education · Jews/Jewish/Judaism/Orthodox Judaism

The Growing Implications of the Current Conversion Crisis that nobody seems to know about

Beverly Hills High School, one of the best public high schools in LA, has a large Jewish student population.

If you talk to laypeople in the Orthodox community about the conversion crisis, you’ll note very quickly that most of them are living under a rock and don’t even know what you’re talking about even in prominent Jewish circles and events. Unless they are rabbis and rabbi’s wives or know converts personally or are married to converts or are converts themselves, they probably have no idea how much conversion has changed since 2005 and all the damage it has wrought.

And even if they do, often these people, if they are not PERSONALLY—as in the actual parties involved, like the converts themselves–in conversion just DON’T GET IT. Take this piece for example.

Alan Yuter’s “Implications of Current Conversion Crisis.”

The title of this article in the Responsa section of Jewish Ideas caught my eye for good reason. Very few people call it what it is: A CONVERSION CRISIS.

But after reading through the piece, what bothered me most is that only the first and last paragraphs of the piece actually deal with the converts in question and reality on the ground. And even the last paragraph doesn’t deal with what the convert should do or why this is happening, it even completely disregards why a family who previously had Modern Orthodox affiliation would switch to Haredi affiliation and go to a beis din to go as far as to be told that they should remove their children from an MO school to a Haredi school. It only deals with this in one sentence: “If particular individuals choose to follow their rulings, that is their business.”

No, it’s everyone’s business that haredi rabbis are convincing converts coming into Judaism with little knowledge or even converts with vast knowledge that their Orthodoxy is the only Orthodoxy and therefore, their conversions are the only ones that will be accepted in Israel. Something that is patently untrue.

I have friends who have had wonderful, lovely conversions in yeshivish and haredi communities. But I’ve also had other friends who have suffered in yeshivish and haredi communities and conversions but felt that if they didn’t stick it out in those communities with those conversions, despite their Modern Orthodox leanings, that their conversions would be questioned in Israel.

I was converted Modern Orthodox and my conversion is CURRENTLY (I think everyone should start using the word currently nowadays) accepted in Israel but a haredi conversion school in Jerusalem tried to convince me that I needed to change rabbis last minute right before I would be converted by my Modern Orthodox rabbi because they wanted me to start the process all over again with a haredi rabbi. They tried to convince me that was the only way to get a valid conversion and despite how happy I was with my conversion, my community, they were able to sway me and fill me with confusion. So, I can only imagine how converts who are not happy with their conversions and communities are easily swayed. Unlike these haredi rabbis trying to convince converts that it is their way or the non-Jewish highway, my rabbi refused to way in on where I should go to convert but that he would certainly convert me if that was my decision. Yeah, he’s an upstanding guy who refused to speak lashon hara about anyone, including people who were trying to brainwash me into believing something (“only haredi conversions are accepted”) that is untrue.

I WISH the responsa had dealt just a little bit with the pressure and the brainwashing that is going on in the Orthodox community and the way that converts are being taken advantage of by rabbis. If I had been the unhappy Modern Orthodox school, I would have said as much to the family. “You are being brainwashed. Convert through this beis din only if you are unhappy with your current community or schools.”

Though, of course, I realize that this still doesn’t solve the problem of all converts with converting children being forced to sign up for 12 years of Orthodox day school when the leniency used to be ANY Jewish school, including community schools, etc. Keep in mind that not everyone is lucky enough to live in a large Jewish community or is able to afford the rates of the Orthodox day schools in those communities. Not everyone is lucky enough to live in a community where the Orthodox day school is always the best choice educationally for their child, even if it is hashkafically.

I’d love for my kids to go to the Orthodox day school of their dreams…if I can afford it and if as a teacher, I deem that the school is a good school. I’ve heard horror stories of Orthodox day schools that are basically zoos where the kids run amok and make my former gang members look like the spawn of Mr. and Ms. Manners. If that was my only choice for schooling, especially at thousands of dollars a pop, I’d have the right to go anywhere else…but only because I converted when I was single before the “new laws.”

Forget if my kid has learning or physical disabilities that any of local Orthodox schools can’t handle, if I converted with kids during the new system, I’d have to consult the converting beis din–not just my husband–whether or not I have the right to pull my kid from the Orthodox school into the BEST school wherever it falls on the Jewish spectrum. Because I would have already signed a contract saying I couldn’t taken them anywhere but an Orthodox school.

This doesn’t bug some converts who haven’t considered the possibility of placing their kids in anything other than Orthodox schools. But what if you were born Jewish and adopted a non-Jewish child you chose to convert? Would/could you pull ALL your Jewish kids by birth from all the different Jewish schools–perhaps not all Orthodox because you’re living in a large Jewish metropolis with lots of options and lots of good Jewish schools across the spectrum–and switch them to the Orthodox schools as the baby will someday attend? Yes. Especially, if you wanted your child to be converted by a beis din you were told was the only one that could provide a conversion that was accepted in Israel and you lived somewhere where you couldn’t go elsewhere for a conversion because even in a large Jewish metropolis, your hands are now tied. And a beis din makes decisions you never imagined they would for your life, the lives of your future and current children and your bank account. So, yeah, this bugs others but they have NO CHOICE.

Meanwhile, others run from Orthodoxy or have no choice but to go elsewhere because they do not want a bunch of strangers making these types of decisions for them. Then Orthodoxy attacks these converts who go to other Jewish movements as not truly being faithful Jews or even Jewish. Oy, the mess we’ve created. It’s not just converts that these new laws are effecting since obviously, Orthodox folks who want to adopt cannot choose from a wide pool of Jewish children to adopt. I know many Orthodox families with parents who were both Jewish who have been put through the ringer because of these laws even though they were completely observant, as I said, Orthodox Jews!!! There stories, I realize, need to be told so that more born Jews become allies of converts in the current conversion crisis.

I don’t have kids and I was single when I converted but down the line, will I be retroactively asked to put my kids in certain schools because one parent is a convert like in this family. It’s just so, so, so sad. I know Orthodox Jews who went to public schools because that was all there was in the small communities they lived in. I know Orthodox Jews who went to non-Orthodox Jewish schools because that was all there was in their communities OR because those schools were the best for them. And even more so, in the wake of the economic crisis, I know people who have been forced to pull their children from Orthodox day schools, which can cost as much as $40,000 a year per child and even with tuition breaks can cause families to live paycheck to paycheck.

So, why aren’t converts and Orthodox couples who cannot have children or more children and choose to adopt not afforded the same rights as all born Jews to choose where their children would best be educated?

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