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PostPosted: Thu Mar 02, 2006 6:44 pm 
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tp, I'm going to give a full answer to your question! (The short answer is both yes and no.) I've just been sidetracked the past two days. Thanks for your patience.

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 02, 2006 9:42 pm 
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Ok, here's the long answer.

tp: My understanding is that you do not/have not lived as Orthodox, and that makes me wonder - did you run into any obstacles in obtaining a halachic conversion?

Well, my level of observance was a lot higher then than it is now, and the situation in the town where I lived was a little odd in that there was no identifiable orthodox community associated with a particular synagogue such as you would find in a large east coast or west coast city. Besides separating the men and women during service, there was no real difference between the Orthodox and Conservative synagogues. We had one of each, and I attended both of them, as many people did. Neither community was shomer shabbat, though many of the individual members were, and they were just as likely to attend Conservative as Orthodox. There was also a Reform Temple. All three synagogues were within ~two miles of one another and none of them were very large. The woman’s mikvah was run by the Sisterhood and, again, supported by both Conservative and Orthodox. I don’t recall how the men’s mikvah operated, if I ever knew.

So when the question of conversion came up, the problem for me was mainly the identify of the Rabbi who would convene the Beth Din. The Union of Orthodox Rabbis will only recognize conversions done by their own members, and only one of the three synagogue Rabbis was a member, but he was not the only person in town with an orthodox smecha that would be recognized by an Israeli Beth Din. I did negotiate my conversion with that Rabbi because that was the easiest route to go, but I really didn’t like him very much and ... honestly ... I wasn’t confident that the dayans he chose would be kosher, that is, shomer shabbat. I wanted to feel good about the conversion, you know; that it wasn’t just a rubber stamp based on where I donated and whether the Rabbi paid dues.

It had to be unquestionably halachic mainly because I anticipated the possibility of having to move to Israel at some point after my marriage. I could have, in those days, emigrated under the Law of Return with any conversion but I would have had legal problems after getting there. My children would not have been able to marry within the faith; if I died there I couldn’t be buried in a Jewish cemetery, and so on. If not for that, I would have converted in the Conservative synagogue without a second thought.

The solution we found was to make the Conservative Rabbi a member of the Beth Din but to put in charge of the questioning a community member who held an orthodox smecha and had been a yeshiva teacher in Poland. This man was a dear friend of the family and sort of pulled it all together for me. Orthodox opposition to Conservative conversions turns on the qualifications of the questioner - the Union gives a rubber stamp (undeserved) to their own members and challenges anyone from a Conservative yeshiva ... so, we just did a little end run around that. Two of the members of the Beth Din had smechas from orthodox yeshivas and I took ‘formal instruction’ from both of them beforehand to dot the i’s and cross the t’s, and I did go to the Mikvah and sign the oath and all that.

The situation in a Reform Temple is probably quite different. I don’t think they use the mikvah, and I rather doubt that any of the dayans would be shomer shabbat. So I can understand the opposition if the Shulkhan Arukh is not followed at all. But I also think it’s ridiculous to demand that a person who is marrying a Reform Jew and intends to be part of that community be converted somewhere else under completely different rules. It’s even less logical to reject their children and grandchildren. It’s only in some specialized sense that someone raised in Temple is not a Jew, and I don’t know how one can justly deny them Jewish status, especially not the right to escape persecution by emigrating to Israel.

My own level of observance dropped dramatically after my marriage because of my husband’s opposition to everything religiously Jewish. I hadn’t a clue really beforehand ... I knew he wasn’t observant but he was a member of the synagogue and that’s where we met ... ah, well ... shaggy dog story which I will resist the temptation to relate. I’m more observant now than I was during our marriage, but I would prefer a higher level of observance + community participation.I need to find a synagogue I like, in a neighborhood I can afford, and then move within walking distance. But I will never move inside an orthodox ghetto. That’s really not for me, socially. It just wasn’t part of my background and I would never feel comfortable there.

To answer your question - transgender or transgendered is the preferred term for people who are born with the bodies of one sex and who identify as/live as the opposite gender.

Ah, thank you! I realized mid-post that I did not know the word for this.

I want to question your statement that converts to Judaism would not have been victims of the Holocaust. My understanding was that Jews who had converted, who had married into the community, etc. were very much victims.

No, that was the point I was trying to make. As a practical matter the converts died along with everyone else. But the Nuremberg Laws did not include converts to Judaism. So I would have been uncomfortable with a 'holocaust definition of Judaism' under the Law of Return. I don't see how they could have formulated that legally without confronting all kinds of problems.

But when non-religious Jews say that a convert can never be a 'real Jew' I do believe that the potential for having died in the Holocaust is what they are talking about. They themselves would certainly have been included, in spite of their irreligion, and the convert could have escaped even if quite unlikely to have done so.

I do not accept this perspective, btw. I don't think it's a healthy basis for building a Jewish identity.

Jn

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 20, 2006 6:28 am 
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Jn,

[After writing this post - it's not very clear, but that's because there are no clear ideas in my own mind to translate to the screen. Also, I am very tired - it's getting late here. I'm hoping this post communicates some ideas, no matter how half-formed. That's the best I can do with this topic.]

Very interesting - thank you for explaining the mechanics of your conversion.

