Sunday, 3 November 2013

My husband is an Israeli, my father was Jewish and I want to convert

Hi Rabbi,

I'm just touching base to enquire about the process of conversion for an Australian female non-jew.  

I have had a long standing interest in the Jewish faith (my father was Jewish) and since I have married my Israeli husband 3 years ago- I have been following the practices, traditions and holidays- I also east kosher.  

I have always believed in G_d and am really wanting to take on the commitment of a conversion and further my relationship and life with G_d.  I currently live a Jewish lifestyle and believe strongly in everything that lifestyle stands for. I have visited the Holy Land and the holy city Jerusalem.  

This is not a decision I take lightly, I have been wanting to do this for years and I feel that I must make this commitment for myself, for my faith, for my family and for my community.

If you have any advice on how I can take this next step, I would be very interested to hear your thoughts.

Much appreciated,


Rabbi Jonathan responded:

Dear Caroline

Thank you so much for your email.

You have not indicated where you live so I am unclear if you are in our area.  If you are, the best thing would be for you (and ideally your husband) to come and talk things through with me and I could take the opportunity to introduce you to the community centre we have here.

If you are not local, I can put you in touch with a more convenient colleague and community.  We have four congregations across Melbourne, as well as a school (the King David School,, a Netzer (youth) group and various other associated organisations (Progressive Judaism Victoria,  Similarly we have communities in Sydney, Perth, Adelaide, Hobart, Canberra, Surfers Paradise, Central Coast and Brisbane as well as in New Zealand and Asia (  We are a part of the largest congregational movement in the world, the World Union for Progressive Judaism ( with over 1,200 congregations, representing more than 1.8 million members in 45 countries on six continents.

One of our most dynamic Progressive Jewish communities is in Israel.  You mention that your husband is Israeli, and we find that often Israelis outside of Israel (as well as inside) find it difficult to relate to traditional synagogue communities, but, when they discover Progressive Judaism with our ‘Centres for Judaism’, embracing education and culture and peoplehood as well as prayer in a meaningful and accessible way, they find it easier to become involved.

To address some points in your letter directly – you define yourself as a ‘non-Jew’ and you may be right – but you may not be!  Many people are not aware that in the spirit of equality that is one of the key planks of Progressive Judaism, we recognise someone as Jewish if they only have a Jewish father, just as if they only have a Jewish mother – if they have been brought up as a Jew.  We’d need to discuss this further.  It is possible, depending on your situation, that we could do some ‘top-up learning’ and present you to a Bet Din (Jewish Court) for a ‘confirmation of Jewish Status’, rather than Conversion.  Since, however, you define yourself as a ‘non-Jew’ then this is probably not the case for you.

We would be interested to know how you have been observing the ‘practices, traditions and holidays’ – has this included being part of a community, for example?  And how much have you learnt and understood about those aspects of Judaism so far?  When you say you eat kosher, there is an interesting conversation to be had about what that means to you, both in practical terms and in spiritual ones.

You say you have always believed in God, except you say G_d and I am unsure if you are simply being cautious in writing to a Rabbi, but I have no problem writing God – our tradition is cautious about ‘taking God’s name in vain’ but enquiring about Judaism and converting and belief is certainly not that!  I’d be pleased if people spent a bit more time talking about (and writing about) God in today’s world!  There are certain precautions about writing God’s name IN HEBREW – but ‘God’ is neither God’s name (which we don’t know how to pronounce anyway – it is made up of the four Hebrew letters YHVH, but when we see it, we say ‘Adonai’ instead), and nor is it in Hebrew (El or Elohim is Hebrew for God).  A belief in the universal creator and power of the Universe is important (though question and doubt is also part of the process).  More important is our understanding that humans are God’s ‘tools’ or ‘hands’ in healing the sick, feeding the hungry, welcoming the refugees, looking after God’s world – that we work in partnership (shutafut) with God to make the world better (Tikkun Olam).

You slightly puzzle me by talking about ‘The Holy Land’, having said your husband is Israeli.  Is this some sort of suggestion that you don’t accept the modern State of Israel (that is your choice – but most Jews today are very much in support of its right to exist in safety and security – and generally of the right of Palestinians to a safe and secure land alongside it).  The State of Israel, despite the challenges it has faced since the day it was established, has achieved remarkable things – and when peace finally comes, it will achieve many more in conjunction with its neighbours.

You did not mention whether or not you yet have children, though you talk of doing this not only for yourself but for your family.  Judaism is very much a family-oriented tradition, and it is very hard to do alone.  The synagogue community is like the ‘extended family’.  All in all, we have, in Progressive Judaism, a wonderful framework for spiritual life today – in what The King David School describes as ‘Modern, Thinking Judaism.

So I suggest that, if what I have written makes sense to you, you contact me again to either meet or for me to put you in touch with a colleague convenient to you.


Rabbi Jonathan

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