When my husband read an early draft of this essay, he asked, "Why doesn't her partner have to support our daughter? After all, they agreed to raise children as Jews." What does it mean to raise a Jewish child?Go To Parenting
My non-Jewish wife of twenty-five years, the co-chair of the synagogue Social Action committee, regular Shabbat, Sabbath, service-goer, after a recent discussion with me announced that "Jews are weird." She had good reason to say so.
Wendy was looking for a speaker for the Social Action Shabbat, and someone had suggested a Christian clergy person who had founded an organization that promoted faith-based social justice efforts. The fact that the proposed speaker was a Christian, even a Christian clergy person, wasn't a problem--we've had several Social Action Shabbat speakers like that in the past. But this one had a Jewish sounding name and had converted from Judaism to Christianity.
By the time Wendy asked me what I thought, I had already shivered. I'll admit it, the notion of a Jew converting "out" makes me very uncomfortable. Wendy had already discussed this with the Jewish co-chair of the committee, who had the same reaction as I did. Wendy thought this person would make a great speaker and couldn't understand the reactions she was getting.
I explained what Wendy already knew--that Jews have historically experienced persecution; that the Spanish Inquisition involved the forced conversion of Jews to Christianity; that many Jews who were raised like I was were likely to have the same uncomfortable reaction when confronted with a Jew who had converted "out." Wendy already knew all of this--but it wasn't the first thing she thought of, which is one of the differences between us.
We've been talking a lot recently about the boundaries in synagogues between Jews and non-Jews, and about conversion into Judaism. We each often encounter Jews who say that if a non-Jew wants to be active in the synagogue, why doesn't he or she just convert?
Wendy has got a good point --isn't it inconsistent to, on the one hand, recoil at the notion of a Jew converting "out," but, on the other hand, be cavalier about the significance of a non-Jew's decision to convert "in"?
Ed Case is publisher of this magazine and a regular contributor to the "Interfaith Musings" column in JewishFamily.com. He and his wife Wendy have two children.