I had thought when I got to the Boston area that I would explore a few of the many synagogues in the area, but there has never been a Friday night or Saturday morning that I felt in the mood to go traipsing around Boston...well, at least not for davening purposes. ;) Also, synagogues - like places of worship generally - are often family oriented, so it's easy to feel left out as a student...although that's something you have to deal with as a prospective convert anyway. Unless you're part of an entire family considering conversion, you don't have a family to share your important religious moments with.

In any case, I've frequented Hillel for the past three years. I did go to their Modern Orthodox services occasionally first year, but that is also when I became resigned to the fact that I will never be Orthodox. Since then, I've only gone to the Student Conservative Minyan.

In any case...both here, and where I grew up, there has always been a very firm separation between the Orthodox (who have always identified themselves as shomer shabbat - as a community) and everyone else. The denominations have never really seemed to mix very much. Apart from the Chabadniks, the Orthodox sometimes seem to view the non-Orthodox...not quite warily, but with, perhaps, a slight frustration. Suffice it to say that for whatever reason, I haven't seen the going back and forth between places of worship that you describe.

So, I have never thought it would be possible for me to have an Orthodox conversion unless I go to an Orthodox rabbi, become a part of an Orthodox community, study for one or more years, and appear before a bet din of three Orthodox male rabbis, etc. I also have never thought that I could undergo this process as I understand it in good faith, going through the motions of becoming an Orthodox Jew, without the intent to embrace Orthodoxy. Put simply, my understanding is that the convert's answers to the bet din's questions must reflect an intent to live a fully halachic lifestyle after the conversion. (It sounds as though your bet din was a little bit different; of course, I imagine that since you were raised Jewish, things were more flexible than they would be for us complete neophytes.) I think I will never have that intent, as it is defined by the Modern Orthodox.

So, it comes back to "What is Jewishness?" and also, "What would one's purpose be in converting?"

On the evening of March 3rd, I went to Kabbalat Shabbat/Ma'ariv services. March 3rd is always an...interesting...day for me to go to services, because that is the anniversary of my grandfather's (father's father's) death, seven years ago this year. I never once met my grandfather. On March 3rd, the loss I remember is the loss of any chance to have formed memories to remember. Nonetheless, I think of him, and when I am in a group of Jews saying Mourners' Kaddish, I especially think of him.

Of course it is not appropriate to say Kaddish for him. He was not Jewish. I am not Jewish. He was a devout Catholic all his 92 years, and would probably be quite horrified at the thought of his granddaughter abandoning Catholicism, not to mention thinking of him during a Jewish prayer (or maybe I am being unfair in my cynicism on the latter point.) And that really hammers it home for me every year. "Born" Jews look back, and for at least a few generations (for many, as far back as they can trace), they see Jews...people who lived and died by these traditions, who at least were observant enough to pass on a sense of Jewish identity most of the time. If I trace my family's roots back, they are quite different - Indian Catholic for several generations back, and Hindu prior to that. (I have these pipe dreams of discovering some secret long-lost genetic link to the Cochin, India Jews, but that's not going to happen.)

I had lunch the other day with a Jewish friend who was raised Conservative, and we were talking about this same "What is Jewishness?" question. She was telling me how, for her, the most important thing was the sense of community, the sense of unity with her ancestors back through the generations, each time she did something related to her Jewishness, from lighting Shabbat candles and observing kashrut to celebrating the High Holy Days. For the convert, there is not that same link going back generations (which seems to be so fundamental to so many Jews).

In fact, I think it's quite telling that converts traditionally take the names Avraham, Sara, or Rut ben/bat Avraham Avinu. Where the born Jew is "[Hebrew name] ben/bat [parents' names, or traditionally father's name]", the convert is a child of Avraham and Sara...a child of the first Jews, almost without the presence of the intervening generations. Simultaneously, the convert is expected to consider his/her own biological parents...in some sense...no longer parents, not quite parents, not the same as Jewish parents.

All of this by way of saying, stream of consciousness, that the notions of family and tradition that are so fundamental to Judaism seem not to be fully accessible to the convert. S/he has no Jewish family, and in converting, generates a religious...spiritual...dare I say metaphysical split with his or her biological family and its traditions and heritage.
[ETA Judaism is the only reason that I have ever even remotely considered the concept of children and family. Whatever Judaism is...it seems less...well-tailored...(to put it mildly) to those who voluntarily do not enter into heterosexual unions or have children. To convert to Judaism and have neither a Jewish biological family NOR a family that is Jewish by marriage seems to be dissecting much of the soul out of Judaism. Yet it makes less sense to force oneself into a mould that does not fit (much less to create children that are not fully desired in every sense of the word) out of a desire to conform to any notion of religious tradition, much less a tradition into which one was not born. This adds to the dilemma.]

If this fundamental aspect of Judaism is not fully accessible, what remains? The funny thing is that there is so much to talk about Judaism that is not about one's relationship with God that I am now just bringing up God in this post about religious conversion for the first time. Theoretically at least, this is the most important aspect of conversion. And, sometimes I feel it is far divorced from the ritual and procedure on which so much of conversion discussion focuses.

I agree with the Orthodox, the Conservatives, the Shulchan Aruch, and everyone who prescribes a two or three part ritualistic procedure for converting to Judaism as a prerequisite for joining the Jewish people. Yet, I agree with, of all people, those Reconstructionists who suggest that the true moment of conversion occurs between God and the convert, very possibly in private, with no fanfare or circumstance.

