Other Issues for Potential Converts

By InterfaithFamily


Return to A Resource Guide to Jewish Conversion.

 I am in a same-sex relationship or identify as transgendered

There are no particular obstacles for you in converting through the Reform movement. It’s worthwhile to ask individual rabbis how they feel about this question before you commit to studying with them, and be up-front, since you’re going to be working with them for at least a year and want to be comfortable.

The Reconstructionist movement has a long track record of acceptance of GLBT people and rabbis from its ranks would be extremely unlikely to reject you as a potential convert on that basis.

While some Jews who are raised Orthodox or attend Orthodox synagogues are GLBT and in same-sex relationships, seeking conversion through an Orthodox rabbi when you are GLBT may be very difficult. No matter what human sympathy the rabbi has for you, a person converting under Orthodox auspices has to commit to following all commandments in a most traditional sense, including ones about sexuality that restrict proper sexual expression to heterosexual marriage.

The Conservative movement has moved slowly to accept gay men and lesbians as full members of the community. A recent (2006) Conservative rabbinic responsum established the Jewish legal imperative to normalize the status of Jews in same-sex relationships. What does that mean for a GLBT person who wants to become Jewish–will your local Conservative rabbi guide you through this process? There will be some variation among individuals on this issue and it’s worth discussing with your rabbi.

 I live in a small town and there aren’t many Jews who live near me, yet I am drawn to Judaism. How do I become a Jew?

This is a question that troubles me, because I can see how difficult it is for people to have Jewish lives in isolation. Two Reform rabbis gave me radically different responses to this question. One said that as long as there are some Jews in close enough proximity with whom to be in community, even if it means less frequent participation than you would like, that ought to be fine. If you live too far away from the Jewish community to be able to do that, it may be important for you to relocate.

The other Reform rabbi took a different position. He said that many people who are born Jewish have meaningful Jewish spiritual lives in places and at times where they are relatively isolated from other Jews. He has worked with potential converts who live in small towns and other places without many Jews. He doesn’t think of conversion to Judaism as joining the Jewish people, but as gaining spiritual meaning from Judaism the religion.

One of the Jews by choice who wrote about her conversion experience for InterfaithFamily.com described conversion as feeling “more honest.” She felt like a Jew and finally she took the ritual steps to become one. This is another, valid model for thinking about becoming Jewish, and may be a reason why you want to convert even though you can’t afford to move to an area with a larger Jewish community.

An Orthodox conversion authority will almost certainly ask you to move to a community where you can live near a synagogue, easily purchase kosher meat and participate in Orthodox Jewish life. If you can’t do that yet, it’s still possible to study with an online teacher or study partner, to order kosher meat via the internet or eat vegetarian, and to commute to spend holidays overnight in the nearest Jewish community. It’s worth trying these things so that you’ll know that the financial and personal sacrifices attendant on this kind of conversion are for you.

 I have a mental illness and I see some websites say that rabbis will not convert people who are not “stable.” Will I be rejected?

The issue here is that you are capable of making a decision and of knowing what it means to be Jewish. If you think your mental illness may interfere with your ability to do that, you need to discuss it with your rabbi.

In general this requirement for conversion should not translate into a wholesale rejection of everyone who has ever had a mental illness diagnosis–it’s there to ensure that people are making their own choices.

 I have a physical disability/am Deaf

Some Orthodox rabbis will not convert Deaf people, because the Talmud ruled that people who were unable to communicate could not be obligated to Jewish law. Most Orthodox rabbis and Conservative rabbis hold that the ability to sign, read and write is sufficient for taking on mitzvot. Since Deaf Jews have had bar mitzvah ceremonies, Deaf people who were not born Jewish should, by the same logic, be eligible for conversion. The biggest issue is going to be finding a supervising rabbi who has experience with communicating with the Deaf.

The Reconstructionist and Reform movements does not reject candidates for conversion because of Deafness or disability. The Reform movement as a whole does not require ritual immersion, so if you aren’t able to safely immerse because of a disability, you should be able to convert with a Reform rabbi.

You should ask your individual rabbi how she or he deals with accommodation.


About InterfaithFamily

InterfaithFamily is the premier resource supporting interfaith couples exploring Jewish life and inclusive Jewish communities. We offer educational content; connections to welcoming organizations, professionals and programs; resources and trainings for organizations, clergy and other program providers; and our new Rukin Rabbinic Fellowship will provide offerings for couples in cities nationwide. If you have suggestions, please contact network@interfaithfamily.com.