Monday, October 24, 2011

Why We're Probably Crazy After All

Pre-conversion, it is very frustrating to feel that your actions (your mitzvot) don’t matter. After all, you’re not Jewish. You’re not required to do anything. You have no mitvot other than the sheva mitzvot B’nei Noach. And in some areas, it can actually be problematic for you to be doing these things, like fully observing Shabbat or being invited for a yom tov meal. But you continue, hoping that one day, these actions will matter…and hoping that you will live to see that day.

That it will matter when you spent significant time and money re-creating your kitchen to make it kosher. And again when you were told you had to move.

That it will matter that you replaced your wardrobe to make it tznius. 

That it will matter that other women think you're setting women back 60 years.

That it will matter that you spent thousands of dollars and who knows how many hours on seforim.

That it will matter that you didn’t eat out of your home for a year because there was no restaurant and little hospitality.

That it will matter that you defended Jews and Israel.

That you won’t feel like a liar anymore when you say “us” in Jewish company.

That your tears and screams won’t have been for nothing.

That your Jewish knowledge will finally be more than useful Jeopardy answers.

That it will matter that you have passed up so many jobs because they would compromise Shabbat.

That it will matter that you know Shabbat, yom tov, and tznius could cause you to get fired one day, and that the American legal system probably won’t protect you.

That it will matter that you gave up your job to move to a “proper” community.

That it will matter that you moved across town or across the country or across the world to be in that “proper” community.

That you have sacrificed years of your life, watching the people around you date, fall in love, marry, and have children.

That it will matter that you know each passing year means less children and probably more difficulty having them.

That it will matter that you know each passing year means less shidduch opportunities and more risk that others will push you to compromise in the interest of “making up for lost time.” 

That you will have to deal with some people who think converts are damaged goods or are "stealing" the "good" Jewish spouses.

That it will matter that you have suffered hostility or interrogation from born Jews, both suspicious and confused.

That it will matter that you suffered distance, estrangement, or abandonment by non-Jewish family and friends.

That it will matter that your non-observant Jewish friends stop talking to you, probably afraid that you think they’re bad Jews.

That living in a “proper” community means your parents and other family will never see your children more than a few times a year. If that.

That it will matter that you have suffered anti-Semitism.

That it will matter that you did everything right (as much as a human can), but that one bully can make that irrelevant.

That it will matter that you gave up one life to start another. Lech lecha.

That it will matter that you persevered.

And that one day, you’ll be a real Jew instead of a fake Jew, constantly trying to avoid non-mevushal wine and shidduch suggestions from people who think you're a Jew.


  1. It will matter. It does matter. And you can come to us in Bmore for Shabbos whenever you want/can.

  2. ... and you're doing it twice! I've been following you a little while but normally don't comment much on blogs. Anyway - I just wanted to say that I commend you for following your beliefs even when it's tough. Yasher koach!

  3. Wow. Very powerful. I know it isn't enough, but I hope you realize that the mitzvot you perform before conversion do matter and are rewarded as "eina metzuva ve'osa".

  4. I feel least most of it.

    I sometimes do wonder if I really am crazy for going through this process, with no foreseeable end and no guaranteed outcome, particularly considering none of us "have" to. Yet, I think everyone who sticks with this process does so because there is something deep within them that means that they do HAVE to, just for reasons that are internal, not external.

    This is a tough, tough process, but I have to believe that one day all this will matter, for all of us who sincerely seek it.

  5. What is a "proper" Jewish community? Troyes, France, in the time of Rashi only had 100-200 Jews. Meanwhile, there were tens of thousands of Jews in Babel and other places in the East.

    A majority of the shetelach in Europe 200 years ago had less than 1000 Jews. The Rebbetzin at our shul told me a few months ago about her grandmother growing up (frum) in a town in Russia with less than a dozen families. This was very common. But, now, it seems that smaller cities (with mikvaos, educational opportunities, etc.) are somehow not "proper". I find the whole concept of a New York centric world to be quite perplexing.

  6. This is beautiful! It choked me up.

    We should never allow ourselves to feel like a fake Jew. It's tempting to let that idea sit in our brains every bit as much as it is tempting to take it to heart when it's told in more ways than one to us by our Jewish peers.

    It matters NOW to Hashem that we do all of those mitzvos! Can you imagine if your child said to you "I know you told me I only needed to clean the dishes but I decided to clean the floor too because I know how much it means to you."? That is love.

