Friday, October 7, 2011

Why Insincere Conversion Candidates Matter

GIANT IMPORTANT POINT: This issue can approach a fine line between protecting the community and bullying. Before you accuse someone (to their face in private or to a rabbi in private) of being an insincere conversion candidate, CAREFULLY consider your motives for doing so, your options for action, and how your actions will affect the other person's life. Take at least a week to really think these things over, making sure you are no longer emotional or angry. If you're going to do this right, you need to approach the situation calmly, lovingly, and choose the least invasive action. After all, you may have misunderstood the situation, and I will bet money you never have the full picture. On the other hand, you'll never rebuke a person perfectly and no one will ever be pleased with being rebuked, but do your best to avoid making a mistake that could ruin a perfectly sincere person's life. But, that said, if there are illegal or dangerous things going on, you can probably take more immediate action! Chances are, that's not your case. "Reporting" someone as an insincere candidate is not much different than calling Child Protective Services on a parent. Sometimes, CPS is warranted. But if you make a mistake, you can ruin innocent lives, and even ruin them permanently.


And now for your regularly scheduled programming...

I've been meaning to write this post for a while (and there is a brief version on the Conversion page). This week's posts about A Set Apart Life brought up some really good points in the comments. Why should I, a mere conversion candidate and ::gasp!:: not even a real Jew, care what other conversion candidates do? Does it matter or is it just self-frustration directed out at other people?

The short answer: What you do during conversion and after conversion affects other converts. Your actions, especially after conversion, matter. We rely on each other to be good Jews and give converts a good name. When one convert "goes bad," we all suffer for it. If you don't want to sign up for that kind of responsibility, then I'm so glad you were honest with yourself! Be a B'Nei Noach and earn an amazing place in olam haba without all these strings attached!


In order to understand the framework controlling conversions, let's talk about the world of conversion we're dealing with.

As most of the people who read this blog know, conversion has been upside-down insanity since 2006. Conversion has always been complicated and emotional, but today's situation is simply unheard of in Jewish history. The contentions over conversions have created large splits within the orthodox community; a sinas chinam, if you ask me, but no one does. There are batei din who are so against any possibility that one insincere person might convert that they are willing to push a significant majority of their sincere conversion candidates to a lot of crying and actual clinical depression (based on anecdotal evidence). A statistically significant number of them are driven to the point of suicidal thoughts (of course, also anecdotal evidence). [Statistically significant here means that the number was high enough that I would feel ridiculous saying this number of people would have developed suicidal thoughts regardless. As for the anecdotal nature of the evidence, no one keeps statistics on this. All we have are the people who reach out during the crisis and the people who speak about it after conversion.]

[This issue is basically the same debate we find in the criminal justice world over Judge Blackstone's famous quote, "better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer." Philosophers and legal minds have debated since Greece how willing we as a society are to accidentally punish innocent people in order to do justice. What is the price we are willing to pay?]

These batei din fear everyone: Christian messianics, Chabad messianics, people who are dating non-observant Jews, people dating observant Jews, and who knows what else. The irony is when the conversion candidates claim to have none of those "problems," they sometimes suffer even stricter scrutiny for fear that maybe they're lying, especially about dating (since that's both more common and easier to catch). Many batei din try to prevent "the bad kind of Chabad" by prohibiting any Chabad rabbi from participating in an individual's process (such as being sponsoring rabbi), and/or a policy that the candidates cannot have a Chabad synagogue be their "home" community.

More importantly, every single convert (whether converted last week or 20 years ago) has to recognize that rabbis are now nullifying some conversions. Even though it is unlikely for most individuals, their conversion could be nullified due to no action of the convert. All it takes is the converting rabbi going off the deep end, even decades later. However, the existence of off-the-derech converts from the same rabbi can be enough to make the rabbi "questionable." This is often the fear when converting people who are dating someone: will the convert abandon Judaism if the relationship doesn't work out? Worse, if rabbis convert a "former Christian," what about if that person "re-discovers Christ" a year later and decides to share the "Good News" with the community? Was that person a Jew for Jesus all along?? The bad converts bring their rabbis (and thus every other person they have ever converted) into question. After all, there must be something wrong with the rabbi if he didn't screen his converts better, right? Who else did he let through??

