The Advantages of a Being a Ger/Jew By Choice

During the last four months or so I have encountered a number of Gerim. For those who are not MOT you can translate this to mean someone who has converted to Judaism or you can use the headline Jew By Choice.

However, I need to add that from a personal standpoint I am not real fond of applying Jew By Choice strictly to those who have converted as I like to think of myself as being a Jew By Choice. That is, I choose to be Jewish because I want to be not just because I was born a Jew.

That brings me to the next point which is that I find it interesting to hear why people convert to Judaism. It is not something that you hear about every day. There are a variety of reasons for it, some of them are based upon historical incidents in which proselytization of non-Jews was dangerous.

If you are interested you can find some background on conversion and topics surrounding it by starting here. In the interim I have a different focus for this post.

One of the challenges of being brought up with a particular faith or set of values is that we often do not take the time to really question why we believe what we believe. We simply watch our parents and mimic their behavior. “Dad was Democrat and so am I,” blah, blah, blah.

In concept this doesn’t sound like a problem but in reality I think that there are issues with it. The area that takes primacy is a question of values. What values are important to you and why. They may not be the same as your parents. That doesn’t automatically disqualify or lessen their importance.

From my standpoint I think that it is important for people to consider what they believe and why. I like to understand why I think it is important to act/behave in a certain fashion. I want to know my principles well enough to explain them in a clear and succinct fashion. It helps me to understand myself and what place I want to take in the world around me. It also helps to guide me in guiding my children.

So when I look at people who convert to Judaism I view them as someone who has taken time to consider their beliefs and reached a place in which they see Judaism as filling a natural and important role. And I see them as often having a deeper and better understanding of why they are Jews than many of us who were born Jewish. And to me that is valuable.

What do you think?

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7 Comments

  1. Stephen (aka Q) February 11, 2006 at 4:58 am

    I think the big advantage to converting is that you therefore have insight into two worldviews. You’re able to detach a little bit from both worldviews and think critically about the secular perspective and also the religious perspective.

    Of course, some people just become extremists when they convert — they don’t think critically about their new faith at all.

  2. Jack's Shack February 10, 2006 at 8:26 am

    Gooch,

    You are absolutely correct. I know a number of people who didn’t have any particular religious affinity for any religion so their conversion was strictly for marriage purposes.

    GT,

    Personally I think that there are some advantages into coming into Judaism as an adult as opposed to being a child.

    Hi Houston,

    Thanks for coming by. I know a number of Jews who consider themselves to be atheists. I have had some very interesting discussions with them.

    JG,

    Figuring out what to write is the hardest part. For me it is very rewarding because it provides a clarity that is not always there prior to the posting.

    Regina,

    It sounds like you are having a very rewarding experience. That is great.

  3. Regina Clare Jane February 10, 2006 at 4:54 am

    As someone who is in the early, early stages of converting, I look back on my life and wonder why I didn’t do it sooner… and no, I am not converting because of marriage, although my husband was raised Reform. He does not practice Judaism at all. There are so many reasons why I feel drawn to Judaism, but one of the strongest is because I feel G-d is calling me there. I have ignored Him for far too long now. This has not been a casual or easy decision, but a right one nonetheless. Since making the decision and meeting with my Rabbi and observing Jewish rituals for Shabbat and holidays and kashrut and reading Torah, I have never been happier and more importantly, I have never been more challenged in my faith in G-d. If you are honest with yourself, you must question if what you were taught to believe as a child is still what you believe as an adult- and I was honest enough to go there. I am the happier and wiser for it.

  4. jg February 10, 2006 at 1:28 am

    I agree that it is important for people to consider what they believe and why. Two of my unwritten posts are “what I don’t believe” and “what I do believe.” If only I could figure out what to write!

  5. Houston February 9, 2006 at 10:06 pm

    I actually know a couple of people who converted to Judaism. One of them, a Gay man, is just about the most Orthodox person I know. I know we had a long talk about it, but I didn’t understand his reasons for converting after his explanation anymore than I did before it. “You’re already Gay,” I said. “Why take on the grief? And Orthodox at that. The one branch of Judaism that doesn’t welcome you?”

    The other person I know was a young attorney who wanted children, but wanted them to belong to a tighter community with values which reflected her own more than did her own religious background.

    Then of course, there was Elizabeth Taylor and Sammy Davis, Jr.

    I almost did, convert that is. I remember talking to a rabbi about it, and his comment was “You wouldn’t be the first Jewish atheist.”

    While there is a religion associated with Judaism, most of the Jews I know simply are Jewish and not religious.

    My life is enriched by the number of Jews I call friends, colleagues and neighbors. I don’t have to convert to Judaism to enjoy its affect on my life.

    Cheers.

  6. Ger Tzadik February 9, 2006 at 7:57 pm

    Should I disqualify myself from commenting on this one? I guess my comment would be my blog. 🙂

    I will say that I don’t think you can replicate the experience of probing your world view mid-life, when you have the mental facilities to do so in a very intense fashion.

    It’s impossible to perfectly share a world view with others who have maintained that faith from their earliest days. It’s not that there’s no understanding, it’s just not the same understanding.

    The difference between empathy and sympathy. (Which many people use interchangably when that’s not appropriate.)

  7. Gooch February 9, 2006 at 6:52 pm

    True, although I question if everyone who converts to Judaism does so because they fully embrace all the inherent values and beliefs therein. This is purely anecdotal, so take it for whatever its worth, but I’ve also found a lot of people convert simply because of marriage, not neccessarily due to a strong pull towards the faith.

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