    Well, perhaps there is no real equivalent to the life we live as "almost Jewish", but we matter now. Our efforts and feelings and desires all matter now. Don't sell yourself short because it sells all of us converts short too. If the entire Jewish population had to sit in our seats they'd quickly give higher respect to our placement! We are not lesser thans, we are equals.

  7. @elle -

    "It matters NOW to Hashem that we do all of those mitzvos! Can you imagine if your child said to you "I know you told me I only needed to clean the dishes but I decided to clean the floor too because I know how much it means to you."? That is love."

    That is beautiful. It really made me smile this morning. Thank you. :)

  8. This hits uncomfortably close to home...and I converted O. 6 years ago.

  9. You're lucky that you still care about mitzvot. By the time I had my O conversion 10 years ago, I was crying almost every day for no reason, and I didn't care about anything.

  10. Oh, I feel this. Every word.

    Yimale Hashem et kol mishalot libech l'tovah, lady. <3

  11. Thank you so much for sharing. I know it doesn't seem like ti now, but you are demonstrating an amazing amount of strength, and I hope that everything will happen quickly and you will be able to put the "fake Jew"ish behind you.

  12. This strikes me as sad. If you think the mitzvot don't matter if you're not (Orthodox) Jewish, then why convert at all? Why do you think God made these mitzvot in the first place if you don't think they improve our lives and /or the lives of others?

    The mitzvot of kashrut that I follow matter because they make me think more about my food choices, and force me to look at ingredients on food, so I know more about what I'm putting into my body. Specifically, the mitzvah not to boil a kid in its mother's milk reminds me we should be compassionate, even to animals. How much more compassionate, then, it reminds me, should we be toward other humans?

    The mitzvot surrounding things like lashon hara matter because they help me to be a better person, and help to make my interactions with other people more pleasant for them and for me.

    The mitzvot regarding prayer matter because they bring me closer to God, and make sure I remember to take the time to speak with God and to thank God for the many blessings I have received.

    I could go on, but you get the picture.

    So sad that you think that, pre conversion, your mitzvot don't matter.

    1. Originally posted: October 26, 2011 at 7:50 PM

      Susan, I think you missed the point... And that hurt.

  13. Susan, I have to admit, I'm not sure I understand your premise.

    The 613 Mitzvos were not given to the world at large specifically because they're not a universal recipe for a better life. Otherwise, it would have been pretty cruel of Hashem to not share these with the Gentiles, and pretty selfish of Jews to not spread them around.

    Instead, the purpose of mitzvos is to do them _because_ they are commanded; hence the term "commandment". Period.

    Surely, anyone who performs mitzvos by rote is failing to achieve as much as possible when compared with someone who reflects upon his actions and improves himself in numerous ways. However, any analysis and subsequent changes are an effect of the mitzvah, and not a cause. As such, no mitzvah may be substituted with a similar actions (e.g., Shabbos cannot be replaced by Sunday, and Kosher cannot be replaced by Fair Trade Vegan).

    A relevant source (though I can cite dozens) is the Mishnah and Talmud in Brachos 33b, where we are taught "If one [prays] by saying "May Your mercies extend to a bird's nest [referring to shiluach hakan; sending away the mother bird before taking the eggs] ... he is silenced". The Talmud gives a reason "because he presents the mitzvos coming from Hashem as being based in compassion, and not as heavenly decrees". There is much discussion on what exactly the issue is (see Maimonides' Yad Chazaka and compare with his Moreh Nevuchim for example), but it is universally agreed that presenting compassion as the cause of the mitzvah is a misunderstanding of the purpose.

    Jews by birth have two reasons to do mitzvos: ahavah [love of Hashem; i.e., a positive belief that we need to do mitzvos] and yirah [fear [of punishment]]. A potential convert only has ahavah (since there's no punishment for failing to do one of the 613 mitzvos, nor for failing to convert), and it's only a future ahavah, because they're doing them now to prepare to become a Jew. I have no idea how to maintain motivation in a tough time under such circumstances; honestly, I suspect I'd struggle with it too.

  14. You are bringing along sparks that others could not reach. Keep going, bring them and yourself...home.

  15. Skylar -

    You're right, I missed the point. I still don't get the point of your post, other than a general frustration about the (slowness of the?) conversion process.

    I am truly sorry that my words hurt you, and I ask for your forgiveness.

    I am interested, still, in hearing why you think God gave us the mitzvot if God doesn't think they matter outside of giving us an opportunity to fulfill God's commands. I believe you could write a very good post on this subject, and perhaps doing so might help you feel more that the mitzvot you are fulfilling now do, indeed, matter.