Even worse, the Israeli rabbinate has declared that they will only recognize conversions overseen by a tiny minority of orthodox rabbis (but many of the "unapproved" rabbis are rightfully glad to be free of the responsibility!). If these "unapproved" rabbis do convene a beit din to perform a conversion outside of "the system," it generally brings the participating rabbis into disrepute, at least as far as their conversions go. What was so wrong with the candidate that they couldn't go through "the system" like everyone else?

This is just background to make sure you understand that things are bad in the conversion world. Really bad. And now it has made most orthodox conversion candidates obsessed with getting chareidi conversions (because adopting more chumrahs must make a conversion more legitimate?). They are in search of the Holy Grail known as The Unquestionable Conversion. I'm sorry to say that doesn't exist, and you should stop searching for it.

But what does this have to do with insincere conversion candidates??

This is a problem with the rabbis and the Israeli rabbinate, right? Yes and no. The rabbis turned into this primarily because there were insincere (or improper) candidates gaming the system. So they made the system harder. But the insincere candidates kept coming. And even more worrisome, the people who are insincere are more willing to put up with a harsh process because they know it's temporary. It's temporary because they don't intend to abide by the vows of their conversion. Fake it 'till you make it. Many sincere, devout conversion candidates are driven away from the process because they simply aren't chareidi and/or aren't willing to go through batei din comparable to military boot-camps. They feel strong-armed into there being only "one real Torah Judaism," as determined by one hashkafah. It's amazing that even people/rabbis in those chareidi groups who do view "just plain orthodox" and modern orthodox Jews as "orthodox and Torah-observant" Jews, often still don't trust the non-chareidi and/or soul-crushing conversion processes as being "good enough."

So it becomes a cycle. We make the process harder, and insincere people keep coming, so we'll just keep making it harder. And so on and so on. Soon, we'll all be required to follow the London Beit Din's mandatory requirement that every non-married conversion candidate must live with an assigned "frum family" for 6 months. Obviously requiring candidates to move to New York City or Los Angeles is a pretty good test of sincerity. But look, there is this even tougher test we can give to make sure they're really sincere, and anyone who wants it badly enough will be willing to do what we tell them to do.  Since meals are provided, they aren't even practicing keeping a kosher kitchen, so I'm not sure what the purpose of living with a family is other than keeping the candidates under full-time supervision for 6 months. Sounds like a great idea to me! Can we wiretap them too? That'd be awesome. Here, please sign this release. Don't worry, it's all standard.

Ok, maybe that's a little overdramatic, but I actually don't see the family requirement being very far off in America. I am already seeing a huge increase in the number of people who are orthodox-observant for 5+ years and have achieved a yeshiva-level education before being allowed to convert.


How else does this harm the other converts/conversion candidates? 

Put simply, converts rely on other converts to not give us a bad name. We are in this together, whether you like it or not. Just like the Jewish people get very upset with Jews who give all Jews a bad name. One person can provide the ammunition against the whole. Remember that talk about Madoff being a greedy, money-grubbing Jew? Yeah, that. Rinse and repeat throughout history.

Converts are judged based upon born Jews' interactions with other converts. Even in this day and age, converts have a bad name. Converts who can "ethnically pass as Jewish" generally try to hide or downplay their convert status because it often causes more pain than pride in the born Jews around us. And you never know who will be the nutball who finds out you are a convert and then takes it upon himself or herself to interrogate you "to make sure you're real." These people will ask who your beit din was, ask who sat on it, demand your "pre-Jewish" history, ask halachic questions, ask historical questions, and otherwise treat you terribly. All at the Shabbos table in front of 10 strangers. It's unlikely, I admit. But it always hits you when you least expect it because you don't know who has met insincere converts and is now gun-shy. Therefore, it's just good practice to be quiet and let others think you're a baal teshuva because you were born in Alaska. Just like how all the travel guides tell Americans that it is safer to tell foreigners that they are Canadian. And for good measure, better sew a Canadian flag to your backpack. Just in case.

