Monday, February 28, 2011

UPDATED: Why You Shouldn't Date During Conversion

NOTE: The Kvetching Editor wrote a response to this post here. I just want to point out that her situation is not what I'm describing. I'm talking about a single who enters the orthodox conversion process and then begins dating people who are already orthodox. However, for the record, I think dating is probably a bad idea during conversion for a majority of people, but there are always exceptions to the rule. My advice: Don't assume you're going to be that exception and seek out relationships. If they happen, they happen, but don't actively pursue it. That's my 2 cents. Now go buy yourself a stick of gum.

This is a touchy subject for many people. But this is the one rule you can expect to hear from every single conversion rabbi: No dating until after the mikvah (if you're currently single or become single during the conversion process). But why?

From the rabbis' perspective, it's generally an intermarriage issue. Especially today, most people who consider Jewish conversion don't finish. Therefore, even though you may be accepted to a conversion program, they hold out no particular hope that you will finish the process. However, if you're dating a nice Jewish person while converting, then drop out of the program for whatever reason, it's unlikely that the Jew will dump you over it. Then the rabbis worry you'll continue dating and end up marrying as a Jew and non-Jew. Of course, you say, "That'll never be me!" But you never know that for sure until you're done, and neither do the rabbis.

Further, from your perspective, you should discourage any orthodox Jew from dating you until you've gone to the mikvah and officially converted. He or she will get more flack from the community than you can imagine. Most notably, especially when it's a male Jew and a converting female, they will assume that the relationship is not "proper" (as in observing shomer negiah, etc), and they will question whether the Jew is "really" orthodox. They'll assume that the conversion candidate just doesn't know any better, but that the Jew knows exactly what he's doing and is trying to date non-Jews without looking like he's headed towards intermarriage. I've known people who survived this, but it's not pleasant. And it's one more outside pressure you don't need on a relationship.

Similarly, if your new partner isn't orthodox but you're in the orthodox conversion process, that is enough to derail your conversion for "not being serious." Many people approach the conversion process because they're dating a nonobservant Jew, but the nonobservant Jew normally studies to become observant as you study to convert. If you begin dating a nonobservant Jew after you've started your process, the rabbis don't expect that the other person will begin becoming observant but will actually draw your observance back.

So what happens if you happen to meet someone "nice" at shul, etc, and you want to pursue something? Stay quiet about it. Even if the other person says something and it becomes a mutually-acknowledged crush, most potential dates aren't willing to stick around for the time and pain that a conversion can involve (and most born-Jews have no idea what that will entail). Of course, you're sure that they will do it for you. And they probably think so too. And maybe they will. My advice: they can wait on you, but not in any official capacity. As I like to describe it: keep them on your "shidduch radar." If he or she is still available and interested when your conversion is complete, you can talk then. That doesn't mean you must avoid each other or can't be friends. However, for your sake and his/hers, keep any continuing friendship above reproach. Gossip in the Jewish community is bad enough without feeding it situations and words that can be misinterpreted.

18 comments:

  1. Good advice. Particularly now, when certain factions are eagerly looking for evidence of insincerity. Entering a relationship is likely to cause those people to say "Ah - now we know why you wanted to convert, and it wasn't because of kabbalat ol mitzvot!" Don't give them ammunition.

    Do a lot of O Jews still date? I've been married since before becoming observant and I got the impression that outside of the UWS (Upper West Side of Manhattan) most people relied on shadchanim (matchmakers). But I could easily be mistaken.

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  2. Larry -- Many O Jews still date, especially those who consider themselves *modern* orthodox. Even ones that are shomer negiah(in my little modern orthodox bubble, I can count on one hand the number of people I know who are modern orthodox AND shomer negiah) date "normally"/according to the model of dating in secular society. In the modern world, it's either dating without touch at all, or if there is touch, non sexual touch. However, I will not be so naive as to say that all modern relationships refrain from sex or sexual acts, because that is simply not true. Just because it is not accepted as okay doesn't mean people will refrain from doing it(so to speak :P).

    However, as hashkafah and religiosity shift right, modern orthodox machmir, yeshivishe, etc groups rely more on either shadchanim or shidduchim in general. It's a few dates, or a few weeks/months worth of dates before the chuppah and that's it. I see MO and yeshivishe as two totally separate groups in terms of social concepts like dating.

    That being said, great post Kochava!

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  3. afaik, you need to wait even longer, than "just right until after the mikveh" ;)

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  4. CN, depends on the rabbi. I know a girl who has 6 months to the mikvah (for bureaucratic reasons) and her chareidi beit din rabbis are trying to set her up! However, as a psychological issue, I think people should wait a month or two at least. Also, I don't like mixing simchas! However, the majority approach seems to leave it up to the convert. (Half the time, they're assuming you won't find anyone, certainly not that quickly!)

