A Convert’s Sad Story

Anonymous writes:

I am a convert. There can be no question that I am halakhically Jewish, at least if you trust the Lubavitchers to know halakha. I am writing to protest the downright shameful treatment of converts by the Orthodox community, which so conveniently forgets the explicit commandment to not oppress the ger.

First, let me state my background—though I will omit identifying details for reasons that will appear later. I was raised as a Christian in the Bible Belt to believe that the Bible was the word of God. Nobody explained to me why “God’s Word” did not include the laws in the first five books, which today are observed only by Jews. Due to my parents’ severe opposition, I could not do anything toward converting to Judaism until I went away to graduate school in a small college town.

This was more than 35 years ago. At that time, I took instruction from the only Orthodox rabbi in the state, who could be described as Modern Orthodox. In those days, I knew nothing of Modern/Hareidi distinctions among Orthodox Jews; in fact, there were no Hareidi Jews in my immediate vicinity. The Bet Din consisted of my rabbi; the only Conservative rabbi in that town (he was a Sabbath observer), and one other person. As I started meeting other Jews for the first time (I had had no significant social Jewish contact before my conversion), I started getting questions about this conversion. I had met a community of Lubavitchers by this time, and they decided that although they believed my conversion was valid, they would redo it just to remove all question. They even placed a call to New York and got a ruling that I should not say God’s name in the blessing for this re-run. This second conversion took place about a year and a half after my first conversion.

I did not meet and marry my husband until nine years later. His entire family is Hareidi, and he is yeshiva-educated. We are Shomrei Shabbat but not “yeshivish,” and live in a small college town with a bare minyan for our Orthodox community. We have one child, a son, who is also Shomer Shabbat.

The basic problem a convert faces in the Orthodox world stems from the following mind-set: If you observe one mitzvah more than I do you are a fanatic, and if you observe one mitzvah less you are an apikores, or heretic. This is hard a enough mind-set for a ba’al teshuva to navigate and to figure out what is essential halakha and what is less essential minhag, or custom—and even more so for the convert. If a convert is at all less stringent than the person he or she is speaking to, the logic seems to extend that the convert has not accepted all of the mitzvoth, and therefore the validity of the conversion is in question. I’ve even had an Orthodox rabbi say this to me in those very words!

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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