There are already plenty of stereotypes that converts are former drug-abusers with a promiscuous history, not to mention probably being mentally/emotionally unbalanced to begin with. (And we all do know converts with those situations, and that doesn't make them bad converts.) We don't need accusations of insincerity added to that list. At least with the other stereotypes, our Jewishness isn't questioned. But once they question whether we are really sincere converts, our Jewishness itself is questioned, and us and our children (and grandchildren!) can be thrown under the bus. And this is why it's "safer" to be chareidi. (And a very shtark chareidi at that!) [Ironically, the "stricter" you go, the more likely people seem to question the details of your observance and pronounce them to be "too modern." This is simply my observation.]


So let's analyze an example, one that happens to come courtesy of A Set Apart Life.

Lina said something very interesting in the comments to her "Our Jewish Faith" post. It may not directly answer the questions we've asked about seeking a Jewish conversion, but it certainly isn't subtle. The plan is clear, and the rabbis better start ratcheting up the requirements right now because apparently the safeguards we have in place aren't working.
"My husband and I are acquainted with many believers in Yeshua who have successfully undergone Orthodox conversion with a non-Messianic beit din."
Just because fake/bad conversions have been done doesn't make it right, honest, or even a good idea. It seems like a great idea at the time because this is a means to an end for the insincere conversion candidate. They really, really want X. But X requires a conversion. "So what's the question, let's get a conversion!" It's selfish. It harms so many people because Judaism (especially in the convert community) is a community that rises or falls together. Pursuing a conversion against the wishes of the community that would convert you is doing what you want because you want it and they have to give it to you. Just like the kids in the marshmallow experiment: insincere conversion candidates want to eat one marshmallow now AND eat two marshmallows later. It seems as though these people have never considered whether their actions harm other people. They have not considered the consequences of their actions, both to themselves, their neshamas, other converts, and klal Yisrael. Those are not Jewish values.

Many conversion candidates do come from a Christian background and come to Judaism when they discover irreconcilable issues with the New Testament. These are some of the most knowledgeable and devout converts we have, including many former Christian clergy. But Lina's words are telling people who are still struggling with this New v. Old Testament question that they don't have to come to an answer. Or even look for one! They can have their cake and eat it too. You like Judaism, but you also like Jesus? No worries! Jesus was a Jew, right? That makes you, like, the perfect Jew!

Worse, these words provide encouragement for any kind of insincere convert because even the religiously-indifferent person who intends to be observant until married to their significant other can say to themselves, "Heck! If even closet Christians can fake it 'til they make it past a beit din, I definitely can!" This is not behavior we should encourage (or put up with). It cheapens the work and pain that sincere conversion candidates go through. So I guess I do get some personal bad feelings from this stuff after all.


[Sidenotes of Shock and Confusion: My initial thought about Messianic Christians insisting on orthodox conversion in order to be "full-fledged Jews" is WHY? I honestly don't get it. People who want to belong to a reform Jewish community don't go to an orthodox beit din. They convert within their community and live as good reform Jews. They don't bother going to the orthodox shul. They don't call up the orthodox rabbi and ask for his halachic rulings. They accept the religious authority of their community as just as valid as the orthodox community. And they also accept that the orthodox community will not accept their reform conversion. That reform convert's attitude? "That's too bad for the orthodox, they're missing out on an awesome person!" And that is how a mentally and emotionally healthy person should approach the situation. What is so wrong with the messianic community that their members are not content to accept that community as valid to do whatever it is they are trying to accomplish by converting? I'm baffled.
Why must messianic Christians (even if the above author refuses to use the second word of that label) go into an orthodox community and lie to the people there in order to secure a certificate of recognition from a community that would honestly never accept them? I can't find the quote now (no, not the Albert Einstein one), but there is a quote that defines insanity along the lines of knowingly and purposely setting yourself up to fail. But setting yourself up to fail in the area of your religious and spiritual validity before G-d?? People have contemplated suicide for less internal conflict than that can (and rightfully should) cause. I think this kind of soul-searching of motivations is sorely lacking in most insincere conversion candidates. A level of compartmentalizing your identity that I just can't fathom.]



