Is a convert considered just as Jewish as a person who was born Jewish?

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Hello-

I was raised as a Muslim, a traditional Muslim, but I never felt that way, so when I was about 15 years old, I called myself a non-believer. As a part of Muslim belief we were taught about the biblical stories about Moses and Christianity as well, and I was fascinated by the Jewish religion (sorry about my English, I am not very good at it). I studied Economics at college and I was always into social studies and personally read a lot about history. I am now 23 years old and I believe that there must be an order in the world and I feel Judaism very close to my heart. The question is that it's a very common belief around here is that 'you cannot become Jewish but could only born as one'. I wonder if I could be assumed as a real Jew if I converted, or if it would never be like being born and raised as a Jew? I would be very glad if you could answer this for me.

Sincerely yours,

Galia

Dear Galia,

Thanks for your question. You can 100% convert and if you do it in accordance with Jewish law, you will be considered Jewish by everyone. The Torah itself speaks about conversion. Moses's wife, Tzipora was a convert, and the most famous conversion story in Judaism is written about Ruth in the book of Ruth.

You must keep something in mind though: not only do we not proselytize within Judaism, we don't take converts unless they are truly sincere. While a Jewish life is a rewarding one, there are also many responsibilities that it entails. I personally feel that it's well worth it, but when a person attempts to convert, a rabbi will try rather hard to dissuade him from doing so. This is not because we don't allow conversion or consider converts to be real Jews, but rather because we don't want someone taking on the obligations of being Jewish if they're not serious about follow through with them.
 
Once a person converts (according to Jewish law), not only is he considered 100% Jewish, you'll be glad to know, the Torah instructs Jews to treat the convert especially nice because it reminds us that we were once "strangers in a strange land." Meaning we should be extra sensitive to those coming from a different place as well.

Good luck with your journey, whatever you decide.

 

Allison
 

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Comments

  1. Allison gave a great response.

    May I also add that when you convert please look deeply into the movement that you are converting in. I wish that all converts were required to go through an Orthodox conversion. That way you get the most thorough of Jewish Conversion experiences. There are many converts like me out there. We started in Reform, then to Conservative, and then to Orthodox. An Orthodox conversion is accepted in all mainstream movements in Judaism.

    Also, prepare yourself for the way you will be treated by people in your life. Before I was Jewish I did not have Anti-Semites in my circle of friends; however, I clearly work with some. Last year it came to a boil during Hanukah. I put up my hanukiah with candles in my office. My office had decorated Christmas trees everywhere. I did ask that one not be put in my office, but the Christians I work with did not respect my request. I intended to keep the hanukiah (sans candles) up until New Years. What happened next floored me. I was told to take my hanukiah down. I firmly said to my Director, “The menorah comes down when the tree comes down.” That was not the first battle I had in office for my Jewish identity nor will I believe that it will be my last.

    Like you, I have Muslim people in my family. I am lucky. The love that we have for each other as family members is higher than the dislike that our two religions have for each other. This year my family had a Vegetarian Eid-Shabbat Dinner. I am confident that we are the only family on the planet that did that. Hopefully, the love that your family has for you will eclipse the historical and current clashes between the religions.

    Good Luck!
    Shelly

  2. Informed Jew says:

    Allison, 

    If you are talking about Caucasian Jews, I agree with you 100% but, if you are talking about non-white Jews (black or African American Jews, specifically), I disagree wholeheartedly.  A non-white halachically Jewish convert or FFB is not seen as 100% Jewish. It is a real issue in the community; therefore, a non-white individual who is thinking of converting should ask themselves if it’s worth the headache. Non-white Jews have been wished good morning after saying good Shabbos to someone even when the person is wearing a Kippa and tzitzit. They also experience “daily” strangers questioning their Jewishness. They either get individuals asking them so when did you convert even though they were born Jewish or people wanting to know the most intimate details of their conversion if they had one. I don’t know what is worse constantly assuming people who are Jewish aren’t or asking the non-white Jew questions about their conversion like the stranger has a right to know. So, yes we are told to love the convert and to never remind them that they were converts; however, that is not the reality. There is nothing anyone can say to justify this kind of treatment of people just because they don’t look Jewish. Perhaps, Allison, you should write an article about that!

