Thursday, 13 February 2014

Dear Rabbi,

I contacted you at the beginning of last year with an enquiry about conversion. I live in country Victoria.  I have some Jewish heritage in previous generations but I didn't get any formal Jewish education. My family's fear of the Holocaust resulted in us being the first generation to fully assimilate.

I am still interested in conversion and have been studying The Torah and some of the many (Orthodox) books that unravel the beauty and secrets in its pages, including some books on Kabbalah. I would like to learn more as I am confused about where Progressive leaves Orthodox in regards to the 613 Commandments. I would like to do the online learning you offer, and also I would like to attend some services this year. 

I have downloaded some of the books suggested in your study program and look forward to reading them. I now realise that conversion is something I would like to strive for. Falling in love with God is indescribable.  I am sending the second free introductory assignment.

Thank you for your time


Rabbi Jonathan responds:

Dear Julia,

I do apologise for the delay in responding to your email.  This is nothing at all to do with being unwelcoming and all to do with my being overloaded, and with the number of enquiries I now receive because of our on-line presence, and the number of people in various situations, including those not dissimilar to yours.

I have received your letter and was very impressed with your work on assignment two, though there was rather more information about the mystical/kabbalah than you will get on our course.  Strangely if you find a Jewish bookshelf in a bookshelf it seems to be mainly filled with two subjects, Kabbala and Holocaust, neither of which are the main teachings or practices of Judaism.  But I appreciate that you understand that your information is mainly from orthodox (actually very orthodox) sources.

The key distinction to understand (and I think you do) is that the Jewish world is split into two religious parts – those who believe God literally gave Torah, and it is therefore ‘TRUE and inerrant’ and the rest of us, who have various ways of understanding (God may have given some of it but some is human, or it is ‘divinely inspired’ but human written, or it is ‘just the ancient story of our people’).  The first category is orthodox/ultra-orthodox and (perhaps) some modern orthodox.  The second category includes ‘Progressive’ (the umbrella term for ‘non-orthodox’, including Liberal, Reform and Reconstructionists), Conservative/Masorti and most modern orthodox (who choose to be fairly strictly observant, but recognise it is their choice and there are others – perhaps members of their own family - who choose to live their lives and Judaism differently – and are non-judgmental about them, and will even find ways to attend their homes, celebrations, funerals etc).  Some Jews who consider themselves ‘Secular’ might actually have some religious/spiritual feeling and sensitivity, but call themselves ‘secular’ because they reject the traditional ‘God as an interventionist superhuman old man on a cloud with a beard’.  This idea of God is based on ‘anthropomorphic’ (human-like) ancient biblical descriptions, translated into familiar images by artists such as Michelangelo – and ALL JEWS REJECT THEM (God is invisible – we should make no images or representations of God).  Then there are plenty  of other Jews who still feel some sort of religious affinity, but reject any superhuman God at all (atheist), and there are others who are out and out secularists (but still pleased to be part of the Jewish people and culture).  Oy!

You are not too far from Ballarat, where there is the oldest synagogue in mainland Australia, and it is a beautiful synagogue to visit.  They have annual High Holyday services and they tend to be pretty accessible.  Sadly they are also not very well attended.  But perhaps most important, you should be aware that, once a year, the Leo Baeck Centre joins with the Ballarat Community, bringing a Rabbi (me), a cantor, our prayer books, and interested congregants from Melbourne and around, and runs a lovely and uplifting service in this visually and acoustically lovely building.  It is usually just before Passover, and in 2014 it will be 10.30-12.30 on Saturday April 5th.  Please join us – introduce yourself and I’ll look forward to meeting you there, if not before.

Many of the members of Ballarat actually now live in and around Geelong, and we run a ‘Chavurah’ (informal friendship group) every couple of months in the Geelong area.  Contact LBC office 03 9819 7160 for contact details for Vicky or Tanya who co-ordinate this group.

Given your rich Jewish heritage, it is not surprising that you already show a good feel for Judaism and Jewish community – and, if your father is still alive, your interest, learning and embracing your Jewish heritage, and sharing some of it with him, may be helpful and therapeutic to both of you.  Certainly we would be very happy to have you enroll on the PJV Introduction to Judaism course, and if you wished to proceed to recover your Judaism formally, we can certainly help with that as well.

Next steps:  Could you do the first assignment – the Jewish Year cycle – and register to receive the first unit – both available at

I hope this response is encouraging, and once again I apologise for the delay and thank you for persevering!

Since it is Friday, may I wish you ‘Shabbat Shalom’.

Rabbi Jonathan Keren-Black

No comments:

Post a Comment