Is that the final word? 

How angry would you be if I said "Yes."?? Asking the question implies a negative answer...so what's left to say?

Even insincere conversion candidates can eventually become sincere conversion candidates. And we're human; there's room for multiple motivations (unless those motivations defeat the purpose of converting, like Jesus or polytheism). But there is a right motivation, and it needs to be present: the sincere desire to join both the Jewish people and the Jewish faith. If over time, as these candidates mature and learn more about Judaism, they may realize the error of their questionable motivations and come to Judaism for the right reasons. I can't promise it's easy to undo your past actions, and people may be hesitant. But you should realize that the Jewish community has to rebuild its trust in you. That will take time. If you really want to convert for the right reasons, you will be willing to wait or you'll become a B'Nei Noach. But you will come out on the other side with strong middos, if that's any consolation.


...And that's what grinds my gears.

L'shanah tova! G'mar chatima tova! And next year in Yerushalayim!

27 comments:

  1. Bravo. Very, very well put.

    I'd like to provide a different perspective to the idea living with a frum family for 6 months concept. I don't think it has to be all Big Brother (though, of course, the potential for that is there).

    I was fortunate enough to board with a frum family for about a year or so, and I learned SO MUCH from watching how they interacted with each other, how they were mechanech their children, how they incorporated chesed into their life, etc.

    It can be a great opportunity to really see Judaism in practice, on the nitty-gritty daily level. There is, after all, only so much one can learn from books and communal activities.

    I've remained incredibly close to this family, and still call the Rebbetzin for eitzah.

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  2. I have very little to add here...it's so well-written and true. I often feel like every time it comes up that I am a conversion candidate that I have a huge mountain of insincere converts in the past that I have to overcome to prove myself.

    I think a lot of people learn about Judaism to begin with through some of the very ways mentioned here in reference to insincere candidates. The difference, I think, is that the sincere conversion candidates then find something that speaks to them, personally, beyond whatever reason made them aware of Judaism. Many people's first exposure to Judaism might be dating a Jew or meeting a "Jew for Jesus." For some, I think that's as far as it ever goes and, out of often selfish and misguided reasons, they then pursue conversion just to get their golden ticket.

    For others, though...that's just where the story begins. That first interaction becomes less important as they learn and grow and Judaism, the real, authentic, Torah Judaism, becomes a part of them. It's like falling in love...while how you first met your spouse makes for an interesting story to tell, it hardly encompasses your entire relationship with them and often has less relevance 10 or 20 years down the road.

    Conversion is a relationship. It's a relationship with G-d and with a people. No relationship built on deception is going to stand the test of time, but often, we stumble into very meaningful relationships in the strangest of ways.

    I think those who are working so hard to prove their sincerity and overcome the scores of insincere converts in the past are right to be upset whenever anyone does not take that process as seriously or is deceitful. However, I like to think that Hashem's justice is far from blind, while we as humans can't always see every side to each story.

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  3. "My husband and I are acquainted with many believers in Yeshua who have successfully undergone Orthodox conversion with a non-Messianic beit din." - A Set Apart Life

    Reading this just made me feel ill. It's clear that the author has no idea how offensive this idea is. I just have no words for it, but it makes me feel sick.

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  4. From my personal experience... I think there's a difference between what the press reports and the way things really are "on the ground". I had a modern orthodox conversion 20 years ago. Now, I'm more of a yeshivish/chareidi person. Nobody has ever grilled me, accused me of anything, etc. Besides being treated poorly during the conversion process by a local rabbi that had nothing to do with my conversion, I've never experienced any sort of mistreatment.

    After 2006, I contacted several organizations and gedolim about what should be done about my conversion in light of the present circumstances. After less than 2 minutes of questions, the answers were all the same: You're kosher. Ignore the politics. Tziku l'mitzvos.