  3. Thanks for your comment, Informed Jew. I was answering the question of “are you actually Jewish, when you convert?” Since Galia was saying that in her Muslim circles, they incorrectly believe that “you cannot become Jewish but could only born as one.”

    What you speak to, as you mentioned, is not really an issue of conversion – it’s an issue of a person looking “atypically Jewish.” As you noted, people who are born Jewish (even religious) who look “atypically Jewish” are faced with questions and don’t get the same treatment as people who look “typically Jewish.”

    It should be mentioned, that this is not just a problem in the Orthodox circles, but in all Jewish circles.

    It’s very unfortunate that people behave this way and we Jews who look typically Jewish have to do a better job of making our Jewish brothers and sisters feel more welcome and comfortable. There’s no exuse for this behavior. I just hope that as the world get more open-minded about things in general (and I believe that that is the trend) that the open-mindedness makes its way into the Jewish circles.

  4. GibsonGirl55 says:

    Allison,

    I’d like to point out that Informed Jew also is talking about nonwhite converts as well.

    I am African American and I never will forget meeting a woman, Jewish, who discussed the issue of conversion with me and another woman, who was white.

    As the two of us shared with this woman our experiences in having an interest in Judaism and the decision to undergo conversion, this woman quipped that I would have to travel to another country to snag a husband. Of course, this was not the case for the white woman who was part of this discussion.

    There are other stories that are too numerous to mention here, but it is an issue that many Jews of Color–those who are born Jewish or Jews by Choice–have to face on an ongoing basis.

    And as Informed Jew noted, it would indeed be interesting if you were to write an article about this issue.

  5. I am an orthodox convert and while I’m respected in my community as a Jew, and I have been given great honors in various chassidim circles, I can tell you that you are never viewed like one of them, especially when it comes to finding a spouse or marrying off your children, even if you are white among ashkenazim or dark among sephardim. But this is just part of human flaws, a test that is viewed with great love by Hashem. After all, that’s what counts.

    • Allison Allison says:

      Thanks for your comment, Joshua. I’m sorry that you haven’t been treated like the Torah tells you we’re supposed to treat a convert, in your circles. I think, unfortunately, the same thing happens to ba’alei teshuva (returnees to faith) in more right wing circles. Every community has its pros and cons, but I did want to point out that in the Modern and Centrist Orthodox circles, I think most ba’alei teshuva and converts are more readily accepted in every way.

      • Ouch.
        Allison, while I respect your opinion a lot and enjoy reading what you have to say, I do not believe your comment about greater acceptance for BT’s and converts in Modern and Centrist Orthodox circles is fair. There are wonderful, welcoming, non-judgmental people in every Torah community, including the “really frum” ones. It’s all a matter of middos, in my opinion. Some people have good middos, some people have bad middos – it really doesn’t matter what type of headwear you have on… People are not more intolerant because they are more machmir, wear more black, etc.
        Maybe I feel this way because I’m an “out-of-towner,” but although my husband and I are considered pretty ultra-Orthodox, we really like, accept, and respect our neighbors, friends, shul members, extended family/mechutanim who are converts. Even the ones whose skin is black!

        • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

          Thanks for your comment, Tova. Of COURSE there are open-minded, accepting “ultra-Orthodox” Jews out there. But I think if you look at percentages of the communities you’ll find that in the more Haredi circles, there’s more an focus on yichus in shidduchim and less of an openness with bt’s and gerim than in the more modern circles. That is not to say the more modern circles are perfect by any stretch of the imagination! Every group has its strengths and it’s flaws. The reason I mentioned it was because I’m trying to give realistic information to the questioner. There WILL be people who will be less open to meeting a convert and in my experience I’ve seen more of that in the more RW circles.