That does not end the inquiry, though. Short of acceding fully to halacha, what vow...promise...affirmation does one make before the Divine in private that suffices for spiritual conversion? What level of belief, what willingness to be ritually observant, suffices to make a non-Jew a Jew? Outside of the clean, bright lines the Orthodox provide, the question remains infinitely murky.

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 23, 2006 12:23 am 
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TP/nel (I'll come to one or t'other eventually) some of my experiences may be relevant to your thinking process.

1. I chose to convert Progressive (which is effectively conservative in Oz) precisely because I could not honestly convert Orthodox; I felt I would be living a lie.

2. I converted as a single woman, without family ties, so I had to go through the Jewish annual cycle without family to share it with.

3. I have gay Jewish friends who have had to deal with the issues of connecting in a Jewish community which seems not to make space for singles, far less homosexual singles. In fact, I wrote an article on this for the Union for Progressive Judaism magazine about...5? years ago. I can send you the article.

If you are interested in discussing this, contact me by email - we can perhaps set up a YIM conversation (I rarely log onto Yahoo unless there's someone/something specific).

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 23, 2006 4:44 am 
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Impy,

Seriously, feel free to use tp. I can't explain why, but I'm completely comfortable with tp, just not all the way spelled out. Yes, I'm weird.

1 - exactly.

2 - yes, this is true, but am I correct in assuming that you knew that you ultimately did want a family to share it with? Of course you now have one. My issue is that I don't ultimately want a family with children - at most, just a partner (you know, to the extent that anyone my age can predict such things, which is of course to say, "Who knows?")

3 - this is where I'm left feeling that I don't want to deal with this at all (and is the sole reason that I stopped going to services two years ago - the move towards agnosticism came afterwards). Moreover, even if I woke up tomorrow and realized that I was 150% straight, I'm not sure I would want to join an environment that made life that difficult for queer singles, just on principle.

Again, though - is the main purpose of converting, one's relationship with the Jewish community or with God? If the latter, perhaps it does not make sense to be put off by the community's heterosexism (or myriad other prejudices - for instance, I am deeply troubled by the ostracism that would-be African-American Jewish converts often face.)

I am most sincerely interested in reading your article, if you can send it my way. I'll PM you my contact info.

_________________
I won't just survive
Oh, you will see me thrive
Can't write my story
I'm beyond the archetype
I won't just conform
No matter how you shake my core
'Cause my roots, they run deep, oh

When, when the fire's at my feet again
And the vultures all start circling
They're whispering, "You're out of time,"
But still I rise
This is no mistake, no accident
When you think the final nail is in, think again
Don't be surprised, I will still rise


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 23, 2006 5:16 am 
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tp, I think that the issue of family connection looms rather large in the picture. It would be ... lonely ... to celebrate the rituals of one's chosen religion when so many of those rituals, for women, take place in the home.

I notice this keenly myself now that my daughters have moved into their own homes, and I only really look forward to the high holidays, because we spend them together.

If you lived within an Orthodox community I am sure that other families would include you in their celebrations. But ... as one friend of mine put it, "They don't let you die but they don't let you live," ... eventually you would be pressed about your marriage plans ... (if you wait too long, you might end up with a shoemaker) ;) ... and the issue of sexuality and alternate life style would become a dividing line.

I don't think there is any advice that one person can give to another about this, except to share experiences and help estimate probabilities. Ultimately, I think it is between the individual and some Absolute. One converts to a religion because it is the only way to make life bearable. I chose to be a Jew ... I did choose it because I could have chosen otherwise ... but no other choice would have satisfied me.

Jn

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 23, 2006 6:21 pm 
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Quote:
Apart from the Chabadniks, the Orthodox sometimes seem to view the non-Orthodox...not quite warily, but with, perhaps, a slight frustration. Suffice it to say that for whatever reason, I haven't seen the going back and forth between places of worship that you describe.


I think it's a bit friendlier here (Chabadniks always being a special case ;) ). At my son's bris, I had an Orthodox mohel and a Reform Rabbi, and although the poor mohel had to go hungry in my non-kosher home, he was nothing but kind and joyful in performance of the ritual.

Quote:
Simultaneously, the convert is expected to consider his/her own biological parents...in some sense...no longer parents, not quite parents, not the same as Jewish parents.


I would dispute that. Your parents are still your parents and the commandment to honor your parents still applies.
Quote:
"Born" Jews look back, and for at least a few generations (for many, as far back as they can trace), they see Jews...people who lived and died by these traditions, who at least were observant enough to pass on a sense of Jewish identity most of the time.

You hit it, nerdanel. I remember a story by a Jewish woman who stood in her new kitchen before Passover, trying to figure out where to put dairy dishes (because a special set of dishes is traditionally used for Passover). And suddenly, she had an image of all the Jewish women throughout thousands of years, standing in their various kitchens, wondering where to put dairy dishes.

I think a prospective convert would have to answer for herself whether she would feel that sense of belonging, of wrapping herself in an ancient tradition even though it was woven by hands of strangers not tied to her by blood.

Quote:
Judaism is the only reason that I have ever even remotely considered the concept of children and family. Whatever Judaism is...it seems less...well-tailored...(to put it mildly) to those who voluntarily do not enter into heterosexual unions or have children.


Judaism is undoubtedly very much oriented toward family. The center of the Jewish observance is the home, not the synagogue. Most rituals sets aside a special, important job for the children – asking the four questions at the Passover table or drowning out Haman's name at Purim. But they don't have to be your biological children, you know. :whistle: And I think this is where Judaism is unique – it's a religion centered around the community, not just around the individual.

