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Reprinted with permission of Moment Magazine. Visit www.momentmag.com. To subscribe, call 1 800 777 1005.
In a move toward traditionalism, the Reform movement's Central Conference of American Rabbis recently announced that a Beit Din (a tribunal of rabbis) can ask a convert whether the conversion is because of spiritual as opposed to romantic reasons. Moment Magazine then asked readers what they thought of this new policy.
Ralph Seliger, writer and freelance journalist, New York City
Converting to Judaism for love/marriage is at least as good a reason, and possibly better, than being Jewish out of the inertia of having simply been born a member of the "tribe."
This practice also reinvigorates the Jewish community as a whole by providing new perspectives, fresh ideas, and fresh energies to the community.
Linda Levinson, student, Lexington, Kentucky
Some people convert for romantic reasons alone. In those cases, Judaism and its customs become a source of contention and eventually create problems.
Converting solely for the sake of a romantic relationship is not a sound practice. That said, it can work if one is willing to learn and participate in his or her Jewish partner's tradition. Perhaps romance brings one to Judaism, but it's not what keeps him or her there.
Diane Trachtenberg, Huntingdon Valley, Pa.
Questions about romantic motives will encourage prospective converts to lie. You cannot build a healthy Jewish community on lies.
Those who want deeply to become Jews will convert. Those who love their Jewish spouses but choose not to deny their own roots will watch, respect, and understand without feeling pressure to join in. We might express the wish, if we dare, that the sons of intermarried couples be circumcised on the eighth day and that the children not be put to bed to lullabies of Jesus. More than that we cannot expect.
Joe Smiga, Manchester, NH
If a conversion is only for romantic reasons, the spiritual path in Judaism probably ends quickly or never even begins. My question is: if the Beit Din finds out that the conversion is for romantic reasons, what will they then decide to do? I am a Jew-by- Choice, and I converted to Judaism in September 1990. I converted after my wife and I married, and it was a personal choice; it surprised my wife and her family. Conversion to Judaism is a commitment to God and the covenant. It is not like a marriage contract for which you can obtain a get (divorce). It is deeply meaningful and is the beginning of a new spiritual path. In the long term, allowing conversions for romantic reasons would be wrong.
Arlene Horowitz, magazine editor, Fort Lee, New Jersey
Excuse me, but isn't profound connection to G-d and spirit the whole idea? Judaism without G-d is pointless, just a lot of silly rules and regulations. Why bother? Marrying into Judaism for shalom bayit, peace in the home, is akin to the chaste bride who is a little bit pregnant on her wedding day. She may fool everyone around her for quite a while, even herself, but the truth is there inside her waiting to come out.
Barbara Gordon, via email
I find this position ironic given that it comes from the Reform movement, which has adopted patrilineal descent as a sufficient criterion for being Jewish.
People who convert for romantic reasons often adopt Judaism and its practices with more fervor than the "born" Jew. If the conversion is denied, the Jewish would-be spouse is faced with an unreasonable dilemma: refuse to marry his or her loved one, or enter into intermarriage. Surely the Reform movement does not realistically expect that many Jews will discard their potential spouses because a Reform Beit Din would not convert them.
Patty Werschulz, analytical chemist and synagogue president, Cranford, NJ
One way or another, the Beit Din needs to understand the motivation of the potential convert. If the question is not asked directly, it is asked indirectly. For example, "If your relationship ends through death, divorce, or breakup, will you remain a Jew?"
The overwhelming majority of converts are involved with or married to Jews by birth. Most of these people will tell you that they were interested in Judaism prior to their romance. The Jewish partner was one way for them to open the door.
Jennifer M. Paquette, freelance writer, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
If conversion is "romantic," you're doing it wrong. It's got to be spiritual, it has to be life-changing. Traditional rabbis already know what my boyfriend and I are discovering: Our relationship is romantic, but the road to conversion is difficult--even grueling. My fiance is converting, and so far, he's had to starve, walk around in bad shoes, let stubble grow for weeks, listen to Uncle Moishy, and choke down cold gefilte fish (he likes it warm, which I feel is a crime against nature). Not much romance there.
Rabbi Marc Aaron Kline, Florence, S.C.
This question plagues our religion. Over the generations, many have been so insistent on a Jewish wedding, that conversion has almost been relegated to part of the wedding preparations. For the sake of a homogenous wedding, we have lost the sense of the sacredness of the choice. I believe that one can share one's heritage with others from diverse backgrounds. I have known many wonderful friendships (after all, marriage is supposed to be the deepest friendship we experience) involving people of different backgrounds. So often in our synagogues, the non-Jewish parent is as responsible for raising a Jewish child as the Jewish parent. I will not work with an individual looking to convert for the convenience of a wedding. The question I ask is, if the marriage dissolved, would the prospective convert still want to be Jewish? If the answer is anything but emphatically yes, I cannot perform the conversion. We are not missionaries.
Rabbi Eli B. Perlman East Brunswick, NJ
A conversion of convenience has never had a viable place in our rich tradition. To my way of thinking, someone wanting a Jewish life is the only reason to convert. And to be sure of that, even if the person openly states his or her aspirations to be Jewish, the motivation and desire must be established, challenged, and reestablished to real desire.
Rivkah Hyatt, Norfolk, Virginia
The only valid reason for converting to Judaism is the calling of God to the heart of the convert. Coming to the truth of God found in Judaism plus the fervent desire to "love the Lord your God with all your heart" should be the sole criterion for conversion. I know from my own life: while a cloistered Franciscan nun, God opened my heart to His truth. Every Jew's reason for being Jewish is the ancient yet eternally fresh desire to love and serve God. It is our relationship with God that makes us Jews.
Mel Patrell Furman, Evanston, Illinois, writer
All too often people are asked to convert to avoid unpleasant confrontations with the Jewish partner's parents, in situations where the Jewish partner couldn't care less about leading a Jewish life. This is not only unfair to the potential convert, it trivializes Judaism.
Maria Markham Thompson, investment manager, Baltimore
We do not question the sincerity of a liberal Jew who agrees to keep a kosher home for a more observant partner. In many ways, conversion for the sake of shalom bayit is just another one of the compromises that all couples must make when establishing the spiritual underpinnings of their new life together.
The highest respect should be given to those who convert for the holy marriage obligation of "peace in the home." Desiring a single religion in a home, in order to avoid years of contention over religious practices and child rearing, is beneficial to the marriage and the couple.