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  5. I agree with Rivki that the motivation for living with a frum family is probably education, but I also think it should not be a requirement. If everyone had to do it, there wouldn't be enough rabbis' families for everyone to go to one, and many people would end up boarding with run-of-the-mill frum families. Which could be fine, but could also cause problems if in a few cases those families are not themselves knowledgeable, or have middot problems, or are heaven forbid involved in some kind of community scandal. I'm not saying it would happen often, but you can't guarantee there wouldn't be a few sad cases like that. Converts who boarded with people in those situations might have to unlearn things later, or they might give up on conversion entirely. Also, if someone decided to leave the conversion process, they would be in the uncomfortable position of having to tell the family they've been living with and find a new place to live right away. And this requirement would create a big distinction between converts and BTs, possibly causing jealousy or competition between the two groups (which right now seem to have a lot in common and great relationships with each other).

    It could be a worthwhile experience for people who want it, but it should be optional.

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  6. Redacted: Have you ever met any of these types of characters? I converted 20 years ago. I've never met an insincere convert nor one who has gone OTD - except for one. (Rumors got started in his community that he might be gay. So, people didn't speak with him, wouldn't have him for Shabbos, wouldn't tell him about Shidduch possibilities, etc. He finally gave up... :-( )

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    1. Originally posted: October 7, 2011 at 2:31 PM

      Anonymous, I've known a few in my personal life, and since I'm very open about converting/being a convert, everyone feels the need to tell me why they are gunshy about converts. (Strangely, it's always meant to be a compliment that they find me "refreshingly normal for a convert." -Yes, someone said that once!) The two biggest groups I've encountered/heard about going OTD are A) People who never really "fit in," and eventually give up and go OTD -they are usually very angry and bitter, most times rightfully so- and B) People who were converting for marriage, and both went OTD either after the marriage or when they broke up. I think A is the much larger group. Bs, if they actually get married, seem more likely to just "slip" down the scale than go totally OTD. The A group seems to be more common among racial minorities and people with disabilities (more so mental/emotional disabilities). However, I have heard of at least 4 or 5 converts who decided to go back to Christianity (like OTD and back to mainstream Christianity, not a Jews for Jesus thing).

      But in perfect timing, there is a forum that discussed A Set Apart Life that was sending a lot of traffic to this blog now, and today there has been a revival of a forum thread from June from an OTD convert about blogs from other OTD Jews. http://freejinger.org/viewtopic.php?f=8&t=3711 if you want to check it out.

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  7. Skylar,

    you have outdone yourself with this post! It's truly fabulous. You covered it quite thoroughly. I have so much I wanted to add... but I think it will have to wait til after YK, because I'm too busy at the moment.

    Thank you on behalf of converts for saying all of this so openly. My FFB friends are astounded when I explain some of the realities of conversion to them. They generally have NO idea the work it takes to finish the conversion process.

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  8. p.s. wanted to add--- family conversions are very different sort. Since our entire family is converting we either are met with an astounded "wow!" because people assume anyone crazy enough to do something that drastic is VERY sincere. We're also met with recoil because some people assume that anyone crazy enough to do something that drastic must be well, criminally insane.

    um... plus how exactly does one go about finding a 6 month host for a family of 5? Do they provide full meals too? Free rooming? That doesn't sound half-bad to me! I'm game! ;)

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  9. Crazy - In addition to the two reasons you gave for a convert (or newly observant Jew) leaving the path of observant Judaism, I would add a comment that a teacher of mine said back in the 80s. He is a clinical psychologist and was the rav of a very large East Coast congregation. He said that anytime someone started making a big change religiously, he asked them to question their own deepest motives. He asked them to try to sort out those motivators that didn't have to do with genuine religious aspirations such as baggage from a dysfunctional family, and the like. Not recognizing such things was more likely to increase the opportunities for 'failure' down the road. It still is one of the smartest observations on the topic that I've heard.