That said, I belong to a Reform congregation, and we have several "two-mom families" as they are called. In at least one, one of the partners is a convert.

In fact, I suspect you'd like it there. It's very progressive, oriented towards social action, very… well, you know what city it's in, and it's like that. It's also very diverse ethnically and racially, including many mixed families. What I miss, however, is the mystical aspect, the joyful exuberance that Chabadnics bring to worship. I would, in fact, be drawn to their community were it not the fact that women are effectively excluded from the very aspect that attracts me.

Quote:
Theoretically at least, this is the most important aspect of conversion. And, sometimes I feel it is far divorced from the ritual and procedure on which so much of conversion discussion focuses.


I would question that, too. The formula of Ruth is "your people shall be my people and your God my God." Of course, God is important to any religion, but joining the people comes first. Perhaps that's why with a single exception every convert I know was brought to Judaism by marriage or another profound human relationship.

As for ritual - yes, it can loom much to large for some people. But in Judaism it's what you DO that counts, and so ritual and procedure are important in creating habits that would lead to the "right" actions, while bulding some peer pressure on those who don't act "right". That last aspect can seem harsh, but IMO this community pressure is the only enforcement tool that exists in Judaism, since the consequnces in afterlife are not a part of our belief.

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 23, 2006 9:05 pm 
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I have really been moved by the conversion stories here!

Tuesday night I was giving a talk at the SF JCC, and there was this moment where the incredibly nice people who took me out for dinner beforehand said, upon hearing the ages of my children, "Well, at least you haven't had this year dominated by a bat mitzvah!" -- which left me with that wistful feeling of not being able to explain the complicated nature of one's life properly -- and always being somehow outside.

My husband is Jewish, but from a very secular (Red Diaper Baby) branch of the family. He tries hard not to enter any houses of worship of any kind unless as a tourist or because his cousins would murder him for missing the big family events. My oldest kid has inherited her father's secular-but-loosely-Jewish identity. The younger two consider themselves something like agnostic-Quaker-Jews (one of those breeds that could only exist Here, I think!). But they came within a hair's breadth of attending a Jewish elementary school, in which case they would have gone the Jewish route, bat mitzvah and all....

Anyway, it's just one of those odd things that someone can look at your name and assume there's no Jewish connection, when actually there is. If I had had the urge to convert, I can imagine such encounters would be pretty poignant!


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 23, 2006 10:17 pm 
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Teremia, this year in our family IS dominated by my daughter's bat mitzvah...and while her dad was very ambivalent about it at best (he's very secular, and quite allergic tothe G-word), the experience has been positive for him too! Challenging, very, very challenging - but positive, because it has caused us all to re-think and discuss why we are Jews, to revisit ethical questions, to examine the values by which we live, to enquire as to how we plug into this community thing.

Frelga wrote:
TP wrote:
]Apart from the Chabadniks, the Orthodox sometimes seem to view the non-Orthodox...not quite warily, but with, perhaps, a slight frustration. Suffice it to say that for whatever reason, I haven't seen the going back and forth between places of worship that you describe.

I think it's a bit friendlier here (Chabadniks always being a special case ;) ). At my son's bris, I had an Orthodox mohel and a Reform Rabbi, and although the poor mohel had to go hungry in my non-kosher home, he was nothing but kind and joyful in performance of the ritual.

I think this characteristic - openness to diversity -varies very much amongst communities. In some communities the Progressive/Orthodox divide is unbridgeable; in others, the divide is a mere ditch, which open-minded people skip over.

Frelga wrote:
TP wrote:
Simultaneously, the convert is expected to consider his/her own biological parents...in some sense...no longer parents, not quite parents, not the same as Jewish parents.

I would dispute that. Your parents are still your parents and the commandment to honor your parents still applies.

I agree completely! As a person who's been through it, I can say without any doubt or proviso that the idea of disconnecting from one's parents is unthinkable, and no community has any such expectation! In the community to which I belong there is much discussion about how one can maintain those loving family ties while observing Jewish celebrations - what to do at Christmas, at christenings, at Pesach in order to bring families together while maintaining respect for the contrasting beliefs and rituals.

Frelga wrote:
TP wrote:
"Born" Jews look back, and for at least a few generations (for many, as far back as they can trace), they see Jews...people who lived and died by these traditions, who at least were observant enough to pass on a sense of Jewish identity most of the time.

You hit it, nerdanel. I remember a story by a Jewish woman who stood in her new kitchen before Passover, trying to figure out where to put dairy dishes (because a special set of dishes is traditionally used for Passover). And suddenly, she had an image of all the Jewish women throughout thousands of years, standing in their various kitchens, wondering where to put dairy dishes.

I think a prospective convert would have to answer for herself whether she would feel that sense of belonging, of wrapping herself in an ancient tradition even though it was woven by hands of strangers not tied to her by blood.


TP, I think finding this link is a personal challenge; some converts seem to seamlessly link in, by serendipity; others can go through the motions for years and years before the self-selected rituals become innate and the link is found; others always feel that they are living in borrowed skin.

I think those people who fall into the latter category tend to be those who don't adopt a regular way of ritual expression; every now and then they may light candles, for example. And it always feels awkward. From my own experience, and from conversing with others who have gone through the experience, those who give it their best shot, do it even if it feels a little alien at first, who are mindful and adopt a routine, they are the most successful at finding that link. Eventually - sooner or later - it becomes you, and you step into the dance which goes back centuries and the steps feel natural and familiar.

