There is a famous convert in the news again and controversy aplenty, including even people questioning this convert’s Jewishness.
But…I’m not going to talk about her. Why? Because I’d be breaking a TON of Torah prohibitions to do so. Plus, it just isn’t kind to do that. It’s one of the things I love about Judaism that there are laws even about embarrassing people and that those laws apply whether you personally agree with the person or not, whether you like them or not, and whether they are famous or wealthy or not. There are extra laws that apply when that Jew is a convert.
The Jewish people has a complicated relationship with both conversion and converts with a lot of conflicting messages. Conversion candidates and even after conversion, we often feel as if our observance is under a microscope. Any evidence of lapses might be used to call into question our halakhic status. We’re often held to a higher standard than our born Jewish brethren. At the same time, this is a life we chose. We often can’t quite grasp the challenges that come with being born into the covenant versus choosing it. Born Jews have their own laundry list of challenges. There is a big disconnect sometimes in our experiences that leads to separation.
Often, for Jews who aren’t as religious, Jewishness is more of a cultural or even racial identity for them and something they find a hard time believing can be passed on any other way than through genetics. I’ve had Jews like this simply tell me, “I don’t believe in conversion.” To them, a convert will never be “Jewish” because their definition of what it is to be a Jew has no construct for conversion. Similarly, no matter where a convert pursues conversion or what Rabbi or Beit Din converts them, there will always be one group of Jews or another that doesn’t recognize their conversion. There simply is no universally accepted conversion. The closest you can get is one that will be recognized by the Israeli Rabbinate, which for now means an Orthodox conversion through one of their approved Beit Dins or Rabbis. Still, there will one day be a time in almost every convert’s life where someone will not recognize them as Jewish.
And…the future of your conversion is never fully assured, either.
As my family’s story can well illustrate, a conversion that’s accepted at one time can later be questioned and often just at the time you need acceptance the most, like at a major lifecycle event. There are no guarantees no matter what kind of paperwork you have or what signatures are on it. Conversions can be nullified in practice for a great many reasons, even having nothing to do with the convert themselves. This can happen after half a lifetime of living as a Jew.
The Torah itself, which often only briefly mentions whole large areas of Jewish law, specifically takes the time to tell us to treat converts well.
There is a comfort, though, even for my family that knows the uncertainty of conversion all too well. That comfort is that even this is not beyond G-d and that He is in control. As much as the Torah admonishes us not to oppress the convert, it also tells us that G-d is particularly with those who are oppressed. Come what may, I need only cling to Him and Torah and He’ll help me through it.
Knowing that, I don’t need to worry about what another Jew is doing or not doing or even whether they are a convert. (Although I particularly enjoy meeting converts and hearing their stories when they feel comfortable being open with them.) All I need to worry about is doing the best I can, on my path.
Oh…and surviving another bar mitzvah Shabbos!
I hope everyone has a wonderful and restful Shabbos!