Saturday, 21 December 2013

Welcome back!

Dear Rabbi,

My name is Tom James and I want to convert to Judaism.
I currently attend a Progressive Synagogue in a small town. I grew up in a Jewish household, with my moms boyfriend being from Israel and his three children being Jewish, and my mom also grew up in a Jewish household as her grandmother was Jewish and moved to Australia from France. I have had a very Jewish upbringing and am wanting to convert so I can be recognised by the Jewish community in my own right. I attended the synagogue with my family in Auckland and the local synagogue here with my girlfriend. I have visited Israel because I feel a deep connection with Judaism and because of this I really want to convert. I want to do a progressive conversion because I strongly believe in equality and I think that the progressive stance, women as equals, resonates with me strongly, as does relating the Torah to modern day life. I do believe that there are many timeless truths in the Torah that are very relevant today but also that some things that are not so relevant in this modern time.
I have talked to the on-line course tutor from the local synagogue and he is willing to sponsor me and support my participation in the conversion course. I realise that he is overseas for the next few weeks but I am willing to do the study on my own and ask from help from my family and girlfriend as well as email the tutor if I have any questions. I am very keen to do this conversion and I would very much appeciate it if you gave me the opportunity to study with him and do the conversion.

Hello Tom,

How lovely to get your email.

We are here to help and it sounds as if you have definitely arrived at the right place.

I am glad you have talked to the local tutor - you are lucky there is one there, as sometimes it all has to be done on line - and that he is happy to supervise your course.  For conversion, you require a Sponsoring Rabbi, and, with his recommendation, I expect that there would be no problem in me fulfilling that role (though of course it would be easier for all of us if there was a Rabbi locally for you!).

May I direct you to the blog I have which is at and which will help give you a fuller understanding of the process and the way we approach different situations.  

There are a number of things I need to know initially, so please get back to me on them, and then we can see the best way to proceed - and I should precede this by stating quite clearly that 
a) conversion takes a very minimum of a year as you need to experience and learn about the cycle of the Festivals as they occur, and a fair bit of work and commitment, and 
b) you need to understand that orthodox authorities will not accept our conversions (as they don't accept our Rabbis - at least until the Messianic times!).  In terms of Israel this leads to a surprising situation:
a) once converted, you would be able to go and live in Israel as a Jew and become a citizen (because this is not controlled by the orthodox, despite repeated attempts to do so), but 
b) once you are a citizen of Israel, you would not be recognised as Jewish for the purposes of marriage or burial (because these areas are controlled by the internal ministry, controlled by the orthodox!).

Our relationship with Israel - as with orthodoxy - was described in the title of a 2009 as film with Meryl Streep and Steve Martin: 'It's Complicated'.  It would be a bit of a comedy - if it wasn't so sad!

So I have a bit of a list that I need to know so we can move forward:

a) Was it your maternal or paternal grandmother who was Jewish (traditionally the Jewish line has gone through the mother for post-biblical Judaism)?
b) Are you living in the town with the Jewish community and expecting to stay there for the time being?
c) What do you do, and what and where have you studied up to now?
d) Do you have any children?
e) Is your girlfriend Jewish?  If so what is her knowledge level and background?  If not, what does she feel about your plans?
f) Have you done the two introductory free sessions found at  If not, please do them and submit them to the tutor on their return from overseas.
g) Have you been along to services and activities at the congregation?  If so, for how long - please tell me about some, and how you found them. 
h) You describe a 'very Jewish upbringing' - can you give me fuller details of what you mean by this?  For example, when were you in Auckland, how often did you and your family go, was there a Rabbi there (if so which?) and did you talk to him or her, and if so, what did they tell you?

I hope that hasn't put you off - it will certainly give you something to do whilst the tutor is away!  Might I suggest you save the questions until they return, and let them enjoy their travels overseas - we all get so inundated with emails it is difficult to get a holiday these days!

I look forward to hearing from you again.  I truly believe that Progressive Judaism is a wonderful framework for a modern, spiritual life, so once again I extend the warmest 'welcome' - actually, in your case, 'welcome back'!


Rabbi Jonathan

No comments:

Post a Comment