Frelga wrote:
TP wrote:
Judaism is the only reason that I have ever even remotely considered the concept of children and family. Whatever Judaism is...it seems less...well-tailored...(to put it mildly) to those who voluntarily do not enter into heterosexual unions or have children.


Judaism is undoubtedly very much oriented toward family. The center of the Jewish observance is the home, not the synagogue. <snip> And I think this is where Judaism is unique – it's a religion centered around the community, not just around the individual.

That said, I belong to a Reform congregation, and we have several "two-mom families" as they are called. In at least one, one of the partners is a convert.


Agree; and there are two-mum families in our congregation also, one of whom is going through the bat-mitzvah process alongside us and feel entirely welcomed and comfortable in this community.

You may be interested to follow up these links: Very brief. and GLBT congregation and finally, recent discussions

Frelga wrote:
TP wrote:
Theoretically at least, this is the most important aspect of conversion. And, sometimes I feel it is far divorced from the ritual and procedure on which so much of conversion discussion focuses.


I would question that, too. The formula of Ruth is "your people shall be my people and your God my God." Of course, God is important to any religion, but joining the people comes first. Perhaps that's why with a single exception every convert I know was brought to Judaism by marriage or another profound human relationship.

As for ritual - yes, it can loom much to large for some people. But in Judaism it's what you DO that counts, and so ritual and procedure are important in creating habits that would lead to the "right" actions, while bulding some peer pressure on those who don't act "right". That last aspect can seem harsh, but IMO this community pressure is the only enforcement tool that exists in Judaism, since the consequnces in afterlife are not a part of our belief.


In my most honest moments I call myself an agnostic of the Jewish persuasion. It is not faith that brought me to Judaism and keeps me here; it is the values and ethics, the peculiar world-view, the aspect of tikkun olam (literally 'healing the world', making it a better place); the focus on social justice and righteousness, the living now the best way you can - this is what I embrace and what embraces me.

TP, I sought out the article I mentioned earlier and unfortunately I don't have it as a digital file any more - I'm sure I have it somewhere in my back up CDs but finding them and going through them all is not something I can face - so I'll photocopy it and send it by snail mail (actually if I can find spare copies of the magazine in the office, I'll send you a copy of the whole issue).

ETA: Three times to add links.

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 21, 2006 7:55 pm 
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(I promised you all I was going to get back to this thread eventually...)

Quote:
I think that the issue of family connection looms rather large in the picture. It would be ... lonely ... to celebrate the rituals of one's chosen religion when so many of those rituals, for women, take place in the home.


Jn, I agree. Judaism at its core is a family oriented religion. Although it seems compatible with Judaism to me to picture a "two mothers" household like Frelga describes, it seems...strange to think of remaining forever a Jewish single person. On the other hand, although children are a vital part of the Jewish tradition, it seems as though you could share in much of the richness of the tradition with a partner and no children. I think it's a matter of improvisation - and throughout my time in college and law school, I shared the experience of Shabbat and Pesach seders with people who had only ever celebrated with their families, and weren't sure whether the traditions would be as meaningful when they only were with other students. Although it wasn't the same as the traditional family celebrations, they agreed at the end that what we had all shared felt very authentically Jewish nonetheless. But it is a reminder that to convert to Judaism, more than to many other religions, is truly to change one's relation to a community, not only to Hashem.

Quote:
the joyful exuberance that Chabadnics bring to worship. I would, in fact, be drawn to their community were it not the fact that women are effectively excluded from the very aspect that attracts me.


Frelga, if I was a (straight) man, I would be an Orthodox Jew. For five years, there has been no question about that in my mind. I admit that that bothers me, though...essentially I am saying that the discrimination (or distinctions, or assignments of roles, if you prefer) that the Chabadniks and modern Orthodox engage in, between woman and man, between straight and gay, wouldn't bother me in the least if they did not apply to me. I keep wondering what that says about me, and I have for years. I think it means that I would find - as those men do - very rational, logical, traditional ways to explain the "distinctions" drawn between the genders, and - no, wait for it! - the importance of the procreative model particularly to the Jewish people. (:shock: yes, because you know how strongly I advocate for that) What does that mean, that I believe that if I was born into a different body, that I honestly believe I would find attractive the very thing that I now perceive as causing great harm to many groups? I have no idea...but it makes me glad that I am who I am, and am therefore not someone who I would dislike strongly. :scratch: I should probably get off this hypothetical before I sound any weirder.

Right now it is not possible for me to be looking for a synagogue, but I am eyeing a Conservative GLBT friendly synagogue in San Francisco that I'd like to check out at the end of July. Frelga, is there any chance you'd know about it if I gave you the name?

However, I am waiting with great anticipation for the December 2006 meeting of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (American, Conservative). For me, Conservative Judaism has always struck the best balance between adherence to tradition and progressiveness into the 21st century. That said, it is lagging on GLBT issues, welcoming queer individuals and allowing full synagogue participation - except that it will not recognize any same-sex marriages (rumor has it that some San Francisco synagogue(s) are acting in defiance of that policy but I can't find anything to confirm it) and requires strict "don't ask don't tell" of its rabbis. Reconsideration of this policy occurred in March 2006 but ended in deadlock, and was thereafter deferred for nine months. What happens in December may determine whether I seriously return to considering conversion, or table the matter indefinitely (i.e. until the next time the denomination considers this issue). To the extent that religion is about a relationship between the individual and the Divine, that is something that I will have to continue on my own; to the extent that religion is about a relationship between the individual and a community, I will not belong to a community that practices anything but absolute acceptance.

