck with your religious journey.

Rabbi Jonathan

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