Monday, July 4, 2011

Revisiting the Double Standard

Sometimes conversion candidates can get so frustrated by Jews who are "bad Jews" in their mind.

You have to go through hell and back and basically get a seminary/yeshiva education, but people who just happened to be born Jewish can and will drive to synagogue on Shabbat. Women can and will dress tznius in synagogue and then go out clubbing looking like a streetwalker. Some guy will daven three times a day at shul and look so pious, but then you discover he has left a string of one night stands in his wake. Someone will follow Jewish law, but you will believe they are following a misinterpretation or a leniency that isn't allowed. Someone will act frummer-than-thou but have no idea what they're talking about. It will happen. And it will continue to happen for the rest of your life, even post-conversion. It will annoy you and frustrate you.

But don't get caught up in what other Jews do. It'll drive you insane. Jews can be unknowledgeable and/or completely disregard Jewish law, and they still get to be Jews, while we have to meet a different standard. It's unfair. It hurts. But it's reality. Don't let it eat you up inside. Take care of you because that's what you can control. You can't (and shouldn't) control the actions of others. Life is a journey and we are all in different places.

There is a quote that appeals to me in all areas of life, but is literally applicable here: "Everyone who is more lenient than you is a heretic. Everyone more stringent than you is a fanatic."


  1. No dear lady, the double standard is not unfair, because there is no double standard. A Jew who is born a Jew (ie., to a Jewish mother) is a Jew regardless. He/she will never be able to get rid of it. One's neshama elochim is forever. Exactly the opposite is the dilemma of the convert to Judaism. If the converted to Judaism Jew wishes to be Orthodox, then frumkeit is not an option.
    Those of you who have made this choice are in fact held to a high standard because we want to know, at all times and forever, that you mean business as a new to Judaism Jew. The born-into-it Jew isn't allowed to get rid of it; the convert to Judaism isn't allowed to live in peace with it, and for those in your position of unsettled post-conversion conflict, there are always the sub-Orthodox movements. But don't kid yourself, they won't let you live in peace either because no Jew, regardless of how un-Orthodox or unaffiliated he/she is, wants to be told, in words or by example, that Judaism is considered trite. It's not a hobby, nor is it a club. Judaism is not about EEOC-sponsored rights. It's about our decent from the 'big three' - Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Israel). So don't fret new Jew. If you're as serious about this as we, then you're welcome. If you're around, then we'll know, and you'll know in no uncertain terms that we know. So welcome to the family sweetheart - love you!

  2. Good points, but I believe you missed my point. Also, just to clarify, I'm at the beginning of the orthodox conversion process, nowhere near being in the family tree yet!

    This is generally a problem of someone new to the Jewish community. While it isn't a per se double standard, it can feel like one to someone who is new to the idea of Jewish peopledom. And it can continue to be annoying as we progress. Sometimes it feels like the actions of born Jews (or those who have converted) trample upon the dedication and sacrifices we have made. But because they were born that way, they can still be Jews. On the other hand, one large mistake during the conversion process could blackball a candidate for the foreseeable future, regardless of intent or teshuva. While it is against halacha to "revoke" a conversion that was valid when made (as said expressly to me by one of the lead conversion rabbis in the US), there is still a pressure post-conversion today because rabbis are trying to revoke them anyway. A convert who falls off the wagon, so to speak, is just a "bad Jew" like any other, and we should hope for their teshuva. But when you're in an emotionally difficult time, the excessive scrutiny on converts and conversion candidates can add a very heavy burden.

    I don't know why, but I've only felt this once. However, it seems to be very, very common. It might be one the of most common frustrations a conversion candidate faces.

  3. I think it's fair to say that it's one of the most common frustrations for converts; certainly those undergoing Orthodox conversions, but I felt flashes of those feelings when I was going through my process, and it was with the Conservative movement. In my case it wasn't so much a worry of, "If I do XYZ, my rabbi will blackball me/someone will report me to the conversion police," as it was a feeling of, "How can you take Judaism so much for granted? Don't you know how lucky you are, that you don't have to bust your butt like this to be Jewish?"

    That said, I've seen the double standard thing work in positive ways, as well. I have friends who are very secular who have said that they were inspired to do more Jewish stuff because they saw me going through the conversion process and see now how much I love being Jewish. I've gotten into conversations with people about conversion that have ended up with me enthusing about how great I think Judaism is, not as a, "You should be doing XYZ mitzvah," or "You need to get your butt to shul," but because I do love Judaism and find halacha completely fascinating, and being a dork of epic proportions, I could probably talk about it all day, if anyone cared to listen to me. This has been pretty common amongst converts I've known (of all streams), and I do think that enthusiasm is catching. I also think it's one of the things that some of this conversion scaremongering that's going on is sapping out of people, which is a real shame, because it's one of the greatest things, IMHO, that converts can bring to the Jewish community. Sometimes it takes seeing things you take for granted with new eyes in order to fully appreciate why they're special. Beat all of the enthusiasm and excitement about Yiddishkeit out of people, and you just end up with the same, jaded attitudes you've always had, which I don't see as particularly helpful.

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  5. I can definitely relate to this. My boyfriend is much less "involved" in Jewish life than I am, but he was born Jewish. He actually says a lot of times that he appreciates my conversion (which I am not doing for him, I've been dreaming of conversion since I was a little kid). It's opened up his eyes a lot, and he has started taking on more mitzvot since dating me. On Friday nights he used to drive to play video games with his brother, now he'll walk to shabbos dinner with me, kippah and all! Additionally, he's brought a lot of Jewish tradition back into his fairly secular family. It helps me keep in perspective that, while my life certainly would have been easier had I been born Jewish, my passion for mitzvot might not have been there. Maybe the reason we were born this way was to inspire others, and inspire ourselves, through the challenging path of conversion.

  6. In the gemara, a convert only had to be taught one major principle and one minor principle before the actual conversion. And then after the conversion it was/IS forbidden to remind the convert of their non-jewish life - they should be, in everyone's eyes, a fully-fledged jew. Whatever you do after that conversion: YOU ARE A JEW and should be held to the same standards as any other. As long as you know that you were sincere in the conversion process, your conversion was halachic and can never be revoked.

  7. Yes, I disagree with the first comment. I don't think that people should sit to point fingers at how much observant a Jew by choice is. As long as you don't do any things that are outrageously non-halachic, any other small things that you may doing in a less stringent way should not be anyone else's business. I think that once you converted, if people are going to come tell you you're not observant enough, then that's not their business Like I heard that female converts are supposed to always wear stockings, but that born Jews who don't are being lenient about it, but oy vey if a convert does it then it means she isn't frum enough. I disagree with that. I think that's no one's business if one puts stockings or not as long as one is not wearing very revealing clothing otherwise. And besides it's not about clothing, it's about the right hashkafah.