In any case, I have a lot more to say, but no time to say it today. Impy, thanks again for that excellent article you sent. More later, definitely (although, knowing me, it might be five months later :roll:)

_________________
I won't just survive
Oh, you will see me thrive
Can't write my story
I'm beyond the archetype
I won't just conform
No matter how you shake my core
'Cause my roots, they run deep, oh

When, when the fire's at my feet again
And the vultures all start circling
They're whispering, "You're out of time,"
But still I rise
This is no mistake, no accident
When you think the final nail is in, think again
Don't be surprised, I will still rise


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 21, 2006 11:28 pm 
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nel wrote:
What does that mean, that I believe that if I was born into a different body, that I honestly believe I would find attractive the very thing that I now perceive as causing great harm to many groups?


If you were a different person you would feel differently. Stands to reason. :)

Quote:
Right now it is not possible for me to be looking for a synagogue, but I am eyeing a Conservative GLBT friendly synagogue in San Francisco that I'd like to check out at the end of July. Frelga, is there any chance you'd know about it if I gave you the name?


Not from firsthand experience, I'm afraid. I stick to my own backyard.

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PostPosted: Sat Aug 12, 2006 12:28 am 
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I'm going to be checking out two different synagogues in SF over the next two weekends - tonight, a Reform synagogue, and next Fri/Sat, a Conservative synagogue. If I feel comfortable with either of those, I may try to meet with the rabbi(s) and start attending regularly for a while. I need to understand whether this is still right for me, or whether I am clinging to something from early childhood and college without thinking through it fully, so I won't be jumping into anything conversion study-wise (not that Judaism allows you to do that, anyway ;)). Still, it's likely that I'll start reading more about Jewish religion and spirituality, again, in upcoming weeks and will have more to add here.

_________________
I won't just survive
Oh, you will see me thrive
Can't write my story
I'm beyond the archetype
I won't just conform
No matter how you shake my core
'Cause my roots, they run deep, oh

When, when the fire's at my feet again
And the vultures all start circling
They're whispering, "You're out of time,"
But still I rise
This is no mistake, no accident
When you think the final nail is in, think again
Don't be surprised, I will still rise


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PostPosted: Sat Aug 12, 2006 7:13 am 
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Good luck, nel! It will be interesting for me to read how the other coast lives. :shock:

Jn

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PostPosted: Thu Aug 17, 2006 1:14 am 
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Jn,

Yes, it will be an interesting process for me too. I will update once I have gained a bit more experience with any one particular synagogue.

In the meantime, I want to throw out this question for discussion.

In discussing this "return" to synagogue with some Jewish friends, I noticed something I'd vaguely picked up on before - it seems that non-religious Jews are more likely to have reservations about converts than religious Jews.

Granted, if that generalization was any broader, it would span the English Channel. Obviously, many non-religious Jews have no issue with converts, and many religious Jews harbor various reservations.

Still, I wonder if there is something to it, tying back into the question of "What is Jewishness?" Every person seems to answer this question differently - and, here's the rub - there seem to be at least two groups of Jews with whom there is no overlap - non-religious Jews, and Jews-by-choice, or converts. Contrast: In the Mormonism discussion, several Christian posters addressed the question of what Christianity was, and hit upon a couple of beliefs shared by all Christians regarding Jesus.

Here, though, nonobservant Jews-by-birth and observant Jews-by-birth share the commonality of Jewish birth, which means they share in a particular Jewish heritage and history, sometimes referred to as the Jewish birthright, with all its proud moments and anti-Semitic lows. Observant Jews-by-birth and Jews-by-choice share the commonality of religious observance and can probably identify shared spiritual or religious norms, at least by denomination. In contrast, nonobservant Jews-by-birth and Jews-by-choice seem not to overlap.

I guess the issue would be whether converts "acquire" any share in the Jewish heritage and history that I termed "birthright" above. Many converts I have spoken with feel that they do. Many of the nonobservant born Jews I referred to above seem to disagree. I actually feel sympathetic to the concerns of the born Jews about "outsiders" co-opting what was, for them, an unchosen, "default" (to steal a friend's word) identity. I guess the question is at what point the "outsider" label disappears. For people who were raised as Jewish, like Jn, "outsider" doesn't make any sense, IMO. And it seems as though, for others, at some point one would change from looking in to being an "insider" - even if it didn't happen in one generation, at some point one's descendants would just be "born Jews." I feel vaguely that the process could possibly take place in one generation, but I'm inclined to think that it might not happen immediately upon emergence from the mikveh.

If it doesn't happen immediately, there is this troubling gap, in which a newly converted Jew and a nonreligious born Jew could both say, "I'm Jewish," and not have any commonality between the ideas they're trying to convey. I wonder that is partly the source of the issues that some nonreligious Jews have with converts - the possible variation in the meaning of the word "Jewish."