    • Allison, I’m don’t agree with you that “in more right wing circles BTs aren’t as accepted”. I am part of a very right wing community and we embrace Baalei Teshuva and hold them in the highest esteem. It is true that some of us would hesitate before dating a BT; that is because we really try to date someone with as similar background as possible (more common ground, easier time adjusting to marriage, etc.)

  6. I am an Iranian woman who converted through the Reform movement and am constantly interrogated about my Jewishness. I used to answer truthfully until one day I just snapped and told the Ashkenazi cow that SHE didn’t look Jewish AT ALL because people in Israel look more like ME than her. That was the day I found the chutzpah to tell anyone who questions my Jewishness to take a hike. Jews of colour (whether born Jewish or Jewish through conversion) face unique struggles in the Jewish world. It had gotten so bad in my city that I refuse to attend kenissa, even for the High Holy Days. I celebrate my Judaism privately now.

    • Hi Ranit,
      I am also an Iranian who is considering conversion to Judaism… there are a few obstacles I am facing and was wondering if you would be willing to chat as I have a few questions and have yet to meet someone in this situation. Thanks,

      M

  7. I was raised a catholic Christian but stopped to be one for 2 years now. I just realized that many religious and theological elements in catholic religion are actually pagan Roman practices. And I stopped attending these religious activities because I feel repulsed and they feel abhorrent to me. I studied theology to further my knowledge about religion but the more I gain religious and theological knowledge on Roman catholic religion the more I am enlightened about these pagan-based catholic practices. And I always questioned why, if Jesus was a Jew, did the Roman catholic church change the practices of Jesus. And why not remain the same as what Jesus did perform. Thoughts like that always occur in my mind. And I have been thinking of converting to the first religion of Jesus…..Judaism.

    But I am not white. I am Asian. Can a Filipino become a Jew? Although 95% of Filipino men are circumcised after birth or during childhood, I have reservation about converting to the original religion for the reason that most of the Jews I have seen in Toronto area are white.I just keep in my heart my fervent desire to go back to the religion of Jesus because of the repercussion that I surely face from my community and the community of the white Jews.

    What I do is study personally about Judaism in the internet. And because I love things Jewish, I even memorize by heart the Israeli national anthem because I love it so much. It is close to my heart. Listening to it played on Youtube always brings me to tears. It is a song of longing for God, for God’s place. I even wanted, a certain point in my life, to study Hebrew in order to read the Bible in Hebrew language.

    Can a Filipino guy become a Jew?

    • Thanks for your comment, Deo. ANYONE can convert to Judaism as long as he or she is sincere and has a conversion according to Jewish law. However, the Jewish people are not a perfect people, and you will likely be noticed for looking “atypical.” That’s not to say it’s not worth converting, but it might be helpful to speak to other converts who are Asian or African American and find out what their experience has been. Acccording to Jewish law, we Jews are not supposed to remind a convert of his past and we’re required to love him more than any other Jew, but unfortunately, Jews don’t always live up to Judaism.

      Another thing you could consider is becoming a Noahide – a righteous gentile. It means you remain a non-Jew, but live according to the basic principles the Torah gave for non-Jews. You can learn more here: noahide.org.

      Good Luck!

  8. Harender J. Singh Goraya says:

    I’ve been having a deep urge to be apart of Jewish community for a long while, 25 yrs.,since I read Abba Eban’s autobiography & a few books relating to Israel’ history.I was born & brought up in India and in Sikh faith. ’55 years of age and I live in Sydney, Australia.Personally & for the most part of my life I’ve been an agnostic.I drive buses to make a living here & every time there is a Jewish person on my bus I feel like giving a big hug, I don’t know why but they seem to be my own (more than Indians or Sikhs.) Can I become a Jew ?

    • Of course you can. Any sincere prospective convert is allowed to convert. I recommend reaching out to rabbis.org/conversion.cfm to find a rabbi in your area.