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  10. I understand your point - but I think you're misled in putting the blame solely on the bad converts. Rabbis that make a process prone to depression are responsible for their own actions. An organized religion that takes back the conversion for decades of convertees because the rabbi has been "bad" lately are also responsible for choosing that path. If you de-converted do they contact you to tell you? Couldn't they just re-evaluate you at that point?

    Yes converts are making the rabbis and the organized religion act as bullies. Maybe the bullies should be questionned too ;) I don't believe this is the only way to react to those conversions.

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    1. Originally posted: October 8, 2011 at 8:48 PM

      Sophie: Here is a short reading list to acquaint you with the situation. While I don't like what the conversion process has become, I also don't see another way that what the rabbis are already doing. I suffer now so that exponentially less (yes, I took statistics, and I made a clarification in the text above) inappropriate people get through the process. My hurt now will hopefully prevent questioning later.

      http://crazyjewishconvert.blogspot.com/2011/02/monster-that-orthodox-conversion-has.html
      http://crazyjewishconvert.blogspot.com/2011/08/rabbi-speaks-out-against-geirus.html
      http://crazyjewishconvert.blogspot.com/2011/07/newsflash-conversion-is-permanent.html
      http://crazyjewishconvert.blogspot.com/2011/06/are-conversion-rabbis-capable-of.html
      http://crazyjewishconvert.blogspot.com/2011/02/other-bloggers-take-on-current-orthodox.html

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  11. Well said. This articulates a lot of my major issues with that blog. I think this also ties into the issue of converting within the community you eventually plan to join (i.e. don't have an Orthodox conversion if you don't plan to be Orthodox, don't have a Reform conversion if you don't plan to be Reform, et cetera). You need to be able to be secure in your own decision and your own theological standpoint, or you'll never feel secure about your conversion. It doesn't matter what denomination it's through.

    As far as all of these shadowy friends the author of A Set Apart Life mentions who were Messianic but converted, feh. If it's true, then they lied their way through the process, because I don't know of a rabbi in any denomination who wouldn't ask The Jesus Question mighty quick. It was the second or third thing my rabbi asked me during our initial meeting, and he brought it up a couple of times at subsequent meetings (and then it was raised at my beit din). Personally, I wouldn't brag about being pals with people so ready to lie to their rabbis, their batei din and their community, but different strokes, I guess.

    Re: Boarding with a family, I can envision some really positive things that could come out of it if it was a good match. If it wasn't, though, or if the candidate decided that conversion (or maybe just that particular family's hashkafah) wasn't for them, I could envision it becoming extremely uncomfortable very quickly. I think having mentors in your community is really important, but having the freedom to set your own pace a bit, if necessary, is important, too. I would think you'd lose that if you're living with a family 24/7.

    [And just as a side note, I'm posting this from the Pacific Rim, so I'm post-Yom Kippur here. G'mar chatima tova, all!]

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  12. As someone who wants to convert to Orthodox Judaism, I was appalled by the statement that Lina made about the many believers in Yeshua who had successfully undergone an Orthodox conversion. My concern is exactly, what will happen down the road if that becomes known and the Rabbi/Beit Din is questioned and it effects others that were previously converted by that Beit Din?? Like your previous commenter, it makes me feel ill that people are doing that and feeling there is nothing wrong with what they are doing. I think Lina herself is naive and may be learning and practicing halachah, but she doesn't seem to be learning what the Jewish belief in the Messiah is to understand why people are having a problem with her beliefs.

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  13. As a convert who has personal knowledge of the Messianic movement, let me add a few points about it. The whole Hebrew Roots idea has really been gaining popularity among Christians recently. Even evangelicals, baptists, and the like will now add hebrew words to their songs because it's cool now. The Messianic (aka Nazarene) groups are many and sundry, and they tend to splinter apart based on theological or practical disagreements. Examples: How to calculate the calendar, and to what extent do they accept the sages. Some tend to be more Karaite-ish, while others pretty much accept what the sages said except if Jesus specifically rejected it (such as netilat yadayim), and there are a lot of grades in between. Some messies believe in a 2 House theory which says that the Jews are Judah and the 10 lost tribes are mostly mixed into the Christian world. Any person of Christian background who sincerely is drawn towards observing the Torah's commandments must possess an israelite soul (why else would they be so crazy?). So an israelite doesn't need to convert to join to covenant. Other Messies don't believe in that and they say that if you want to be a member of the nation of israel like Jesus you have to convert. As far as I know, they have their own batei din, though... although the messie groups can be so contentious that many don't accept each other so it can be hard to convene a "beit din."