    As for Larry's comment, I'm going to break it into two questions:
    1) Yes, there is "dating," and I think I might write about it now! I think dating and "informal" shadchans are becoming much more important because there's a growing feeling that the shadchanim are the cause of the "shidduch crisis" through their superficial criteria (the color of your Shabbos tablecloth) and arbitrary demongraphic lines (heard of shadchans who refuse to work with women over 24 or over a certain weight-but they'll work with an overweight girl if she loses the weight and comes back!). I think people, particularly the modern orthodox, are relying on informal shadchans such as friends, family, and coworkers, and their own kismet meeting! Whether that "dating" resembles shidduch dating or secular dating depends on the people and social pressures involved. Shidduch-style dating is certainly possible and just as speedy without a third party.

    2) Now... the Upper West Side (UWS). I think it has substantially changed in the last 10 years. Now there is certainly more emphasis on secular-style dating. When I asked people for advice on where I should move, everyone agreed on one thing: the UWS would not make Kochava happy. I gathered that there are several stereotypes widely held: a) It's uber expensive. I don't know how they afford it. b) It is primarily very liberal modern orthodox in that people are primarily focusing on kosher and Shabbat. I would stand out for both being shomer negiah and for dressing "tzniusly," especially since I dress to relatively strict standards. c) There is a lot of "relations" going on in the UWS. (People joke about "tefilin dates," where the man brings his tefilin on the date so he can sleep over at the woman's apartment.) d) The high number of singles in the UWS and the high turnover supposedly makes people less likely to commit because there's always the chance that something better will come along. It's no longer uncommon to find someone still looking for their beshert (soulmate) in the UWS 10 or 15 years later.

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  5. Or...he can tell use it to manipulate the relationship in his favor, telling you things like when you can handle a job and all the housework then maybe you will be good enough to be a Jew...all while eating your food and sleeping on your bed and making you sleep on the couch and kicking your cat completely out, thus souring you on relationships forever and making you feel that you are, indeed, worthless and not good enough for the Covenant. I have spent many years hating men, and worked hard to overcome that, but now am back to square one. Men use the home to manipulate women. I'm just a lowly Goy and I wish I had been stronger. I guess it is still our nature to blame ourselves and to be blamed.

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  6. This is a topic on which I completely and wholly disagree with you :)

    Although, in the end -- you're damned if you do, damned if you don't.

    Maybe I should write a response post, as someone who went through the whole process with man in tow ...

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  7. I've been sitting on my response for a couple of days-sorry. I wanted a little time to think, and my first try was awful.
    I am not a convert, but my husband is. We started dating before his conversion and became engaged the day he went to the mikvah (within a few hours). He had started the process a long time before, which probably helped (he was pretty much fully observant when we met). I wasn't yet fully religious-and it caused a couple of small problems. But ultimately, it didn't affect the conversion itself, and he actually got to go to mikvah a couple of months before. So dating during the conversion process isn't a deal breaker for a conversion candidate.

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  8. I responded to Chaviva in another media because my computer was out of commission, but I wanted to share the thought here too: This post isn't referring to people who "enter" the orthodox process while dating. I'm referring to someone who has been in the process and then begins dating. And I'm glad it worked out well for J! There are certainly exceptions to the rule, but as people, we always like to think we're going to be an exception to the rule long before we could ever know if we are. But that's my two cents. And I hope Chaviva writes that post because she has a perspective that I can't have!

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  9. Okay! I responded here: http://www.kvetchingeditor.com/2011/03/response-dating-during-conversion.html

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  10. I met my husband during the conversion process. No one had directly told me not to date but I had no plans to date anyway. I was in predominately MO circles and it was nice to have male MO friends who had no interest in being anything other than friends. People whispered that at my age (25), I would have a hard time getting married by the time I finished the process but I was too naive and green to understand what they were talking about. The most traumatizing part of my conversion process was what happened when I officially started dating my future husband, who I met through mutual MO friends. Suddenly, my entire community turned against us. Held an intervention. The rabbi wasn't awful but he was cold and harsh. We weathered it together, we survived it, we forgave a lot of people at our chuppah who attempted to destroy our lives for months. But I will never forget how people shamed me and shamed him even worse so.

    But let's be real. Now that we are dragging out conversions for people, especially women in their prime child-bearing years, for as many as 3 or more years with the community's complete acknowledgement that converts have a hard time finding eligible mates, I think it is beyond cruel for rabbis to expect converts to turn away the one, especially if the one is willing to wait and (figuratively) hold your hand through such a difficult process.

