By Shimshonit on July 9, 2008
As converts and would-be converts, most of our experiences of conversion are, understandably, from our own point of view. From where we stand, there are the texts and mitzvot to learn, the shul community to get to know, the rituals to incorporate into our lives. Through our eyes, the rabbi and other educators are (ideally) helpful, nurturing, inspiring, and encouraging.
This made it particularly interesting for me to read Rabbi Stewart Weiss’s recent op-ed entitled “A tale of two converts” on the Jerusalem Post online today. (Rav Weiss is the director of the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra’anana, Israel, where he assists new immigrants in their absorption process in Israel. He is also a columnist for the Jerusalem Post and Arutz Sheva, and a highly regarded kosher cruise supervisor [mashgiach/scholar/posek].)
In this article, Rav Weiss describes in detail the conversion and post-conversion experiences of two converts. One, a man, was part of a group of two dozen enthusiastic students in a conversion class. When Rav Weiss entered the class for the first time (the group had been studying together for a while before he joined them), he made an announcement:
“I have two non-negotiable rules for conversion: One, you must spend a minimum of one year in the program so that you can experience the entire spectrum of the Jewish calendar. And two, by the end of that year, you must live within walking distance of a synagogue.
“Judaism is much more about faith and commitment than it is about book-learning; the simple yet faithful Jew outranks the erudite but non-practicing scholar. Your success or failure in this course is less concerned with your scores than with your sincerity.”
Rav Weiss writes, “At the following week’s session, only five students returned.”
One of the survivors of his announcement was a young man whom Rav Weiss described as a seeker, dedicated to spirituality, the mitzvot, and his community. This young man is Rav Weiss’s (if not every rabbi’s) ideal conversion candidate.
His second description is of a young woman who was steady in her observance, though not inspired or particularly active. It seems she had been dating a born-Jew off and on, and eventually married him. However, when domestic abuse and divorce ended her relationship with her husband, it also ended her relationship with Judaism.
This doesn’t suggest that the only sincere convert can be the unattached one, or that the desire to marry a Jew doesn’t frequently play a role in the conversion of a sincere person. But Rav Weiss’s stories serve as a window on how rabbis endeavor to view the potential convert from all angles, as a whole person. His or her perceived motivation for converting, desire to be a part of the community, dedication to study and the mitzvot, and sense of spirituality all play a role, according to Rav Weiss.
I liked this article. It reminded me that while I don’t have as much time to study and attend shul now as I did in my single and pre-motherhood days, I still have what matters most (at least to Rav Weiss, for whom I have a high regard), which is faith in and commitment to Judaism.