  9. Here’s a question that no one seems to be willing to answer … how can one EXIT the Jewish community and why doesn’t the religion allow for it?! I was born to a reformed family who couldn’t tell you anything about “what it means to be….” I have never felt a connection to it (and yes, I’ve tried) and any association with it has always made me feel more an outcast in society. What bothers me the most is that the religious dogma associated with it polutes society with the notion that you are “born” into it. Nothing could be less true, in my opinion, or more offensive. It’s a religion … not a race! And it is only the religious aspect of it that proclaims it’s a race. Forcing someone that the religion believes was born into become a Jew is tantamount to forcing the title on them … and no better than the proselytizing that other religions do! Unless the religion wants to deteriorate from the inside-out, it needs to formulate an exit clause. I find myself having to force separation from the stigma by saying some not-so-pleasant things about the religion. I cannot respect it or it’s people until it respects me and my position. I AM NOT A JEW!

    • Thanks for your comment, RSM. I think I’d like to answer this as an upcoming Q&A. It’s a fascinating issue you raise. Stay tuned!

  10. manseerkhan mahin says:

    Dear i would like to inform you about my problem i was born in islam but i not like islam after i became christian i studied bible very deeply when i studied bible full .I can understand judaisam is real religion christian and islam are fake religion i hate islam and christian only one real and genuine religion is judaisam i want became a judaisam iam a indian muslim how to come to israel i want became jewish please help me i hate islam i want come israel

  11. You’ll be considered to be 100% Jewish but not in the eyes of born-in Hebrews of Israel, especially if they’re orthodox. In that case you’d likely be a second-class Jew rather than an equal to them.

  12. Michelle Weizmann says:

    I converted Reform 11 years ago. The one minor detail that rendered my conversion “invalid” according to some is that the court contained one female Rabbi. A minor detail that matters to many, many people and sects within Judaism. Despite this, I live a fully observant Jewish life and consider myself Jewish as do other (some who are Orthodox) Jews and non-Jews whose opinions I value. But this is my perspective, if this person or that person says I’m not Jewish, I simply do not care. And really, each potential convert must decide for themselves. How much does it matter to you if other Jews and/or non-Jews accept you as Jewish? Does being accepted as Jew in Israel matter to you? With that being said, someone, somewhere is going to question your intent, the validity of the process, whether you are a “real” Jew, etc. Even some Haredi in Israel have “voided” some Orthodox conversions and rendered them as invalid. The best advice I can offer a potential convert is this: Keep moving forward…live a Jewish life, do Jewish things because it is through action and keeping mitzvot that we bind ourselves to HaShem, otherwise we are living no different than we were before our conversion. Bonding with Him is key because you will find that He will be your only source of strength when you feel like the rest of the world, both Jews and non-Jews, have failed your expectations.

    Other comments that have been mentioned above which I wish to add to here because of the amount of time that has lapsed between their post and this one: (although other may have also commented on them at the time)

    As for “non-white” Jewish converts, I have not had any experience with this, but I did take the time to read two articles on Aish.com. One was an African-American minister prior to her conversion and the other was Japanese.

    http://www.aish.com/ci/a/48943156.html

    http://www.aish.com/ho/p/48943041.html

    Also someone (RSM, I think) said that something about Judaism being a religion, not a race and was asking why can one convert but not “leave” the “religion”. This is my very limited viewpoint on the matter: It is neither a religion nor a race. I say this because, there are atheist Jews, secular Jews, Arab Jews, European Jews, African Jews, etc…the list is never ending. But there is something that must tie all Jews together somehow. If it’s not G-d (religion) or a race, then what? In it’s most basic form it is simply belonging to a people…a tribe of people, a group of people. For example, even though RSM stated so clearly “I AM NOT JEW!” RSM came to a Jewish site. Why? Why go to a Jewish site if you have “denounced” your heritage? RSM will always have that connection in one way or another, like it or not. That is why one cannot leave. Everyone on the face of this earth has a longing to belong to a group of people. For those who born Jew, they automatically belong to a group. For the convert, they are adopted.

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