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  14. You're mentioned in my post, From a Few Friendly Blogs. Why don't you check out my comment on your post and read the others linked, too?

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  15. Dear Skylar, a complicated topic indeed. I've met many converts as friends, shidduchim and in passing. Some I know are really tsadikim, no other words to describe them. But there are also all sorts, including those who are very problematic. A friend who converted in Israel told me that the vast majority of her class was not sincere, (it was just for marriage or citizenship) and she said that she would not let her children marry theirs'.

    Unfortunately your plea to other potential converts to think of others will probably not help. If someone is converting with an ulterior motive, whether for a relationship, citizenship or to spiritually prey on Jews they are really not thinking about anyone else but themself.

    As for the Blackstone quote, it can also be used the other way round in this situation. Jewish people looking for marriage partners are also innocents, and need to be protected from insincere converts and their descendants.

    B"H hopefully Moshiach will come soon and sort out the mess.

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  16. I just wanted to pop in an confirm what Suzanne said about American Christians' increased interest in adding a Jewish gloss to their their religious practice. I work with several deeply committed Evangelical Christians (who are not part of any messianic movement) that have told me that their church has a Passover seder, uses Hebrew words in some of the songs they sing, and has "a special ceremony" for boys and girls when they're 12/13. I don't think these particular Christians are doing it to try and convert Jews, I think they see it as a way to legitimize themselves in the way that many California wineries give themselves French-sounding names.

    It should also be noted that American Christians have always felt more deeply connected to the Torah ("Old Testament") than European Christians. If you read Revolution Era texts, you'll see lots of references to "The Promised Land" and early Americans comparing themselves to the Israelites. Not to mention how many cities and landmarks have been given Biblical names.

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  17. Jewish people looking for marriage partners are also innocents, and need to be protected from insincere converts and their descendants.

    This is where, IMO, the real tragedy happens. Who would marry a female convert if it exposes you the risk or your children, or your grandchildren, or your great grandchildren might suddenly discover that someone retroactively rules you (or the beit din that converted you) as insincere and/or invalid. There has to be a point at which the tzitzit checking stops and the convert and their descendants can relax.

    It is interesting to read how the issues of the mamzerim and their descendants were handled. Rabbis avoided keeping lists of mazerim. The overwhelming majority of rabbis and other people never went back multiple generations to confirm that a prospective spouse's lineage did not contain mamzerim. We need to re-establish this sort of attitude with respect to converts.

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    1. I personally know "converts" who went through the process whilst declaring their total lack of interest in Judaism. I know others who went through the process in order to get close to Jewish communities to convert them out of Judaism. This isn't about checking tsitzit but facing a real problem, that so many people are converting who have no business doing so.

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  18. Thank you to Fern for adding interesting and relevant info. While there are certainly fake Messies (such as JforJ) who just use external Jewish practices to make mainstream Christianity palatable to Jews, there are also many sincere Messies who are really trying to observe the Old Testament the way they believe that Jesus did. Most Jews have never met the sincere Messies, and don't know that they exist. Many sincere messies don't target jews at all. The history of this phenomenon is fascinating. I wonder how popular it will become in the future.

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  19. Another example of how (supposedly) insincere converts affect all converts: I live in an area with a large sephardic population, which is itself partly Syrian. In Syrian communities, gerim are categorically not allowed to marry syrian men or women. Otherwise they are supposed to treat gerim with respect, though unfortunately not everyone abides. Much as been said about this decree, but I'll just outline it: It started because rich syrian men were marrying non-jewish women, who were perceived by the community as gold-diggers. So the rabbis decreed, no converts allowed. At least one syrian rabbi I know has said that he thinks that the decree shouldn't apply anymore, or should really be enforced on a case-by-case basis, but most syrian rabbis today continue this practice. Whether you agree or disagree with the rule, it is an example of the affects of a few "bad apples" on an entire community.

