Jews/Jewish/Judaism/Orthodox Judaism · pesach · rabbi

Converts are not Jewish

A friend of mine is doing some Passover outreach this year. She’s volunteering at an organization that gives money to needy Jewish families for the big holiday. She’s swimming in piles of applications and making sure the neediest get help.

This week, she watched the director, a Conservative Jewish woman almost ready for Social Security, throw out a stack of applications marked “Not Jewish” into the trash. My friend got curious and she pulled the pile out of the trash. She found a stack of applications which previous volunteers had marked “Convert=Not Jewish.” Once she saw that phrase, she was pissed.

My friend: “Why were these thrown out?”

Director: “These people are clearly marked ‘Not Jewish.’”

My friend: “But they’re also marked as converts, this volunteer must have just mislabeled them based on their own lack of knowledge.”

Director: “No, honey, they were perfectly right, converts are not Jewish.”

My friend: “Then what’s the point of them converting?”

Director: “Well, technically you are either born Jewish or you’re not. Conversion is an interesting thing. It’s like an unwritten code that makes things semi-official or at least okay. You see, before a person converts to Judaism, they are just “wannabes,” that’s the word my nephew uses, it means they have no real right to be in synagogues or Jewish stores or anything, and that’s where you get a lot of anti-Semitism from. Once a person converts, they are allowed to pretend to be Jewish, so they can come to synagogue and other things, but they still can’t ever be really Jewish.”

My friend: “Allowed to pretend to be Jewish??? Are you kidding me? With all due respect, ma’am, you’re terribly misinformed.”

D: “And what makes you the expert?”

M: “My husband is studying to become a rabbi, and I happen to know a lot of Jewish law through him and also my own learning.”

D: “Don’t tell me you are actually standing up for converts of all people!”

M: “I’m standing up for Jews, and that’s something you would do yourself any day, right?”

D: “I always stand up for Jews, every day. You know how involved I am with the Jewish community here and abroad. I’ve been to Israel more than 10 times.”

M: “So allow me to tell you something about converts. Those who went through an Orthodox conversion based on Jewish law are full-fledged Jews with all the benefits and obligations of that title. Other Jews are commanded to treat them as equals, and if they even so much as mention that an individual is a convert, they are breaking halakhah (Jewish law).”

Amongst the trash pile was an application from a woman who had converted through Chabad but whose application a volunteer had chucked because her maiden name didn’t sound Jewish.

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12 thoughts on “Converts are not Jewish

  1. I wish I could say that I was shocked, but I’m not. Conservative Jews are famous for that attitude. I expect it.

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  2. That’s appalling. I would write an angry letter to them. I’d get your husband to write an angry letter to them since, sadly, they’re more likely to listen to him than you.Not to mention, there’s plenty of Jews whose last names aren’t Rosenbergsteinklein. Off the top of my head, most Sephardic Jews have names that don’t sound stereotypically Jewish. Marc Angel, anyone? Not to mention, in this culture, we usually get our last names from our fathers, while Jewishness comes from the mother. Plenty of BTs, for example, might have a non-Jewish sounding last name.

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  3. Funny phenomenon I’ve noticed.Most Conservative/Reform Jews look at converts at not-Jewish. With their methods for conversion it’s not as serious and doesn’t take as much. Basically their lack of respect for halacha and conversion as a rite comes through in their respect (well lack thereof) of converts.You know what I mean? They don’t take conversion seriously so they don’t take converts seriously.Where as most observant Jews take conversion very seriously and thus converts seriously.

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  4. le7,I totally agree with you. This is why I’m not surprized this comment came from a Conservative Jew. In my experience,Conservative/Reform rabbis, lay people, and congregants never see converts and Jews of color as Jews. They are more likely to equate Jewishness with racial/ethnically European connotations.

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  5. While it’s true hearing comments like this is sad, it’s not the first time converts have encountered it. Nor will it be the last. Having said that, we shouldn’t really be bothered by these comments either. We know the laws. We know we’re Jews. The path that lead us to our Judaism was the way G-d wanted it to be. I also know the obligation G-d said to love all Jews. So regardless what comments that individual made about converts, they will always be welcome at my table for Shabbos. I don’t need their ‘approval’ (and I use the term loosely) for me to love them.

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  6. I’d have to say that this is the exception rather than a rule. I am a convert. I have never been anything but accepted by all Jews, to the right or to the left. There will always be people who choose to discriminate.

    @Ie7 and mixedjewgirl
    Making a statements about Conservative/Reform rabbis and congregates like that is very dangerous. I have _never_ had anyone question me being Jewish. If they ask or question, I will tell them my story. As someone who talks to many Conservative rabbis and works with Conservative and Reform Jews, they are accepting and generally don’t discriminate.

    There will always be a question of who is a Jew. There is a statement I was once told by a rabbi that I always live by, “If you call yourself a Jew then you are a Jew to me for who would ever want to be a Jew unless they really were one.”

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