    Or, maybe I simply don't know what I'm talking about.

    Mikeage -

    My premise is that if the mitzvot only matter insofar as they give us a chance to do random stuff just because God said so, then I don't see any value in anyone taking them on voluntarily, because then, by definition, taking them on doesn't make anything better for anyone.

    I in no way said, nor meant to imply, that one may substitue another action for the fulfillment of a mitzvah.

  16. Susan,

    I read "the mitzvah of XXX" matters because it "[tangible benefit]" as implying that you believe that the purpose of mitzvah XXX is to bring about that tangible benefit. Therefore, they are merely suggestions of the best way to achieve something, and if in a particular scenario something else can serve that goal, why not?

    Regarding eino metzuveh oseh [one who fulfills a commandment despite not being obligated], we do find that such a person often receives a reward (although generally less than the one who is commanded). However, there are criteria for this, and there are cases when such a person may, in fact, not be rewarded (or even punished)!

    Regarding a potential convert (of which I am not one), I've seen no [halachic] source to indicate spiritual reward, but, with a few caveats, no prohibition. There are at least two pragmatic reasons to do mitzvos; first is to prepare mentally, and the second is the learn the details. If one feels spiritually rewarded, great.

    Note that there may we be chassidishe / kabbalistic reasons to do mitzvos in this case. My derech / mesorah is not to attribute very much to such reasoning, and as such, I'm not qualified to comment on this.

  17. Mikeage -

    I find it interesting that you keep reading things into what I said that I did not, in fact, say.

    I did not say that the purpose of the mitzvot is to bring about a tangible benefit. I said that mitzvot matter in a tangible way. This is true regardless of what one thinks their purpose may be.

    Whether or not a person receives a reward of some kind outside of the tangible benefits of performing a mitzvah did not enter into my discussion.

  18. Susan,

    I equated "purpose" with "matters", and read "matters" as being exclusionary. Sorry for the misunderstanding, and thanks for the clarification.

  19. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful post that brought tears to my eyes. I think some of the people commenting did not realise that you were speaking on behalf of ALL of us. I wish every born Jew could read this post to get an idea of what we go through.

  20. Doing things that matter quite often leads to hardship. To do things that matter means going beyond the surface and the mundane and the easy. There is a price to pay. There is also a price to pay in being an outsider and in the minority. Maybe it's just crazy to try and lead a meaningful life in a "material girl" world.
    Hang in there!

  21. Susan: Mizvah means "commandment". There is no commandment for a non-Jew to keep the 613 Jewish commandments.

    I liken Judaism to parenting. If you have a baby, you have obligations to that baby. you must take care of it and raise it. It is a lot of work to do so, but it is also rewarding.

    A non-Jew observing mizvot is like a person practicing parenting with a baby doll. Skylar is learning to "parent" and that is important, but obviously the requirement is not there (a baby doll will not die if you neglect it), nor will such a pretend parent receive the rewards associated with parenting.

    Skylar is simply recognizing that following rules that do not apply to her is not as fulfilling as it would be if G-d actually expected her to follow those rules. Her feelings on the matter are understandable.

    This is not to downgrade Skylar's efforts. I personally consider her previous conversion valid, but even if one does not, she is now moving towards orthodox conversion. To extend my metaphor, you might consider her current practice to be like infertility treatments - she will eventually complete conversion and be welcomed into the Jewish community.

  22. Wow. Toda Raba. This is so beautiful ~ it brought tears to my eyes. HaMa'eiven Yavin. Yasher Kochech

  23. Originally posted: October 29, 2011 at 8:28 PM

    I finally have some time to respond. Addressing what Susan said, this post is more about alienation and embarrassment in the community than worry about "credit" in olam haba. It's about feeling like a liar for "pretending" to be Jewish. It's about the embarrassment of constantly having to "out" yourself because of wine and potluck meals. The embarrassment of being given shidduch suggestions and then having to explain you "aren't Jewish" and thus can't date.

    It's about feeling like an outsider in the community you have sacrificed so much to join and feeling like you aren't going anywhere.

  24. Originally posted: October 25, 2011 at 3:42 AM

    Just a few points. This is pretty representative of the frustration I'm feeling right now, but not all the points above are personal.

    As for the mitzvot, I know that they *do* count to Hashem, but the heart doesn't always believe the brain. This is a phase that I think all conversion candidates go through emotionally.

    But thanks, guys :D