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  20. I don't understand this obsession with whether or not someone is sincere. Clearly, it is offensive when someone wants to convert and they are not sincere, and clearly, we should take reasonable steps to try to make sure a person is sincere.

    But if someone follows all the requirements, and converts, then they are Jewish from that point on, no matter what they say or do. The consequences are between them and God.

    If someone converts insincerely and then makes aliyah to try to convert Jews to Christianity, so what? People have been trying to convert us to Christianity for two thousand years, and we resisted successfully. There is no reason why we cannot continue to do so.

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    1. Jews are a people, not an organised religion. So when someone lies to the Beit Din, they are not sincere, their conversion is not genuine and yet they have a piece of paper saying they are Jewish. This has a negative impact on the entire Jewish people. As for the conversion attempts, in the past we were more targets for persecution than conversion. Today there is an onslaught of conversion outreach aimed at us. All of this may not bother you personally. That does not mean that it is not cause for concern.

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  21. I'm with Susan B on this. I had a halachic conversion to Judaism. Years ago, I decided that I wanted to become Jewish. I first affiliated with Reform and then grew and grew in observance. It got to the point where I was learning with the charedi community and sought out a halachic conversion (I had a Reform one previous). However the process took a very long time. I was turned away from rabbis and communities many times over (a lot more than 3). Even then, I was constantly questioned about my beliefs and my daily life cycle. As I learned more and more about halacha, I came to believe that being an Orthodox Jew was the only true form of Judaism. But socially, it was an impossible task. As a single woman who was older, I didn't fit into any social circles. I felt completely out of place with other young women who were mothers. Likewise, they didn't understand (nor care) about my life...which was consumed by work and school. After my conversion, it was even worse. I was at the bottom of the list for shidduchim...and set up with the strangest men.

    I never lost my faith in Hashem and whatever plan there was in store for me. I also still believe that the Torah is binding upon all Jews. But I was tired of being lonely. I was tired of being the weirdo. I was tired of being second-guessed all the time. I was tired of justifying myself. But the straw that broke the camel's back was that I fell in love with a non-Jewish man. He's wonderful and has no reservations about being with me. He also claims no religion in particular. So G-d willing, if I have children, they will be raised as Jews. Will their status as Jews be questioned. Most likely. But I think it really is a shame. Because this type of behavior really breaks Klal Yisrael apart at the seams.

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  22. What about a christian who loses their christian faith, sincerely converts with a hassidic beit din, spends twenty years in the hareidi world (including a decade in yeshiva and kollel), makes aliyah, watches the frum world eagerly abandon beit hillel for beit shammai, and then, twenty years after their geirut, realized the faith of their youth had returned -- and departs the frum world in silence because 1) they are deeply adverse to (and offended by) evangelizing, 2) believe Christians and Jews should regard one another as "merely heterodox," and 3) did not want to cause their fellow converts any trouble?

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  23. i am very happy to hear all your ideas and comments, i was born jewish from a traditional family, raised in this western society, as i discovered real judaism (orthodox) i realized how ignorant i was in jewish religion.and how much effort you have to put in everyday life just to keep kosher or keep shabat. i just want to say to the rabbis that perform the conversions and to the potencial convert, that they should have in mind that if the convert will not keep the mitzvot he will become a bad jew and will hurt judaism and himself, the torah , bible says many bad things that will happen if jews dont keep mitzvot, please dont be one more of that list.it is better to be a bnei noach , you wii have many blessings and god and jews will be proud of you, so if you want to really be jewish please be sincere, god and the jews will apreciate that. if a jew reads this and he is not orthodox might feel atacked, this rebuke is not for them they were born jews and are ignorant, and cant be blamed after jews have suffered so much in history.,but you potentiall convert are choosing right now , so please choose wisely

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