Thursday, February 10, 2011

UPDATED: When Can a Conversion Candidate Begin Wearing Jewish "Things"?

Of course, the cop-out, generic answer is always, "It depends on the person." It also depends on the "thing."

Let's start by talking about a couple of things, and then we can continue the discussion in the comments if you want to talk about other Jewish items!

Jewelry: Personally, I think anyone can wear Jewish jewelry at any stage. Heck, even people who have no intention of ever becoming Jewish can show an appreciation for Judaism with style! Of course, you need to be prepared for someone questioning you about it, based on the presumption that you must be Jewish if you're wearing Jewish "stuff." Therefore, don't wear the jewelry unless you're ready to deal with the conversations it can spark. And if you're not, you could still wear a necklace under your shirt or something similar that keeps it hidden from public view.

Tzitzit (specially knotted fringes usually only worn by orthodox men, though not all orthodox men): Your beit din will probably have an opinion on this. And being female, I don't know a lot about them or the laws of tzitzis. I have heard that they may be prohibited until after a conversion is complete, but that isn't verified. All that said, from an outsider perspective, it seems like tzitzit could be worn very early in the conversion process if a person finds meaning in them. However, I would suggest keeping them tucked in (a whole other topic in itself, from what I understand) because seeing the tzitzit could cause others to make assumptions about your Jewish status and rely on that for the sake of a mitzvah (particularly in making a minyan). I welcome any help in the comments section!

Kippah (Yarmulke): You can basically just re-read everything I just wrote about tzitzit. However, my understanding is that batei din have much more standardized protocols on converts wearing kippot outside of shul simply because they all require a male convert to be wearing a headcovering full-time long before a conversion is finalized. Remember to be very careful about others making assumptions about your status and relying on that assumption for the sake of a mitzvah. You should not be wearing a kippah until you are comfortable with and able to correct someone's assumption.

Of course, because of the attention it can cause, full-time kippah wearing is probably not recommended until you're relatively far along in the process. Let's not kid around; wearing a kippah can be dangerous. It's like having the bat signal for anti-Semites on your head. Therefore, I think a lot of the analysis on when to begin wearing a kippah has to do with personal comfort with the concept. However, similar to the hidden jewelry suggestion, my understanding is that many men begin by wearing a "regular" hat of some kind more often, then wearing those hats full-time, and then the hat with a kippah underneath before venturing out with only the kippah. In other words, working your way to full-time kippah wearing gradually and with attention to the place and people. Of course, a hat by itself is fine as a headcovering halachicly,  from what I understand (though community standards may dictate more strictly). Remember that you're not tied to only wearing a kippah every moment of every day. (Unless that's how your community rolls.)

Tallit: My understand is that in most American communities, only married men wear a tallis except for a single man leading the davening. However, other communities begin wearing a tallis at the age of bar mitzvah. Check with your beit din, but commenters below and comments from others tell me that this is generally something that will wait until after conversion.

Tefillin: Sorry, guys, this one waits until conversion. However, like a bar mitzvah, you may be asked to practice with a tefillin set without the parchment inside for a couple of months leading up to your conversion.

Women covering their hair: Similar to the kippah conversation, this should probably be implemented gradually. Also, you will want to be prepared for the conversations that can be provoked by a full haircovering like a snood, sheitel, or tichel (as opposed your run-of-the-mill hat). Also be careful that someone doesn't make assumptions about your status that may affect the fulfillment of a mitzvah. I can't think of any examples, but maybe you can. Now when to begin wearing? If you're not married, don't. If you are married, then begin covering whenever you feel comfortable doing so. Many start with only covering inside shul and go forward  from there. Most women I've spoken to/heard from about haircovering later in marriage say that they finally reached a day when they "needed" to cover their hair.

I better see some active commenting on this topic, especially from you men!


  1. Some have the minhag to wear a tallis at bar mitzvah age, specifically yekkes. Doesn't necessarily help for a convert, but as converts do often get to decide their own minhagim, this could be something one decides. However, I would imagine it wouldn't be something you'd wear until post conversion.