_________________
I won't just survive
Oh, you will see me thrive
Can't write my story
I'm beyond the archetype
I won't just conform
No matter how you shake my core
'Cause my roots, they run deep, oh

When, when the fire's at my feet again
And the vultures all start circling
They're whispering, "You're out of time,"
But still I rise
This is no mistake, no accident
When you think the final nail is in, think again
Don't be surprised, I will still rise


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PostPosted: Thu Aug 17, 2006 1:53 am 
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Really interesting thoughts, nel (now there's a big surprise :P). I fall in the "non-religious born Jew" category, but I don't (at least consciously) have any problems with a person who is not born Jewish converting to Judiasm. It's not something that I have really thought about very much, but now that you raise the question I would have to say that it is my belief that a convert DOES "'acquire' [a] share in the Jewish heritage". After all, a convert has worked to earn her right to call herself a Jew; that effort should entitle that person to feel a connection to that heritage.

I guess in a strange sort of way, my experience playing West African percussion and studying West African culture has influenced my thinking about this. There are some African-Americans that get very offended at any effort of westerners of non-African descent attempting to study African drums and culture, feeling that we are (as you put it here, nel) "co-opting what was, for them, an unchosen, 'default' ... identity". And I do have some sympathy for that point of view, because there is a whole history of Europeans both taking Africans out of their culture and then trying to separate them further from their culture here in America. But the bottom line is that we are not trying to "steal" their culture; instead, we do what we do out of a profound respect for that culture. And I think that is why I don't have any issue with Jewish converts claiming a share of the Jewish heritage. Because someone who converts to Judiasm generally does so out of a profound respect for that heritage.

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 18, 2006 6:53 pm 
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Voronwë, thank you for your thoughts (and I feel happy that you finally made it into this thread :)).

I have been mulling two things:

- Your point that a convert has worked to earn the right to call herself a Jew. That sets a lot of thoughts swirling in my head, some of which I've previously mentioned in this thread, about what level of "work" is required from a convert - what level of observance at the time of conversion (and to what denomination), but also, what a convert's status is if she "lapses" and becomes less observant or non-observant. Not, of course, that I or anyone else would convert with the intention of becoming less observant, but the hypothetical question has some important ramifications.

It's generally conceded that born Jews are Jewish no matter what they do religiously after birth, but it seems more murky re: converts and what they do after conversion. So, that makes me wonder whether if I convert, my status as a Jew would tie into what I'm doing, rather than who I am. To steal my friend's word, again, that perhaps Jewishness would be a present state for me, but would never quite become a "default identity." To use a third phrasing, a convert would "acquire a share in the Jewish heritage" - but could possibly lose that share through her actions (or inaction).

- I struggle with the same point that you mentioned with regard to your interest in West African culture and drumming, but from the other perspective (which is why I said that I was sympathetic to born Jews who have issues with converts.) As a student, I had the opportunity to meet a fair number of academics and students (almost always white) who were very interested in and passionate about Indian culture. I had an intuitive negative reaction to this that is very hard for me to explain.

There was a sense in which I felt that it was "my" culture, not "theirs". This is particularly disingenuous of me, in that I really am not very culturally Indian, 98% of the time. But, FWIW, I recall feeling that it was my birthright to access if I so chose - but regardless of what I chose, it wasn't these other people's to choose anything about. That was the emotional reaction. :) When I try to parse it logically, I see two issues. The first is that I felt very insecure to discover that these other people knew far more about "my" culture (or, at least, the culture of my parents' homeland) than I did. I have seen this same "Who are you, imposter?" reaction from born Jews when it's turned out that I knew more about some aspect of Judaism than they did. The second is that I have been distinctly unimpressed with the historical actions of Europeans in India and towards Indians, and I really think that a little less European "appreciation" of India and its resources through the past 150 years would have been a great thing. Although I logically do not feel, as I said in my exchange with Jn in LBL, that moral responsibility passes through generations (and plus, most white Americans with an interest in India are not directly descendents of the Europeans who caused such havoc in the subcontinent), I seem to have a visceral negative reaction to people of European descent being very interested in Indian culture. Although the history is different, some born Jews seem to have a tangentially related reaction. I have encountered some Jews who seem to divide the world into the two categories of "Jewish" and "non-Jewish", and the it is the non-Jewish category, of course, that is responsible for the Holocaust, for pogroms, for the violent anti-Semitism of the past hundreds of years. And so, these Jews similarly seem to resent interest in Judaism from anyone in the (rather broadly defined, but then I'm guilty of that too) historical oppressor group.
[Of course, for me, the ultimate inconsistency is that when whites are NOT interested in any other cultures, I have more than enough to say about that. So, in any case, it's my issue, and I need to get over it. But it has been helpful in understanding the issues here by analogy.]

I can't get that to come out very well, but that is because the ideas I'm trying to convey are not high-minded, to say the least. They stem from a place of distrust of others based on historical wrongs, and a willingness to define very broadly the others who have committed the historical wrongs. I think that the ultimate, "correct" conclusion is the one that you have reached - when "outsiders" wish to learn more about one's culture, and they approach it from a place of profound respect and admiration, then there is little that is offensive about them sharing in that culture. Or, as one born Jewish person who does not have an issue with converts said, "Why does it harm us if someone else can live a better, happier, and more moral life by sharing in our traditions? We should be happy that it is so!"

