Friday, 8 November 2013

Keeping the Doors Open - Attitudes to Conversion

I’m just back from a Bet Din.   As usual it was exceptionally moving.   As usual the candidates demonstrated levels of commitment, knowledge and practice that would embarrass many ‘born Jews".   And, as usual, I’m left feeling a certain head-scratching frustration with the approach taken to matters of status by other denominations.

And that was before I opened the email from the Jewish Chronicle.

At the Bet Din we met with a woman who, as a child, was told she was Jewish.   She grew up thinking she was Jewish with an ancestry that stretched back to the expulsion of the Jews from Spain.   It was only in her twenties that she found out that her Jewishness ‘only’ came down on her father’s side.   She told several stories of having orthodox communities wanting nothing to do with her, even after she and her Jewish partner had a child.   It was an honour to see the journey she had been on, in her Masorti community, and to feel a part of a Tikkun – a healing for the whole family.

Then in the e-mail sent out by the JC was a piece from an orthodox Rabbi explaining why he didn’t believe in going to Limmud.   The Rabbi acknowledged that some find their life-partners at Limmud, but he went on to warn ‘some have met partners who they thought were Jewish since they had Jewish surnames and appeared Jewish, but then discovered later that only the person’s father was Jewish and therefore they ended up marrying someone outside the Jewish faith’.

I don’t think that a person with a non-Jewish mother is Jewish. I do think that they would need to go through some kind of conversion programme.   But where my orthodox colleague and I would part is on the question of whether a Shidduch between someone with a Jewish father and someone with two Jewish parents at the most exciting celebration of Judaism anywhere in the world is such a bad thing.   Surely when faced with an opportunity – and that’s the key word – like this, you do what you can to make this Shidduch into a Kosher celebration, and that means working to keep conversion programmes meaningful, serious but also open minded and open hearted.   That’s what we do at New London, it’s what I do as a Dayan – judge – on the European Masorti Bet Din.

It’s the annual Masorti Dinner on  08 December 2013.   Yom Masorti, a day of learning for the whole Movement, is on 09 February next year and, of course, with New London celebrating its 50th Anniversary in the coming year, it’s a good time to re-commit to the importance of keeping the gates to Judaism open.   It’s also a good time to re-commit to being part of a Movement which works to keep these gates open for those who live beyond the immediate vicinity of our own very special community,

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