  2. I know you mentioned you wore a tallis when you attended a conservative synagogue. Why did you wear one when you were single? Do all people in conservative synagogues wear a tallis, regardless of marital status?

  3. I was taught that converts should not wear tzitzit until after they convert, though I don't remember the reasoning. The same would go for a tallit gadol. That said, you're incorrect about who wears a tallit gadol. In Eastern Europe, it was traditional for men to not wear a tallit gadol until marriage, whereas in Germany and Sepharic communities, men wore tallitot g'dolot beginning at the age of bar mitzvah (this is probably why non-Orthodox Jews wear them starting at the age of bnei mitzvah--the roots of those movements started in Germany, so they kept the custom). Personally, I think the minhag to hold off wearing a tallit gadol until marriage is in violation of halacha, as tallit gadol and tallit katan are two distinct mitzvot, but good luck trying to get anyone to change!

  4. As a general comment: I'll update the tzitzis section!

    Hahah, Anonymous, well said! I'm generally only been to Eastern European Ashkenazi congregations, so that would explain why I've never seen it before marriage!

    AJ, I actually didn't wear one because, as I wrote, I saw how that mitzvah would actually bring out some of my negative qualities because I would wonder if mine were "pretty enough" etc. But to answer your question, yes, anyone over bar/bat mitzvah age can wear a tallis in liberal congregations. In my prior synagogue, every bar/bat mitzvah was presenting a tallis by his or her parents as part of their Shabbat service. And of course, in all shuls, you see young kids "borrowing" their parent's tallis during the service. (Some more successfully than others. Toddlers really can't work it out!)

  5. I meant tallis and wrote tzitzis. Sorry!

  6. Just thinking aloud?

    I never understood the "wait till married" talit Minhag. What if you are divorced?

    Also, what if one was converted say Conservative. Are Jewish in practice, feel Jewish, would be Jewish in all Non-orthodox Shuls and then wants to Daven in a Ortho Shul or want a orthodox-conversion. What happens then? Should, could one were talit, tefillan, etc...

  7. What's your view on frumettes (married)wearing a hijab rather than a sheitel or teichel? I'm very partial to the 'hijab look' even though it's not in the least Jewish.

  8. In response to Schvach...can anyone else elaborate on this comment about hijab and how it is viewed in our community? I have not encountered Jews who wear hijab but I like the idea, I have never been a huge fan of tichels.

  9. In response to Schvach and Orli...I live in a 95% frum city. A few years ago, lo and behold, a woman in the neighborhood decided to start wearing a hijab. She had somehow found a fringe rabbi in Yerushalyim who approved of the idea. The local mara d'asro told me wearing a hijab is the very opposite of tzenius because it attracts attention. (Personally, I find my eyes drawn to the handful of women I sometime see in Jerusalem wearing a shawl to be extra tzeniusdik.) A rav who knows the family explained to me that this woman was suffering from guilt over past misdeeds, which I understood to mean she had declined in her Yiddishkeit in certain ways in her youth.

  10. I like this post, Thank you for sharing such an impressive blog.

  11. Yes, thank you. My ancestors were once Jewish, came to U.S. after all kinds of persecution. I am bringing it back to the family. This is most informative.

  12. I am doing reform (continental Europe) conversion and my rabbi´s decision is as follows: until the conversion, I can use talit and tefilin only at home when davening alone-not to mislead anybody that I am Jewish, and from the same reason I am not allowed to affix mezuzah. I think this is good solution, because as You mentioned that You were comparing Your talit with somebody else´s talit in conservative shul... if You use Your talit months before the actual conversion date, You will have feelings for it and wear it proudly and confidentaly in the shul when You are finally allowed to :-) I am a woman too :-)

  13. Thanks for the post and thanks for the blog also! It gives me good inspiration to start my own blog like this one. I'll follow you on FB. Thanks!