_________________
I won't just survive
Oh, you will see me thrive
Can't write my story
I'm beyond the archetype
I won't just conform
No matter how you shake my core
'Cause my roots, they run deep, oh

When, when the fire's at my feet again
And the vultures all start circling
They're whispering, "You're out of time,"
But still I rise
This is no mistake, no accident
When you think the final nail is in, think again
Don't be surprised, I will still rise


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PostPosted: Sun Aug 20, 2006 7:28 pm 
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I'm well aware of the danger of reading offense into silence, but I am also aware that my previous post was (even in my own opinion) offensive in some ways. When writing the second part of my previous post, I had two hopes: (1) to parse the "visceral negative reaction" that some people, including some Jews, have to "outsiders" delving into their culture and (2) to think through the ways in which I myself can relate to that, but explain that mentally, if not emotionally, I share the view that outsiders learning about one's culture from a place of profound respect and admiration can be a good and beautiful thing, even a desirable thing.

However, these are difficult ideas to convey, especially when the starting place is people's (including my own) mild emotional xenophobia - which, again, I want to make absolutely clear that I see as a problem that the person with the xenophobia must overcome. Thus, if silence in this case simply means that no one has an interest in discussing this topic, then that is perfectly fine. But if silence means that anyone has taken offense to the problematic feelings that I discussed in my previous post, then I really hope that those people will post here or send me a PM; although I wasn't writing with the purpose of offending anyone, I can see how some of the feelings I was trying to parse could be inherently offensive.

Lastly, I'm vaguely aware that this post relates to something I wrote earlier this week, namely:

Quote:
If a post of ours doesn't receive any responses, it's probably just an oversight and doesn't mean that everyone hates us or is offended (and if the latter, we could probably just ask the people who we think we might have offended rather than assuming they are silently angry at us)


:oops:

Because I'm not exactly sure who is following this thread at this point, and because I think that the ideas expressed had the potential to offend a range of people, I am asking in the thread rather than PMing specific people. Alternatively, of course, I could just change my rank to "hypocrite" :P But my excuse is that mine was, I think, the first post on HoF that expressed any sort of reservation, even an "emotional" one, with people taking certain actions on the basis of race, ethnicity, or national origin, so I did want to ask this question of all the people who might be reading this thread.

_________________
I won't just survive
Oh, you will see me thrive
Can't write my story
I'm beyond the archetype
I won't just conform
No matter how you shake my core
'Cause my roots, they run deep, oh

When, when the fire's at my feet again
And the vultures all start circling
They're whispering, "You're out of time,"
But still I rise
This is no mistake, no accident
When you think the final nail is in, think again
Don't be surprised, I will still rise


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 21, 2006 4:21 am 
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If by any chance you are including me in the range of people, I can only say that I am following your journey with great interest. Certainly I am in no way offended by your earnest attempt to set your spiritual house in order, if you forgive the dumb metaphor. I just didn't have much board time lately.

I don't have much time now, either, so I will just say that I have never experienced or encountered any negativity against converts. Many Jews I know feel honored and flattered that strangers have such sincere interest in our religion and culture. I would say that there is sometimes mild puzzlement mixed in with this reaction, where one wants to ask the proselyte "Don't you have enough trouble already?"

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PostPosted: Mon Aug 21, 2006 5:13 am 
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I've been silent, too, nel ... also in the Sil thread where I really feel guilty about it. :help: The news from the Middle East has had quite a lot of emotional impact on me and I haven't felt very talkative for the past week.

Anyway, understanding the situation by analogy ... yes, I think that it comes down, at least in part, to the tenuousness of claims based on birth and ancestry, a topic we were also discussing in the LBL thread. Pointing to one's own ancestry can be a way of puffing out one's own chest without having to make personal contribution or effort, or when others point to your ancestry it can be to accuse and assign guilt or to justify persecution. Ancestry can also be, simply, the defualt from which most of us would not know how to escape even if we wanted to.

Conversion is less tolerable to a non-practicising Jew because it threatens self-identity in an asymmetrical way, a way against which there is no defense. The born Jew who is non-practicing cannot look at the convert and say, "Well, if you're the definition of Jewishness then I must not be Jewish and I'm outa here!" The world will not allow a born Jew to define themselves as non-Jewish on the basis of religion. I can say from personal knowledge of what friends have gone through that even Jews who formally convert to Christianity are not viewed as equal by their fellow Christians. The ideal of equality is given lip service, just as it is in the Synagogue, but that is no anodyne against 'racial' prejudice anymore than the Shulkhan Arukh is.

So the person who switches their religion without being able to switch their ancestry - Jew to agnostic, Christian to Jew, Jew to Christian - needs a more complicated definition of identity than does the person for whom religion and ancestry coincide. This is trivial, perhaps - it is always easier to be one thing than it is to be two. But from that trivial observation flow a host of morbid syndromes.

This is one of the reasons I am so opposed to a Holocaust definition of 'who is a Jew' - it leaves the non-religious Jew with nothing but negative content in their ancestral identity. I am quite certain that if we scratched deeper we would find other commonalities of worldview, ethics, and morality in which the 613 halakhah are subsumed, and that these are the things that define a Jewish person and also draw the convert to Judaism, make him/her "the same" in fundamental respects as both the religious and non-religious born Jews and different from Christians, Buddhists, etc.

I don't think there are good explanations for why certain people are born with certain worldviews such that they can only feel comfortable if they abandon their birth heritage and unite with some other heritage, but I know that it does happen and not just with religion.

Jn

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PostPosted: Mon Aug 21, 2006 5:41 am 
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Good post, Jn. Definitely gives me some things to think about it.

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