I expected to be asked mind-twisting questions on kosher law…or Shabbos observance. In our first meeting with a Beis Din, 6 years ago before we moved to Alaska, I’d been asked some doozies. This time, though, it was different. Yes, they wanted to make sure we knew how to be observant, but the main focus was on the question seated next to me and the bulk of the questions were centered on trying to determine if my husband was a non-Jew looking to convert or a Jewish man who simply needed his status verified and documented.
There’s good reason for this.
A non-Jewish family looking to all convert to Judaism is a very different thing under Jewish law than a Jewish man who is intermarried with non-Jewish children. Jewish law can often seem harsh in that it cuts through emotions in ways that can seem difficult, but it does so in the pursuit of truth and justice. Was my husband a non-Jew who was seeking to become Jewish or was he a Jew that had somehow gone astray and was looking to return? The answer would determine what criteria we needed to meet to convert and also how the process should proceed. The answer would also mean whether my husband would remain his father’s son or become a spiritual son of Avraham.
The Rabbis involved were thorough and scrutinized every detail of my husband’s Jewish life, from his observance throughout his life to dates and timelines, to the geography of where he had grown up, attended day school, and been bar mitzvahed. One of the Rabbis, in particular, seemed to have a laser-like mind that could cut through extra details to get to the heart of matters. Notes were taken and details verified, much like a witness talking to investigators. My husband was the witness and they were seeking a truth that we’d been waiting almost a decade for.
In the end, the matter was settled through the details and the decision was made.
My husband…is and always has been…a Jewish man!
This news has taken some time to digest just as it had taken some time to come to terms with his status being questioned. This means that he was transgressing Jewish law during those years we didn’t know if he was Jewish or not. It also means that our marriage was never a valid marriage under Jewish law…a forbidden union. I suddenly felt a weight of guilt return for my part in all of this, but the Rabbis were kind as they turned to talk about the children and I.
My husband needs another gerius l’chumrah, a conversion just to remove all doubt of his status under Jewish law and provide him with documentation in case a doubt is ever raised. This should be done as soon as possible so that he can be fully observant. The question now was whether or not the children and I were ready to undergo our own full conversions and make our family a fully Jewish family.
I’m happy to say that it was determined that we are and that we will be returning to the mikvah very soon…soon enough that I’m finding myself very busy indeed with preparations! We also must separate and marry again so that we will have a valid marriage. The Rabbis worked to find a way that this will happen soon after conversion, to minimize the difficulty for our family.
In every area of our case, the Rabbis were firm, fair, and kind, even to the point of working around our daughter’s planned summer camp. They were firm on what is necessary to fulfill Jewish law so that we and our children won’t have any further questions about whether things were done properly or not, but also careful not to be overly harsh or strict.
My husband is no longer a question waiting to be answered, but an answer waiting to be verified. Soon, he and our family simply will be and I look forward to beginning this life together, to continue to grow and learn together and to work each day to be a blessing to our new community and the Jewish people.
And…in the meantime…I have to plan a wedding and turn my kitchen upside down again, as well as obtain about 20 mezuzahs. After all we’ve been through, though…nothing is impossible!