    Kochava and Chaviva, I love how you both dealt with an incredibly touchy subject in the conversion process and I only wish I was reading it in a Jewish newspaper because people really need to read this, especially people in process but even more so, people who don't understand what it entails.

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  11. With no yichus and having the stain of being a ger/giyoret (can't marry kohanim, but welcome to marry mamzerim), how exactly does an Orthodox convert in their late twenties or thirties go about finding their bashert?

    Anonymous, what was the big issue that turned the whole community against you?

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  12. Timing is an issue. My conversion took 5 1/2 years. Many a proposed mikveh dates came and went. I would definitely wait until after conversion because the (born) Jew may not be so patient (also it's not like you can push your Beis Din because you have someone interested in you).

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  13. A jew can only marry another jew. Whilst a person is in the conversion process, they are not a jew, thus a jewish person should not date them, and even worse converting in order to be with a specific jewish person invalidates the conversion. Yes, it's true that conversion is basically dating limbo, and whilst hard that is the way it should be. Before anyone starts screaming at me for being harsh, all of this is the halachic truth, and anyone who tells you otherwise is not being honest with you. And the jew who starts dating a non-jew and then encourages him/her to convert is the guilty party and should be totally ashamed of him/herself. Hashem mezaveg zivugim, and many people - ffb, bts and converts alike - have difficulty in finding their match, but we have to accept this with emuna and bitachon that Hashem knows what He is doing.You do not have to worry about childbearing years as Hashem will give you the right zivug at the right time and the number of children you are supposed to have. (And no zivug and no children is also from Hashem). This is the challenge of our generation. However, this challenge is not a reason for changing the halacha.

    Again, before you start screaming at me, I am BT over forty and unmarried. But it's really ok. I honestly trust that Hashem knows what He is doing.

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  14. Hey Kochava,

    I'm a 22-year old Modern Orthadox university student. I have this good friend who's 30 and not exactly Jewish . . . She grew up practically living with the family of the rabbi of their town in Italy, and actually living with them for months at a time every few years. She's in love with me. I have too many inhibitions to let myself go the way she does, and I thank God for some of those. As it is I'm feeling a little lost.

    She's started the process of converting recently, not explicitly for me, but it was certainly our relationship that got her off the fence. Apparently she'd been thinking about this for years. I was so relieved when her "foster" family had the reaction of "what took you so long?"

    I grew up MO. I've known plenty of guys who have had flings with non-jews. I've been to an intermarriage, and I wanted to vomit for most of it. They warn you about tempting situations, but they never tell you about the ones who light candles on Friday night and go to shul the next morning . . .

    Kochava, I read your post about not having time or energy for individual cases. I respect that. Still, I'm hoping that you or someone on your site can help me. What help is there for the Jew involved with the convert?

    (I chose the ostensibly ostentatious name for the immense amount of tension and nisayon I've put myself in . . . so far without too much negative consequence, baruch Hashem)

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  15. What about someone dating an observant Orthodox Jew through online and never met. And suddenly he or she begins to have interest in Judaism and made self research and discovered many things and realised that he or she has been following the wrong path and now sincerely wants to be converted to Judaism without any pressure from his/her Jewish and he/she not even aware from the beginning that a Jew cannot marry a non Jew. But only for the non Jews to discover now during a search for information on Judaism they are so interested in willing that they are not accepted to be converted if they already have a Jew they are already in a relationship with. What will be the position of the non Jew that is so interested in Judaism and wants to convert on freewill and wants to have a relationship with God in a Jewish ways or tradition even though they are already in a relationship with a Jew?

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  16. I'm Jewish Baal Teshuva and married. I've been advising a non-Jew in my office who wants to convert and she was considering a Conservative conversion while going through the process of asking an orthodox rabbi to convert her. I encouraged her to do orthodox b/c Conservative is not a valid conversion. She's single and really wanted to date (Jewish men) and I told her to make sure to ask the rabbi first. Well, she started dating a non-observant Jewish guy who doesn't even care if she's Jewish, then got accepted by the rabbi to do orthodox conversion and started the process. The rabbi discouraged her from staying with the guy, but she doesn't want to give up the relationship. I find it frustrating b/c I explained everything to her and she seemed to agree that orthodox was the way to go and she was going to do the conversion the right way, but now she's probably going to mess it all up. She says that everything will work itself out and if she is rejected she'll do the conservative conversion. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. Now I don't want to advise her anymore. I feel like I wasted my time and energy.

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  17. What about dating another conversion candidate? Is that seen as more acceptable since you aren't risking drawing a Jew into intermarriage?

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  18. What about dating another conversion candidate? That seems like it might skirt some of the potential issues since you both have the same status, but maybe not?

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