Sunday, 28 September 2014

A 'ridiculously religious' catholic!

Dear Rabbi Jonathan,

Shana Tova (Happy New Year). 

I certainly understand how busy the High Holidays.

Thank you for the link to the Introduction to Judaism 'Distance learning' website and the two free introductory sessions at
I will  begin the modules on line now. I am grateful for the opportunity to undertake an on-line conversion. 

I have wished that I was born and raised Jewish since I was 12 years old. Unfortunately this wish did not manifest through a deep connection with a Jewish community, but through books and movies, and perhaps surprisingly through my Catholic education.

I have been ridiculously religious my whole life, but the Jesus I came to know was very much the Jewish story teller. Increasingly over the last 30 or so years the key teachings of the faith I was raised in have made less & less sense. I did & still do appreciate being a part of a faith community, with a commitment to G-d, prayer, education, social justice, the common good & a value map for living one's life and care for the world at its core. 

I do not believe in original sin, transubstantiation, a number of other key Catholic teachings or probably most significantly that Jesus was anything more than a gifted & perhaps radical teacher of Jewish faith. Everything I value in my own faith has always been the bits we inherited from Judaism.

Being a part of a faith community, however, is about more than just belief. The Catholic Church was where I was raised & it has provided me with a strong sense of belonging, more importantly, over the years it has meant that I have been able to work within that community to do my part to "heal the world". I also have enormous respect for a Catholic education.  So I have remained an involved Catholic. 

I spent a few months in Israel some years ago which included the high holidays, and my love for Israel and Judaism grew exponentially.  My family & I visited New York City more recently and I took my kids to the Jewish museum, the Children's Jewish museum in Brooklyn and a synagogue on the upper west side. If there had been any way  I could have stayed and converted on the spot I would have, I felt like I had "returned home" spiritually. 

About four years ago I became a friend of the local Progressive congregation where I live - I attend their services from time to time and my kids and I attend their services & community celebrations for Passover and the high holidays.   However, sadly they are not a vibrant community and do not have a Rabbi.  

I have attended various interfaith conferences over the years & have had a few Skype Hebrew lessons with Rabbi Sheryl from WA, and I'm hoping to do more. 

I have read widely on Judaism, Israel and all things Jewish. I'm a great fan of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and Amy - Jill Levine  and  I have read most of what Isaac Singer and Chaim Potok have written, but some time ago now. 

I am extremely time poor and conversion is medium to long term goal for me. I will continue to live here for the next few years, but it is not my intention to remain here.  My beliefs & my heart lie very much with the Jewish faith  and there will come a time when I can choose to live within a vibrant Jewish community and I know I need to be able to say "I too am Jewish." I want to begin to learn and live as a Jew now. 

I look forward to talking more after the High Holidays.

Warm regards & many thanks,

Rabbi Jonathan responded:

Thanks for the further information - that is a great help, though you haven't mentioned marital status, husband etc, or occupation yet. Perhaps you will not be too surprised to learn that a high proportion of those wishing to become Jewish come from a Catholic background!  

Please note that the on-line (really more 'distance') Intro course is just that - not in itself a conversion, though it is an important part of the preparation.  You'd also need to be able to read (decode) Hebrew - and I see that you are doing Rabbi Sheryl's course.  Are you aware that she is also available as a tutor on the Intro course? If you wanted to pursue that, I'd be happy to be your 'Sponsoring Rabbi' and move you on to conversion if and when that is what you wanted to do, and assuming I was happy with your work and progress etc!  Two of the other requirements for conversion are that you develop a relationship with a Rabbi and a congregation.

I'd just warn that people who convert sometimes find they have cut themselves off from their original and familiar faith framework (even though they may think they've grown out of it or away from it), yet can find it takes many years to really be accepted and feel fully a part of their new one.  If some crisis occurs in that interim, they may not have adequate support and 'trust' to turn to either for assistance.  From what you say it does not sound as if that would happen to you through lack of conviction and understanding, but it could simply through lack of active community to become involved with.

By the way, you haven't said what attracts you to Progressive Judaism as opposed to orthodoxy.  Most progressive Jews don't write G-d - we all talk little enough about God in our lives anyway, without further distancing ourselves - and even from a traditional point of view, God is not God's name, and English is not 'lashon hakodesh' (the holy tongue), so it is quite unnecessary to do so.


Rabbi Jonathan

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